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Swans set to end Magpies' streak

Date

Martin Blake

EVERYONE falls in love with the qualifying final winners and dumps the losers, but recent history shows that it is not necessarily a good guide to the preliminary finals. Sydney, for example, lost the qualifying final in 2005 but went on to win the flag; won the qualifying final the next year, took the week's rest but lost the grand final.

In Collingwood's case, it threw everything at Hawthorn but came up short, yet the effort was reflected when the Magpies overcame West Coast last night. Both these sides will be confident they can win.

HISTORY LESSON

Collingwood will not fear Sydney, nor the venue. The Pies have won the last 11 matches between these teams, an extraordinary domination dating back to 2005, Sydney's premiership year. At Homebush, Collingwood has won the last seven in a row, and this year's triumph came despite the club suspension of Dane Swan and an injury to Dale Thomas.

Collingwood is a great travelling team, an ethos instilled during Mick Malthouse's tenure as coach and carried on this year under Nathan Buckley.

The Swans know the history; they can only cling to the fact they came close to tipping over Collingwood at the venue in the past two encounters (eight points and six points).

X-FACTOR

Travis Cloke's return to form and confidence in the past few weeks is ill-timed for Sydney, which has no ideal match-up for him. Cloke obliterated Heath Grundy with a match-winning six-goal performance last year, and when they met again recently he kicked three goals, including the matchwinner deep in the final quarter. Sydney has a choice to make: whether it shifts Ted Richards to Cloke this time or has faith in Grundy. Richards has a better one-on-one defensive game than Grundy. Either way, Cloke is the man who could break the game open for Collingwood.

TACTICS

Sydney played old-school in Adelaide in the qualifying final, beating up the Crows in close and keeping them to five goals in a performance out of the Paul Roos textbook. This will surely be more difficult against Collingwood in a final. It will be very hot inside the contests between two of the competition's best midfield groups. Neither relies on only two or three players; there will be waves coming through the middle. Although finals often revert to man-on-man, both teams like a drop-off defender, which is a game of double bluff. If either gets into trouble on the scoreboard there is the option of sending a player forward again and returning to the basics.

The Pies will not tag and Sydney probably will not either, happy to see Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack and Ryan O'Keefe go head-to-head with Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dayne Beams. Craig Bird can come in and tag if Sydney has an issue; to start with, he would play as a defensive forward on Shaw or O'Brien.

The game is unlikely to be high-scoring, since neither team has been hitting the scoreboard heavily. The Magpies will be aware they need to start well, because Sydney has won 17 first quarters and set up many of its wins by blowing teams away. Against that, the Swans have won only 11 final quarters; if Collingwood is close or in front at three-quarter time, it will feel that it can finish well.

PREDICTION

The ground and the crowd will not be worth much to Sydney. ANZ is familiar to Collingwood and there will be almost as many Pies supporters there. But Sydney has been pushing hard in the ongoing rivalry with Collingwood and can end that streak.

Sydney by 15 points

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