Injured Collingwood midfield star Bri Davey looks on. (Photo: Collingwood AFLW/Twitter)

After three attempts, preliminary finalist Collingwood has lost all of its matches against last year's finalists, and is now teetering dangerously close to dropping out of the top six.

Now teetering on the edge of falling out of the top six, Collingwood has now failed to challenge all three of last year’s AFLW finalists it has faced up against.

Preliminary finalists last season, the Pies would have loved the chance to claim revenge over the Lions in Maroochydore, or beat the Dockers for the first time in five years.

Instead, they proved that old habits die hard, and that they still aren’t to the level of the very best in the competition.

It must be acknowledged that Collingwood has now lost both of its captains to injury – not only crucial for their leadership, but positionally as well.

So let’s start there, at possibly the most pivotal moment of Collingwood’s season.

Collingwood’s captaincy curse

The news that made headlines after Round 1 was Bri Davey’s ACL tear. The co-captain and reigning best and fairest winner was done for the season after barely 80 minutes of football.

You couldn’t keep her off the track if you tried though – she was back at training come Tuesday.

The league and club best fairest winner, Players MVP, and All-Australian was undoubtedly the competition’s most influential midfielder.

She was third for average disposals (first for finals teams) at a hugely efficient 71.8 per cent, the highest of any player in the top 30 for touches.

Davey was also ranked fifth for clearances, seventh for inside 50s, eighth for contested possessions, eighth for score involvements, 13th for tackles, 19th for marks, and kicked six goals.

Collingwood boasts plenty of depth through its midfield group, which many thought it would be able to manage with just fine. And for the most part, they have.

Coach Steve Symonds mentioned a need to “restructure the midfield” in the post-match presser after the win over Geelong after Davey went down, and it’s worked (somewhat) to the benefit of his other midfield stars.

Jaimee Lambert sits in the top 10 in the competition for both clearances and contested possessions, spending more time than ever as a pure midfielder and excelling at it.

Brit Bonnici has similarly been nothing shy of fantastic – she was the clear best on ground in a romping win over St Kilda.

But looking at how the Pies sit amongst the competition, they’re severely missing Davey’s ability to create scores out of the contest.

No one has picked up those top 10 score involvement and inside 50 numbers – Davey’s three inside 50s in Round 1 are still the highest average for a Collingwood player.

While Lambert and Bonnici are finding the contested ball and getting it out of the middle, their disposal is falling short of a meaningful entry, or is being cut off outside of the arc.

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Symonds also admitted that his girls hadn’t “started playing [their] best footy” after that scrappy win, in an eight-goal affair.

Since that point though, it’s been a 1-3 record for Collingwood, with those losses to Brisbane, Fremantle and North Melbourne only highlighted by a win over West Coast.

The lack of Davey’s ability to create scores directly from the coalface was felt most directly against the Dockers.

You may think faced with the best defensive midfielder in the competition in Kiara Bowers (who had 26 disposals, eight tackles and five clearances on the day), the Pies would struggle to win the ball out of the middle.

While they lost contested possession -23, they only lost the clearance count by one. Youngster Mikala Cann and veteran ruck Alison Downie stepped up with three clearances each.

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But when looking to convert those clearances to scoring chances, the Pies struggled massively. On their home deck, the Victoria Park fortress, they only managed 10 inside 50s, with no marks taken in the arc.

Aine Tighe and Jess Low combined to keep Sabrina Frederick and Chloe Molloy completely out of the game, but the brilliant one-on-one jobs were only one part of the puzzle. Collingwood’s clearances were just not being realised as effective scoring opportunities.

Compare this to a side like Adelaide, against Melbourne. The Crows also had 20 clearances in that game, against a similar strength midfield, but created 44 inside 50s. They took 19 scoring shots for 4.11.

Adelaide creates these inside 50s through a manic pressure game when it does have the ball up forward – laying 26 tackles in the arc, and creating repeat entries as such.

Collingwood lacks this intensity up forward, but just like Adelaide, boasts a backline that is constantly picking off intercepts and rebounding the footy.

Against both the Dockers and Lions, the Pies created plenty of rebound 50s, but once again couldn’t make use of their transition footy to score.

