As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Collingwood.
Starting season 2022 off under a new coach, and talks of a rebuild, the expectations for Collingwood weren’t overly high. After finishing 2021 in 17th position with six wins, the Pies have already improved, sitting on eight wins and five losses for the season to date.
Overall, Collingwood’s scoring has improved as a result of the new game plan under Craig McRae, which embraces chaos, risk vs reward, and unpredictability. The Pies have kicked over 100 points three times so far this season, compared to just once last season.
The new attacking game style that McRae has implemented has made the forward line more dangerous. Ball movement has given the forwards a lot more one-on-ones, providing players like Ollie Henry with the ability to take one-on-one marks and kick match-winning goals.
Something has clicked with the playing group, and the genuine passion and enthusiasm every week is evident, regardless of a win or loss.
It’s hard to pinpoint what hasn’t worked for the Pies when you consider the fact that they are in a better position than anyone would have anticipated.
The decline of the defensive numbers compared to last season when Nathan Buckley was in charge has left the Pies’ defence vulnerable, as a direct result of the tweaked game plan from McRae. An example of this was round three against Geelong, where the opposition’s key forwards dominating was the difference in Collingwood losing. The Cats came from 30 points down to win by 13, and Jeremy Cameron kicked six goals.
You could also argue that the surprising loss to West Coast could prove to be the difference in Collingwood narrowly missing out on finals.
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Ollie Henry has been in and out of Collingwood’s side this year playing the first four games before being dropped to the VFL after a couple of quiet performances before returning in round nine against the Western Bulldogs. His three behinds relegated him to the medical-sub role against Fremantle the following week. Henry was then subbed on in the second term and managed to kick four goals in the wet to lead the Pies to a boil-over win in Perth.
The 19-year-old has kicked 18 goals this season and six in his last three games, including the matchwinner against Hawthorn in Round 12.
Taken at pick 17 in the 2020 National Draft, Henry has played 20 games since his debut in 2021 and is arguably one of Collingwood’s most improved players so far this season.
John Noble has come a long way since being taken at pick 14 in the 2019 Mid-Season Draft. In 13 games this season under new coach Craig McRae, Noble has been able to take his game to another level, averaging 3.3 score involvements (career-high) and 13.9 uncontested possessions per game, making him a key part of the Pies’ lineup in 2022.
Darcy Cameron has also continued to show that he is no longer just a backup ruck option, stepping up in the absence of Brodie Grundy. This was evident in the win against Hawthorn, arguably Cameron’s best game. In wet conditions, he had 26 disposals, 19 hit outs, nine marks, and kicked a goal.
Who needs to lift?
Eight seasons into his career, Jordan De Goey has had a decent start to the year so far, but he hasn’t quite hit that elite-level Pies fans would’ve expected from him. Collingwood’s first pick in the 2014 draft, De Goey is a free agent at the end of the year and an in-demand player.
The Pies would be hoping for him to lift his game in the second half of the season, which will ultimately be the difference between him being offered a new contract or shown the door.
Best and Fairest Contenders:
There’s no doubt that Jack Crisp is the clear frontrunner to take out back-to-back E.W. Copeland Trophies this season. Thriving in a permanent midfield position under Craig McRae, the 28-year-old is averaging 26.5 disposals, 4.5 clearances, 5.5 score involvements, and 496 metres gained per game.
Crisp, who was famously traded to Collingwood from Brisbane in exchange for Dayne Beams, has played every game since joining the Pies at the end of 2014 and is the league’s current consecutive games record holder.
Expectations for the second half of the year:
It’s fair to say that Collingwood has well and truly exceeded its preseason expectations, with most people predicting it to finish in the bottom four at the very least. Whilst there hasn’t been the added pressure of making finals this season, if the Pies can play four quarters every week, then they are a strong chance of making a run for September.
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