COLLINGWOOD will not be burdened by expectation in the finals, with star midfielder Dayne Beams believing them Magpies have shifted from being the "hunted" in the premiership race to the "hunters".
Beams predicted the club would have to produce its "best performance of the year" to beat Hawthorn on Friday night at the MCG, but insisted the players would relish the opportunity to do so.
"As a group, we're confident. We've played in finals for the past few years and we've shown this year that when we're at our best we're pretty hard to beat. We're just hoping we can produce that over the next four weeks hopefully," Beams said today.
"I suppose in the past couple of years we've probably been the hunted and teams have come after us, whereas this year we've probably not as in-form as we have been in the past couple, so I suppose . . . we're the hunters. That's something that sits fine with us."
In the teams' two matches earlier this season the Hawks won by 22 in round one and 47 in round 17. Beams said a key factor in those two losses was Hawthorn's ability to "cut us up with their foot skills". As a result, he said it would be essential for the Magpies to pressure their opponents sufficiently for their disposal quality to suffer.
"They've got some great kicks in their side. Like any teams with good kicks in their side, if you give them time and space they're going to take a mile. That's definitely going to be a focus for us this week," he said.
Magpies vice-captain Scott Pendlebury echoed Beams' concern about Hawthorn's potential to crisply move the ball from end to end.
"We know we're going to have to go 22-deep this weekend to give it a good shake," Pendlebury said.
"We've said we've got a lot of improving to do . . . but we've got to get it together pretty quickly because Hawthorn are firing on all cylinders. They've very hard to score against and can score very quickly, as you saw in games against Sydney and Geelong they looked out of.
"With their kicking ability it just makes them really deadly because they can just slice through whatever you try and do defensively really quickly and score."
"They've beaten us twice this year, I think [six] out of the past nine times we've played them they've knocked us off.
"They do cause trouble for us . . . but we're going to have a plan that's going to give us the best opportunity to win."
Both Beams and Pendlebury lauded the response of key-forward Chris Dawes to his axing from the Collingwood team last week, for both the manner of his training and the way he has acted among his teammates.
"He looks like he's a bit more refreshed. If he gets the nod, no doubt he'll be raring to go," Pendlebury said of Dawes, whose position has been taken by inexperienced forward Jackson Paine.
Collingwood's other maligned forward, Travis Cloke, thrived in Dawes' absence. He kicked five goals and snared 16 marks against Essendon last weekend in a performance Beams reckoned was "a reward for hard work".
"It will give him great confidence. He's probably copped a fair bit of the brunt of the team's [underwhelming] performance over the past month or so," Beams said of Cloke, who is yet to commit to a new contract at Collingwood.
"We've tried to work on the way we kick the ball to him, and think we cleaned up a little bit on the weekend."