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The Big Questions - Collingwood v Fremantle

In their first game at the MCG for the year, Fremantle brought immense pressure to unravel the in-form Magpies. A controversial goal proved highly valuable to the Dockers, with Collingwood having to pick up the pieces from a rare MCG slip-up. Here are the big questions from Fremantle’s entertaining four-point victory.

How far can Fremantle go in 2019?

This time last year, it could’ve been argued that the Dockers needed a change of coach to kick start the next phase of their history. Ross Lyon had done so much, but could he rebuild his team again? After the bye, they won just two games from nine starts, and the outlook was bleak. Enter the trade period, in which Peter Bell lured key forwards Jesse Hogan and Rory Lobb to the club, finally giving the Dockers the forward targets they’d craved since Matthew Pavlich’s retirement. With the introduction of the new 6-6-6 rule also favouring the Dockers, suddenly Fremantle are entrenched in the top 8 and with a fortress in the west, are capable of doing significant damage come September, particularly if they can score a home final.

How will Alex Pearce’s injury affect their fortunes?

A man in All Australian conversations, full back Alex Pearce’s lower leg injury could have a major impact on how high the Dockers can soar this year. Pearce’s defensive partnership with vastly underrated Joel Hamling has worked wonders for Ross Lyon’s defensive game style. With Fremantle starting to climb the ladder, the Dockers will need to find a suitable replacement, and soon, if they are to reach the promised land that almost looks within reach a lot sooner than anyone, even Ross Lyon, expected.

Who is Brodie Grundy’s back up?

It would be easy to suggest that Grundy on his own does not need a backup. However, when the big man copped a slight injury midway through the second term, it did raise the question; if Grundy does go down, who can Nathan Buckley call on to be the centre square monster? Looking at Collingwood’s list, only rookie Max Lynch is listed as a full time ruck, with Ben Reid, Mason Cox and Jordan Roughead only suited to part time duties. With rumours swirling that Adelaide are preparing to make Grundy a “Godfather” offer to return home, Collingwood’s list management team will need to start preparing for a situation that could have a major impact on their future aspirations.

Where is Rory Lobb’s best position?

In the last year of Rory Lobb’s time with the Giants, he made no secret that he didn’t enjoy playing as the team’s No.1 ruckman. Once he made his way across the Nullarbor and into the welcoming arms of Ross Lyon, Lobb would’ve felt safe knowing that Ross the Boss already had Aaron Sandilands and Sean Darcy at his disposal. However, with Sandilands dealing with a calf injury, and Darcy’s development stagnating slightly, Lyon has been forced to use Lobb in the middle for most of the year.

However, after taking it right up to Brodie Grundy, and getting the better of him for stretches of the game, the question needs to be asked if Lobb’s biggest value comes as a ruckman rather than a forward. At 26, and with the Dockers already possessing a plethora of key forward talent, it may be in Lobb’s best interest to make Fremantle’s ruck division his own.

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Who was best and worst on ground for both teams?

Collingwood:

Best – Scott Pendlebury

The evergreen skipper produced another amazing effort to try and drag his team back from the brink. While Fremantle’s midfield won a lot of the football and were able to curb the influence of Collingwood’s stars, Pendlebury, who went head to head with Nat Fyfe, was able to find his usual space and time to gather 29 disposals. His pressure was a highlight, with Pendlebury laying eight tackles and earning himself three free kicks. When Pendlebury was forward he was just as dangerous, adding two vital goals to the scoreboard.

Stiff: Brodie Grundy

The AFL’s best ruckman was locked in an enthralling battle with Rory Lobb for much of the afternoon, and it could be argued that halfway through the third quarter, Lobb was slightly ahead in the ledger. However, when Collingwood needed a lift, it was Grundy who had the most influence on the contest as the Magpies pulled close to Fremantle. He copped a leg injury in the second quarter, which may have had fingers on panic buttons in lounge rooms all over Melbourne, but returned soon after.

Worst – Callum Brown

Statistics wise, Brown was average, collecting 14 possessions and three tackles. However, Brown’s disposal efficiency was just 50%, and many of his touches weren’t under enough pressure to be forgiven. Has had an up and down year, and would be one of the first players dropped once the Magpies get all their soldiers back, but Brown is still just 21 and has a lot of improving left in his career.

