After working through the bottom part of the ladder we move into the top 10 and the next two teams both feature a coach and player group coach under pressure to deliver from a passionate fan base with expectations far beyond what has been delivered in recent times.
First stop is Collingwood, where this list is middle of the road in terms of average player age and games played, a fact that will likely show in the results.
Collingwood – 10th
The list profile indicates the Pies have the players they want, with just one player older than 28 and a large majority of first choice players in the 22-27 age bracket. Their best 22 looks like it is capable of finals action if all play to their peak but they will need plenty to go right for that to take place.
B: Marley Williams, Jack Frost, Tyson Goldsack
HB: Tom Langdon, Nathan Brown, Adam Oxley
C: Steele Sidebottom, Scott Pendlebury, Jack Crisp
HF: Jeremy Howe, Ben Reid, Dane Swan
F: Darcy Moore, Travis Cloke, Jamie Elliott
R: Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams, Adam Treloar
I/C: Levi Greenwood, James Aish, Jordan De Goey, Travis Varcoe
Howe comes across from Melbourne as someone the Pies hope can be effective, but there is little v evidence that he is anything but a high-marker. He sneaks into the best 22 ahead of the likes of Jarryd Blair and Alex Fasolo but would want to perform early and often or risk the wrath of the Magpie faithful; if he is display the consistent inconsistently that dogged him at Melbourne, he will find himself in the VFL sooner rather than later.
Moore played with energy and excitement in 2015 and looks set to be the focal point of this forward line for years; Reid will be hoping for a decent run with injury and is best as a forward while Cloke and Swan provide experience and (in Swan’s case) a keen goal sense. Cloke’s best is still elite, but he needs to prove he can adjust to today’s game where he needs to be more than just a lead-up forward. Anything like what he has delivered in the most part over the last two seasons, and Moore may well take the reins earlier than expected.
Elliott started 2015 in fine style but fell away kicking just 11 goals in the last 10 games. With a push into the midfield likely to be stymied by the Pies’ depth in that area, Elliott will look to be more consistent and improve on the 35 goals kicked last season.
Forward line – 6/10
The defence ranked 8th in points conceded in 2015 and ranked in the top six in least inside 50s and rebounds 50s conceded. This performance was largely on the back of Frost and Brown who held the backline down as two of the more unknown but effective key position defenders. The way they performed in 2015 will allow Ben Reid to go forward, but both will want to replicate their efforts from last season as Matt Scharenberg will be knocking at the door if he returns from injury late in the year.
Williams and Langdon were among the best rebounding defenders in the league in 2015, both developing significantly and providing a complement for Goldsack and Alan Toovey who provide tight, tough game styles. Oxley thrived at times when playing as the loose man in defence, tallying 20 or more disposals in eight games and taking more than 10 marks three times. The next step in his development will be coping with attention from the opposition and at 193cm he seems set to become a key part of the Collingwood backline in an attacking role.
Backline rating – 6/10
Pendlebury has been a marvel, one of the few players in the league who seems to make time stop and someone who always has the poise, skill and decision making to make this game seem ever so simple. Among the leaders in kicks, handballs and effective disposals, his ability to get the ball and use it to Coillingwood’s advantage are sure to keep him among the league’s elite.
Treloar came to Collingwood amid great fanfare and will go from being the #1 target at the Giants to being second or third on the list of players that opponents will focus on. This should allow him to thrive even more, and at 22 years of age and having finished in the top 20 in handballs, disposals and effective disposals per game he is set to become an A grader. Figuring to be close behind Treloar and Pendlebury in the pecking order are Sidebottom, Adams and Greenwood; this trio provide the perfect mix of inside grunt and outside class and will be ably supported by Frost who was outstanding in his first season at the Pies in 2015.
Aish went from one of the league’s more promising youngsters in 2014 to a player who seemed to lack the commitment, passion and want to play the game at Brisbane in 2015. While he clearly wanted out of the Lions, he has plenty to prove to both Collingwood and the larger football community; the talent is there but the attitude looks in need of a makeover, and the move may well provide that boost.
Midfield rating – 6/10
Plenty moan about the fact the Pies play so many games at the MCG, but they earn this right by being the league’s biggest drawcard. In 2015 it didn’t help them, and while their success in 2016 will not be solely dependant on the draw there is no doubt they get some assistance in this area.
They open with tough clashes against Richmond and Sydney and have their first back-to-back road games in 21 years in Rounds 16 and 17but with double-ups agsinst Carlton and Melbourne and their last six games in Melbourne, there is very little to fear in this draw for the Carringbush.
Fixture rating – 6/10
Nathan Buckley was a champion footballer but is far from that as a coach. Given an armchair ride into the top job, he enters his fifth year of coaching with a 56% winning record and the pressure of two seasons without finals following an inglorious home elimination final loss to Port Adelade in 2014.
Critics point to a negative game style and inability to adjust in game and in many ways his record is worse than the likes of Damian Hardwick and Brad Scott, who constantly come under criticism and question for their coaching performances.
Being the coach of the country’s biggest club comes with responsibility, and anything less than a finals berth in 2016 would surely place Buckley’s future at the helm in serious jeopardy.
Coaching rating – 5/10
Collingwood are likely to be a middle of the road team who will keep most games close and be solid at either end of the ground without being brilliant. The midfield has as much top-end talent as most in the league, but the depth will be severly tested should any of their top line options get injured.
If the likes of Treloar, Moore, Adams, Frost, Aish, De Goey and Elliott improve at a quicker rate than expected this club should push into finals action, but the good money would be on them finishing with 10-11 wins and finish just outside the top 8, looking in.
Predicted finish – 10th