The mid-week review: Round 3

What got us talking: A tale of two clubs…

Collingwood and Richmond. Two clubs. A strikingly similar story.

During the off season, both were touted as certain finals contenders. Top four was even in some predictions.

Big name recruits were sought after and, for the most part, successfully obtained during trade time. Their sides looked strong, and ready, to take on the season ahead.

Assurance didn’t stop at the players either. Coaches Damien Hardwick and Nathan Buckley both received confidence-building contract extensions: Buckley until 2017 while the Tigers showed extra faith, extending Hardwick’s until the end of the 2018 season.

When the NAB Challenge came along, the results seemed to confirm this optimism. The Pies blitzed the pre-season competition, winning all three of its games against Geelong, North Melbourne, and the Bulldogs. Hefty opponents in any situation.

And while the Tigers’ form was a little shakier, a significant win against the Hawks showed things might be on-the-up.

But general perception that the pre-season competition ‘means nothing’ was proven right once again. Collingwood and Richmond’s substandard start to the season has left both sides scratching their heads.

As of the start of round four, the two clubs only have one win to their names. These wins have also been unconvincing to say the least: a trailing win against a ‘rebuilding’ Carlton side for the Tigers, and a clutch one-point nail-biter against Richmond for Collingwood.

Those in the apparent “know” have said poor defense, skill errors, and lack of effort are the reason for these less than impressive performances.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick is not shying away from the criticism.

“It’s not so much accepting it, it’s the reality of where we are at. Don’t get me wrong, we will still make the eight as far as I am concerned,’’ Hardwick said. “I have got no doubt we have got the personnel in place to take us forward, but there will be a little heartburn.”

Hardwick also acknowledged his side’s skills are in massive need of improvement.

“The decision-making errors we can live with at times, it was the skill execution yesterday. It becomes infectious at stages,” Hardwick said. “But they are a very resilient group. We have been in this situation before and we will get out of it.”

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley also had strong words for his side.

“We were off,” Buckley said after the loss to St Kilda. “We were too easy to play against for any opposition. We couldn’t keep the ball in our front half and couldn’t defend in our back half. We just weren’t prepared to roll our sleeves up and do the work.”

Reflection and revision could be the way forward for Collingwood.

“Our players aren’t able to execute [our structures] often enough at the moment. That is something we will need to work on as a coaching group and a playing group,” Buckley said.  “There is still enough evidence to suggest we can play like we want to play, but … if there is evidence to the contrary, then we will need to make shifts.”

The next few weeks will be a defining time for the Pies in particular. They face off against Melbourne and Essendon. These two usually ‘winnable’ matches will show whether or not Collingwood is still on its way to September.

On the other hand, Richmond face a formidable opponent in West Coast at Domain stadium this week: a difficult game even without form issues. But the Dees in round five is a must-win for Hardwick’s team.

Now this is all very easy to say from the stands. Richmond, Collingwood- just play better, ok?

And it is always easy for critics to kick sides when they’re down.

But the concerns and mounting pressure does seem to be justified. Anyone associated with these teams has every right to feel a little bit anxious.

But there is still a lot of footy to be played, and the coaches have already hinted at changes. They will try different things in an effort to bridge the gap they’ve created for themselves.

And just remember: fortunes and opportunity can shift so quickly in this lovely game of ours.

So hang in there for the moment. We can come back and reassess in a few rounds time.

What we learnt from round 3

– High scores are back

The Demons and Roos had an old fashioned shoot out down at Blundstone Arena. The astonishing 21.10 (136) and 20.11 (131) score line was an absolute goal-fest. Swings in momentum and ‘kicking with the wind’ set up the match right down to the last few seconds.

– Hawthorn always find a way to win

The Bulldogs showed us why they’re potential premiership contenders. But, as always, Hawthorn’s professionalism helped them make the right decisions in the right moments. A three-point win was heartbreaking for the Dogs.

– We all love Bob

But nothing was more heartbreaking than Robert Murphy rupturing his ACL in the dying seconds of the match. Just five games off his 300th, the 33-year-old is yet to make a decision on his playing future. But the footy world’s outpouring of emotion show one thing’s for certain: Bob is loved by all.

What we can expect from round 4

– Do we have another set of premiership contenders?

Adelaide vs. Sydney at Adelaide Oval will be another defining match of 2016. Both teams have had a great start to the season, winning comfortable in most of their matches. But Sydney has not lost in South Australia since 2011, so the Swans will finish with the four points.

– Lopsided scores

It looks like there could be a few blow outs on the cards this week. The Bulldogs will come out firing against the Blues, still smarting from a close loss. The Suns will continue with their dominating performance, picking apart last-place Brisbane. And Geelong will stroll past the depleted Dons on Saturday afternoon at the ‘G.

– Turning point for Pies?

It really is a must-win this week for Collingwood. But they’ll need to switch it on if they expect to beat a confident Melbourne side. The Dees will feel the game is theirs, and the Pies need it to be… so really anything could happen in this match.

(First published on Bound For Glory News on the 15th April 2016)

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