It was supposedly finals or bust for the Pies in 2017 and, after winning just two of the first eight games of the season, it seemed Nathan Buckley’s tenure was coming to an end. The equation was simple – Collingwood just couldn’t translate inside 50s into scoreboard pressure. They ranked second for total disposals and sixth for inside 50s per match, clearly indicating that there was plenty of quality between the arcs. However, a rebound 50 average of 36.8 per game put them in the bottom three in the competition for that category.
Collingwood needs to find another element at both ends of the ground, and word on the street is there will be a host of positional changes in 2018. Finals weren’t out of the question last year after the Pies semi-rejuvenated their year with three wins on the trot – most notably the Round 9 comeback against the Hawks – and going into Round 12 with a 5-6 record.
However, the season slowly fell away again. Being rundown by the Demons in the nail-biting Queen’s Birthday clash was the first of four consecutive losses, meaning Collingwood needed to win potentially every remaining match to scrape into September.
The public’s expectations have been high for the Magpies in recent years, and now that the club has handed Buckley a lifeline in a time where severe doubt is being poured over the Holden Centre, can 2018 be the year the Magpies finally bounce back?
FB: Jeremy Howe – Lynden Dunn – Tom Langdon
HB: Travis Varcoe – Darcy Moore – Jack Crisp
C: Daniel Wells – Scott Pendlebury – Adam Treloar
HF: Jamie Elliott – Ben Reid – Will Hoskin-Elliott
FF: Steele Sidebottom – Mason Cox – Alex Fasolo
R: Brodie Grundy – Taylor Adams – Brayden Maynard
INT: Tyson Goldsack – James Aish – Matthew Scharenberg – Jordan De Goey
EMG: Jaidyn Stephenson – Levi Greenwood – Sam Murray – Tom Phillips
Best 22 Analysis
Picking Collingwood’s best 22 for season 2018 is a difficult task simply because it’s going to be vastly different to the Collingwood we’ve been seeing over the past couple of seasons. Staying relatively quiet during the offseason means changes are going to need to come from within.
Darcy Moore has been earmarked to hold down a key post in defence, having spent the majority of his junior career at that end of the ground, while recent defender-turned midfielder Brayden Maynard is very likely to spend a lot of time in the middle of the park, adding much needed grunt and fierceness around the stoppages.
As Daniel Wells and Jamie Elliott are both in doubt for Round 1, it leaves the door open for youngster Jaidyn Stephenson to make his debut. James Aish is also likely to take Wells’ spot on the wing, while Jordan De Goey is only sitting on the bench due to his club-imposed suspension. The other key factor of this 22 is Steele Sidebottom – the man who kicked 10 goals in a TAC Cup grand final. Sidebottom would be a headache for opposition coaches as a permanent forward and could be the solution to a lot of Collingwood’s forward line woes.
Round 1 vs Hawthorn @ MCG
Collingwood’s fixture is a little easier in 2018 but they without a doubt have one of the toughest runs to start the season. Hawthorn, GWS, Carlton, Adelaide, Essendon and Richmond make up their first six opponents, and it’s the opening Saturday night match against the Hawks that will prove critical. The Hawks are another team vying to scrape into the top eight this season and being around the same mark, the Pies just need to win this one. Otherwise, it’s hard to see them winning many, if any, of their opening six matches.
Round 8 vs Geelong @ MCG
While their start to the season is rough, it’s the middle section that could define Collingwood’s 2018 fate. They have a few softer match-ups sandwiching their Round 13 bye, but it’s this one against the Cats that could send a message to the competition. Collingwood match up well against Geelong and it is one of the difficult obstacles the Pies are going to need to overcome in 2018.
Breakout Player – James Aish
With James Aish comes scrutiny. The high-profile 2013 AFL Draft Pick No. 7 left the Lions following the 2015 season and has yet to fire for the black and white. Aish has plenty of natural talent and is a good ball user by foot but, after 55 games at AFL level, he needs to stamp his authority on the competition. After averaging just 15.6 disposals in 2017, the 22-year-old has had a massive pre-season, potentially showing glimpses of what’s to come in 2018 during the inaugural AFLX Series, where his overhead strength a stand out. 2018 is the year we are going to finally see his full potential.
Fantasy Gold – Taylor Adams
His kicking efficiency may be an issue – harmful for those who play SuperCoach – but Adams has a clear ball-winning ability that will see him once again average over 110 AFL Fantasy points per game. He averaged 29.5 disposals in 2017 and a lot of those touches came from stoppage situations, however it’s likely Adams will spend time at half back this year which could also see him take more marks overall. A 120+ average isn’t out of the equation.
Ladder Prediction – 10th
Finals are a clear possibility for Collingwood, but there are at least eight better teams than them this year. Though I won’t rule them out completely, an injury to one or more of Darcy Moore, Ben Reid, Lynden Dunn, Brodie Grundy or Mason Cox could instantly derail their season. Collingwood’s best 22 is good enough, but how long can they sustain their best 22? If the Pies are to make the eight in 2018, they’ll need the rub of the green.
Follow Jarryd on Twitter @j96barca