Chris Dawes struggled to be competitive against the Hawks. Photo: Paul Rovere
IT IS pretty easy to jump off the bandwagon of a qualifying final loser. Easy and almost always wrong.
It is worth repeating the figures. Since the 2000 revamp of the final eight, we've had 24 qualifying final losers, 22 of whom have rebounded to reach at least a preliminary final, the exceptions being Port Adelaide in 2001 and West Coast in 2007, both of whom went out in straight sets.
That said, though, this year's week-one survivors do look more vulnerable than usual. Adelaide can at least take some comfort from having beaten Friday night's opponent Fremantle twice already this season. And Collingwood?
Let's start with the upside. The Magpies weren't short of effort last Friday night. Travis Cloke is back in touch. They've beaten West Coast once this year at the MCG, a venue at which the Eagles have won only once in their past 11 attempts.
The downside, right now, however, seems to carry more weight. Cloke's six goals against Hawthorn left the Magpies still 38 points adrift. Collingwood's midfield is still racking up impressive numbers without having anything like the sort of impact it once did.
Nick Maxwell's potential suspension stands to weaken further a defence that is lacking both the organisation and rebound it used to offer. And there's still a gaping hole in the ruck. On that score, Collingwood's 49-point loss at the hands of the Eagles only a fortnight ago looms large. That was the evening the Magpies rested a sore Darren Jolly and went with Cameron Wood, hoping the second-stringer could at least nullify West Coast pair Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui around the ground if not at the taps.
The move didn't work on either count, the Pies smashed 59-12 at the hit-outs, the Eagles pair not only giving their onballers an armchair ride but combining for 30-plus disposals and a couple of goals in the general play.
Jolly is back in harness now but wouldn't have been encouraged either by support partner Chris Dawes' continued struggle for competitiveness against the Hawks, nor yesterday's efforts by Cox and Naitanui in the Eagles' demolition of North Melbourne.
Defensively, meanwhile, Collingwood is being exposed by both the falling away of the pressure from its midfield, allowing the ball to come in regularly and at speed, and the added burden that is placing on its key backmen in the one-on-one contests.
And to that end, the likes of Ben Reid and Nathan Brown might have drawn a few deep breaths yesterday afternoon watching the ball slingshot out of West Coast's backline, and the room in which Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy and Quinten Lynch had to move.
Collingwood just staved off the Eagles at the MCG in round 13. The Magpies were playing a lot better then than now and, disturbingly, the reverse is true of its opponent. History will be on the Pies' side on Saturday night. But when it comes to form and structure, not a lot else.
Crows seemed slightly overawed and were certainly out-thought by Sydney. They have copped a double whammy in structural terms with loss of key defender Talia. Delivery faltered under intense finals pressure, and Adelaide won’t survive without a lot more from the likes of Tippett and Porplyzia.
The Magpies threw the kitchen sink at Hawthorn and still came up well short. Great effort from Cloke again up forward, but still huge issues in the ruck, concerns down back over potential suspension of the skipper, and midfielders racking up the possessions without having enough impact.
Best moment by far in an AFL history now spanning nearly two decades. Dockers are playing with absolute confidence and an increased repertoire of tricks, the results obvious in the far healthier scoreboard returns of late to go with the manic defensive pressure now a regular standard.
The slow start, a recurring problem earlier this season, reared its head again at worst possible moment. Predictable ‘‘end of era’’ song will be sung again, but continued blooding of younger types like Motlop, Murdoch and Simpkin on top of Christensen, Duncan and Menzel shouldn’t see Cats falling far.
All systems go for flag favourite, imposing winner on Friday night and satisfied onlooker the following evening as the Hawks’ one regular nemesis bowed out. Whitecross gone, but late scratching Lewis and long-kicking Young more than adequate replacements. Going to be very hard to toss from here.
Sorry afternoon for the Kangaroos, whose form dried up completely at the critical moment of the season. Looked out of gas the last three games and were gone by quarter-time at Subiaco under the West Coast assault. Can still focus on great second half of the year and further improvement in number of youngsters.
Another Swans classic, shrugging off recent slump in form and intensity with one of the most sustained efforts of the season. Goodes back to his best, defence superb and deep pool of midfielders all chipping in. Go into home preliminary final with confidence restored and hopes high.
Awesome display in front of adoring crowd, Eagles tougher in the clinches and brilliant in transition from defence with run to spare. Rucks supreme, forwards on song and potent, and while Waters’ loss is a blow to defensive balance, it is not a fatal wound. Away finals from here, but heaps of confidence after touching up Collingwood a fortnight ago.