31 rebounds for 20 inside 50s against Brisbane, and 35 rebounds for just nine against Fremantle speaks pretty clearly to this.

This is in spite of Ruby Schleicher, Lauren Butler, and Jordyn Allen getting their hands on the footy plenty, and playing a defensive structure that works to the benefit of their intercepting skills.

Schleicher is ranked fifth in the competition for marks (up on seventh from last season, where she was All-Australian), sixth for intercept possessions and seventh for rebound 50s. Butler meanwhile is ranked 19th for intercept possessions and 14th for rebounds.

It was once again a similar story against North Melbourne, with Collingwood this time even winning the clearance count 21-27, but only creating 20 inside 50s from those.

The Pies’ rebounds were once again massively dominant, creating 35 of them.

So if Collingwood isn’t scoring from centre clearances, it isn’t scoring from rebounding and transition play, and it isn’t scoring from locking the ball in for repeat inside 50s, how is it scoring?

How is Collingwood scoring?

Simply put, Collingwood has mostly scored through freakish individual brilliance in 2022.

The Pies have scored 199 points for an average of 28 points per game; this is the sixth worst in the competition, and the worst of the current top six.

They have scored 28 goals for the season, which includes a pitiful four total against those three top six sides they’ve played so far.

Collingwood’s average score against top six teams is 11, while its average against the bottom eight is 47.

Here’s how its scorers stands so far:

Chloe Molloy4
Sophie Alexander4
Aishling Sheridan4
Brit Bonnici2
Amelia Velardo2
Mikala Cann2
Eloise Chaston2
Jaimee Lambert1
Eliza James1
Aliesha Newman1
Ebony O’Dea1
Alison Downie1
Ruby Schleicher1
Sarah Rowe1
Jordyn Allen1

Collingwood is clearly lacking a spearhead in its attacking end.

Sabrina Frederick, who joined the club both to rotate through the ruck and add a key target to a forward line that desperately needs one, remains goalless.

She was dropped last week to the VFLW, where she kicked four goals in hope to regain some form.

But the one who stands out on this list is Chloe Molloy. She’s been easily the most inconsistent she has been since making the permanent switch forward, having gone goalless in four of her six games this year.

This is contrast to only three goalless games prior since she was first named as a forward, in Round 4, 2020. ‘Individual brilliance’ is basically the only way to describe her goals so far.

Molloy is clearly getting less quality deliveries inside 50, with her average marks dropping from 2.5 to 2.0, after already facing a drop from 4.6 to 2.5 in 2021.

Of Molloy’s four goals, only one has really come off the forward structure working as intended.

Her first against Geelong was a scrambled kick around the body off a chaos ball at the edge of the goalsquare, which she managed to cleanly gather off Aliesha Newman’s mongrel kick.

The second was from a 50 metre penalty, putting her directly in front for an easy slotted kick.

Her first against the Eagles, another two goal game, came through a clean forward delivery. The Pies worked the ball up from their backline, resulting in Molloy finding perfect position from a strong kick in from Sophie Alexander.

Alexander then received a free kick for a ruck infringement a few minutes, converting a goal from that. This would then lead to a two quarter drought, where Molloy kicked her second and current last for the year.

It was another decent delivery from Sarah Rowe, but nothing special. She had the chance to pick off Stacey Livingstone, who it bounced harmlessly off the hands off, or go for goal herself.

Instead, in a moment of individual brilliance, Molloy gathered off the pack and snapped truly.

The same can be said for a lot of Collingwood’s scoring, with these anomalies resulting in goals, as opposed to relying on a set, functional structure. Amelia Velardo, a defender, is equal second in the tally. In fact, 14 per cent of the Pies’ goals have come from backline players.

2021 VFLW leading goalkicker Imogen Barnett has barely gotten a proper run (playing just two AFLW games so far), and when she has, she can’t get a good look at the footy because there is no worthwhile delivery coming in towards her. She’s only managed a single mark so far, despite the fact that her strength overhead and outstanding leading were what made her stand out to recruiters.

Too many times has the raw strength of the defensive group kept this Collingwood side in games.

Another tough test in the Western Bulldogs waits this weekend. If the Pies lose, not only do they drop out of the top six, but their record would then become 0-4 against top six sides, with the Crows still to come.

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