Footy Fix: Pies face old foe Richmond
Rohan Connolly previews round four of the AFL season, including Collingwood's clash with Richmond at the MCG on Friday night.PT5M13S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-36cyy 620 349 April 9, 2014
It’s only round four, but rarely have the MCG lights shone so harshly on two powerhouse Melbourne clubs this early in a season.
By the end of Friday night's game, one of Richmond or Collingwood will have a win-loss record of 1-3, and be facing the prospect of a week under the media blowtorch.
This contest has so much hanging on it. Both coaches are under the pump; both teams have injuries to key players; and both have big-name full-forwards out of form.
Jack Riewoldt. Photo: Getty Images
For me, it’s this goal-square battle between Jack Riewoldt and 200-gamer Travis Cloke that is most appealing; that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing.
Both have had patchy starts to the year. Jack’s come in for his share of criticism for being so erratic, while big Trav has been held goalless twice in three games. In fact, he’s had just three shots at goal for the year, which is an amazing stat for such an important player.
On top of that, he’s been involved in 22 one-on-one contests, and won just two of them.
Travis Cloke. Photo: Getty Images
Cloke’s game hasn’t been helped by Collingwood’s kicking efficiency, which has the Pies ranked 16th. They have missed targets and turned the ball over repeatedly.
The Pies’ inside-50 numbers have also dropped, from an average of 54.9 a game (No. 3 in 2013) to 46.3 (No. 12 this year). So the delivery into the forward line hasn’t been skilful - or plentiful - a bad combination for any key forward.
But Trav also has to learn to deal with what all good forwards cop - and that’s being double- and sometimes triple-teamed. He is an endurance beast who covers the ground as well as any forward. But I’m not sure he’s running to the right places.
Only 20 per cent of his disposals this season have been won inside the forward 50, well down on his usual figure. That means 80 per cent of his possessions are being picked up outside the 50-metre arc.
So he’s doing a lot of running - and that’s a good way to wear your opponents out - but I’d like to see him win more of the ball closer to goal.
It’s about reading the play better. If he can see that the ball-carrier is not going to honour his lead, he has to double back and get to the next contest behind him.
So instead of being a one-dimensional, mark-kick player, he can influence games in other ways. By using his strength at ground level, for example, and dishing off handballs.
Here's what I’d be telling Cloke - and Riewoldt for that matter - if I was their coach: Don’t just try to get to a dozen or 15 marking contests in the game; get to 30 contests full stop - 15 marking and 15 crumbing. Just get to where the ball is and don’t limit yourself to being just a mark-kick player. Spread yourself around and get involved.
Which brings me to enigmatic Jack.
Unlike Cloke, Jack hasn’t got the tank to run all day. He plays closer to goal and is winning about 60 per cent of his ball inside the forward 50.
But, like Cloke, his reliance on marking is too heavy. He needs to get to more contests, not just marking contests.
To me, he’s a natural full-forward who just gets off on kicking goals. You saw last week against the Bulldogs how he became so energised when he started snagging a few goals in the second half; he just came alive.
So put him in the goal square and leave him there. And not just that, but have his teammates kick the ball to him.
The Tigers went to Riewoldt just twice in the opening half last week - and eight times in the second half. To me, that’s just ridiculous. This season, Ty Vickery has been the target for Richmond midfielders 25 times and Riewoldt just 21.
C’mon Tigers, who’s the two-time Coleman medallist? Jack’s your man. Now give him a chance and kick it to him.
The thing we know about Jack is that if he is a target inside 50 then he draws players and creates space for others. If he’s playing as a decoy, then opponents are able to zone off him and put pressure on other forwards, such as Vickery and Griffiths, and block space.
There’s one other point I’d like to make about Friday night, and it concerns the likelihood of wet, slippery conditions. Some people make excuses for big forwards when the weather turns bad. Sorry, but I don’t buy that.
If you’re getting paid the big bucks, you’ve got to learn to play in rain, hail or shine. Using the weather as an excuse if you’re a big guy is a cop-out. If you can’t take big marks, or the ball isn’t being delivered to you precisely, you’ve got to use your strength and skill in other ways to help the team.
Here’s what else the figures reveal: Richmond is not moving the ball as quickly this year. Last season it played on after a mark 32.1 per cent of the time; this year it’s down to 21.1 per cent (ranked 17th).
Perhaps, as a result, Riewoldt and the forward line has struggled. All forwards love it when the ball gets delivered to them quickly.
As a romantic, and lover of forwards who dominate matches, I really hope they both fire up on Friday night and show us how good they are. Whoever performs best will have a big say in their team’s fortunes … and perhaps turn their own season around.