Lucky: Josh Thomas

Thomas went largely unnoticed in the first three quarters, and while he gathered 12 disposals, his work defensively wasn’t good enough, as he only contributed the single tackle as a pressure forward. Has had an average year at best, and once Jamie Elliott returns to the side, Thomas will need to have improved his output to avoid being relegated back to the VFL.

Fremantle:

Best – Michael Walters

What a game again from Fremantle’s forward dynamo, who for the second week in a row, won the game at the death. He finished with 24 touches and two goals, but it was his run and carry along the wings that was the most effective, and his link up with Jesse Hogan was telling in Fremantle’s fast start to the game. Amazingly, Walters has never made the All Australian team, but with performances of this calibre, that will change at the end of this year.

Stiff: Bradley Hill & Nat Fyfe

In all honesty, all of Walters, Fyfe and Hill would’ve been deserving winners of Fremantle’s best player. In the premiership quarter when the Dockers needed a spark, it was the electrifying Indigenous duo leading the way. Much like Walters, Hill’s run and carry proved highly effective, and his speed was too much for Collingwood to deal with.

Fyfe on the other hand was engaged in a duel for the ages with Scott Pendlebury. Both players were highly influential, with Fyfe gathering 32 disposals, six marks and four tackles. Up forward he was wayward, with two behinds, but that is forgiven with Fremantle winning. Fyfe is back in his Brownlow medal winning form, and with Lachie Neale up in Brisbane, Fyfe is shouldering the load superbly.

Worst – Brennan Cox

Unlucky for the young key forward that Cox’s opponents for the day were a mixture of Darcy Moore and Jordan Roughead; two defenders in career best form. While Jesse Hogan was able to assert his influence, the same can’t be said for Cox, who struggled to find any of the ball, finishing with just seven disposals. Cox is lucky that Cam McCarthy hasn’t been dominating in the WAFL, otherwise his position would be on thin ice. With Matt Taberner out for the season, Cox has a big opportunity to make the full forward position his own. 

Lucky: Sam Switkowski

It would please every member of the Purple Haze that Fremantle produced almost the complete team performance, with very few players standing out negatively. Switkowski falls into the category of a player who didn’t find much of the ball (only eight disposals from the 22-year-old) but his work defensively would make Ross Lyon happy, as Switkowski earned himself seven tackles, mainly in the forward line. One of Fremantle’s lesser lights, if the Dockers start playing poorly, it will likely be Switkowski that makes way, but he still has most of his career ahead of him to improve his disposal output.

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Stray thoughts:

-          The AFL has yet another issue with its goal review technology, as Michael Walters was awarded a goal that, upon review by the Fox Footy team, was clearly touched by Chris Mayne. The umpires often suggest to the players that goals are always reviewed after every goal, but it appeared that it was only the goal line under review. Were the reviewers directed which touch to review, or did they assume which one they needed to check? Brought in to stop horrible decisions slipping through the net, the AFL has again not properly thought through a system that has had far too many controversies in such a short space of time. Imagine if this had happened on Grand Final day? The AFL needs to sort out the confusion quickly, or it risks the review system becoming farcical, if it hasn’t already.

-          With Ben Reid providing an important focal point in Collingwood’s forward line, Nathan Buckley has been left with a good problem to have once Mason Cox returns from injury. With De Goey, Hoskin-Elliott, Stephenson, Elliott and a resting midfielder all needing to fit in Collingwood’s front half, Buckley won’t be able to fit all of Brody Mihocek, Reid and Cox into his attacking squadron. Reid has the inside track at this point, but will need to keep providing goals and contested marks to keep Cox out of the team.

-          It has always pleased me that Ross Lyon has never been afraid to send his best player to the opposition’s best player and let them duel it out and see who comes out on top. Today, it was Nat Fyfe who ran alongside Scott Pendlebury, with both men producing best on ground performances for their respective teams. Both captains were influential when their teams needed them most, and only Fremantle’s victory gave Fyfe the edge over his rival.

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