Bad news for Dogs: the Pies are back
Dale Thomas at yesterday's training session. Photo: Joe Armao
COLLINGWOOD'S frenzied defensive pressure is back and that should sound alarm bells for the Western Bulldogs' ''dysfunctional'' forward line ahead of Friday night's clash at Etihad Stadium.
As the Pies' back line continues to take shape after a spate of early-season injuries, vice-captain Scott Pendlebury says ''leaks'' in the defence have been plugged, assisted by the trademark tackling pressure that took the club to grand final appearances in the past two years.
Collingwood appears primed to welcome back rebounding half-back Heath Shaw on Friday night and key defender Ben Reid is also in the selection frame after making better-than-expected progress from a quadricep complaint, while Dale Thomas and Alan Didak are also strong chances, football director Geoff Walsh said yesterday.
Combine the possible inclusions of Shaw and Reid with Nathan Brown's impressive return on Anzac Day, the return to form of Harry O'Brien, Lachlan Keeffe's improvement and the presence of skipper Nick Maxwell and the Pies have nearly all their defensive troops on deck, save for veteran Chris Tarrant.
''We've always had confidence in our defence, but the way we look at it is that we've been a bit leaky at times and it was just things that we knew were in our control that we had to fix up,'' Pendlebury said yesterday.
''It was up to us to make amends for that and we've done that over the last two weeks. I think it started from the win against Port Adelaide [in round four], we got back to that tackle pressure that we're known for, and to do it again on Anzac Day [against Essendon], coming up after only four days' break, was really pleasing.''
Collingwood's defence conceded an average of 107 points in their first three games, prompting former coach Mick Malthouse to speak out about the club's game plan under new coach Nathan Buckley.
But that number has fallen to 76 points in the past two weeks, as Collingwood has rediscovered the tackling pressure Pendlebury highlighted. Against Essendon, the Pies laid 85 tackles, the fifth-highest tally in any game this year. The week before, it was 72.
It is a turnaround in defensive attitude that would make most oppositions brace themselves, but particularly the 13th-placed Bulldogs, whose ability to score against that type of pressure is the worst in the AFL.
The Dogs' forward line, adjusting to life without retired spearhead Barry Hall, has been described as ''dysfunctional'' by several commentators this season.
Much of the frustration about the lack of goals - the club is fifth-last for scoring - has centred on the fact the Dogs have had no trouble winning the ball.
Brendan McCartney's men are second in the competition for disposals and get more inside 50s than half of the competition.
The problem is, the Dogs are only registering a goal on 20 per cent of those entries, the lowest efficiency rate of any team. The Dogs' ability to hit a target inside 50 has also been a concern, with their kicking efficiency in the forward arc rated last in the AFL and the team is fifth last for marks inside 50.
Without Hall, the Dogs flagged during the pre-season a forward structure to accommodate multiple goal-scoring options, but inexperienced key targets - such as Liam Jones (six goals in five games), Jarrad Grant (four goals in five) and Ayce Cordy (one goal in three) - haven't been as damaging as the Dogs had hoped.
Daniel Giansiracusa, who sat out last week's win against Greater Western Sydney with soreness, is the Dogs' second-most prolific inside-50 target and is likely to return for the game dubbed by the Dogs as ''mission possible''.
Another option the Dogs could explore is Tom Hill, a mobile tall forward who has kicked 13 goals in his past four VFL games, including a bag of four last week.