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Harder Swans brought Pies unstuck

Teams will have to work hard to beat Sydney.

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In an era in which it's hard for teams to string together any number of wins, let alone against the same opponent, Collingwood's six-year winning streak over Sydney was one of the game's most significant.

The Magpies owned the Swans from midway through the 2006 season until late last year, notching up 11 wins on the trot, no fewer than seven of them on Sydney's second home, ANZ Stadium.

Like all good things, though, it finally came to an end - and at the worst possible moment - in last year's preliminary final.

And while Sydney's run over the Pies amounts to only two, it has been the manner of those victories that have made it clear it is Collingwood which now has to do some catching up.

While Sydney loves the hard ball, it's been the Swans' hard running that has brought the Magpies unstuck.

In last year's preliminary final, it was the usual midfield suspects such as Dan Hannebery, Ryan O'Keefe, Josh Kennedy and Kieren Jack doing the damage, but also outside runner Lewis Jetta, whose bursts from a wing and three goals made the biggest difference.


In round nine this year, Hannebery and Jack again held the midfield together, the damaging run this time provided off half-back by Nick Malceski and Jarrad McVeigh.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley knows how significantly the goalposts have shifted when it comes to taking on the Swans, and that the defensive pressure and run which the Magpies managed to generate against Essendon last weekend will have to be ramped up to another level again on Saturday night.

"They're still a high-stoppage side, but they love that rebound from the back half in particular and their power running through midfield is definitely a strength of theirs, so that's the challenge for us," Buckley said on Wednesday.

"They taught us a lesson in round nine. It was their hard two-way running; they were really clean with the ball when they had it, and pressured us really well when we had it, so it was comprehensive. It was a lesson to us. We believe we've improved on that, and we get to test it."

For Collingwood, having Dayne Beams back in the midfield mix and Luke Ball beginning to recapture his best has brought much-needed relief to the load carried by Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan all season.

But even so, Buckley knows his side will be stretched to its limits in terms of midfield numbers and work-rate, given the form of the Sydney on-ballers, not the least co-captain Jack, who shone again last Sunday against the Bulldogs with 30 disposals and two goals.

"I think he's probably the poster boy for the self-made player," Buckley said. "He came into the game with a level of talent probably mid-range, I reckon, if you really want to be honest about it, and what he's been able to do is create an extremely damaging, hard-working footballer who is now hitting the scoreboard.

"His hard run, up and back, is extraordinary, he's laying tackles at a rate of seven a game, so he's tipping into all areas of the game. He's just a really strong athlete who has found a way to maximise his talent in the game and become one of the better midfielders, all down to his ability to work and push himself and continually improve."

And in Collingwood's bid to wrest back the advantage from an opponent now with the ascendancy, you sense that for an example of what will be required on Saturday, the Sydney co-captain might temporarily become the Magpie coach's poster boy as well.