Undoubtedly the most surprising team in the finals this year, Port Adelaide travel to Melbourne for a clash against Collingwood on Saturday night at the MCG. Claiming some big scalps along the way, Port has played great team footy throughout the year, and will take it up to the Pies in the 2nd Elimination Final. For Collingwood, a slightly disappointing season where they didn’t manage to build on a top 4 spot last year, but they have to be happy with the way they ended their season. Wins over Essendon and Sydney saw them play their best footy of the year.
A spot against the loser of Geelong and Fremantle is up for grabs, so where is this game going to be won and lost?
The ever impressive Collingwood midfield will drive any success they have in the finals. This presents a monstrous task for the Port Adelaide midfield in trying to stop them. Who do you need to stop first? I’d go Pendlebury. His ball use is exceptional and his calmness under pressure is something to behold. Last time they played, Dom Cassisi got the job on him, and while he didn’t have the best of days, Pendles was still the best of the Pies’ midfield. The other main tagger for Port is Kane Cornes. Usually getting the number one man of the opposition, Cornes was sent to Harry O’Brien in Round 14, presumably to stop that explosive run off half back. With Harry O in impressive form, stopping him will be a high priority for the Port Adelaide coaching staff, but I can’t see this happening again. Stopping Pendlebury will go a long way to a Port Adelaide win, and the best man for the job is Kane Cornes.
For Port Adelaide, expect Chad Wingard to be heavily tagged by Brent Macaffer. The 19 year old has excelled in his second year in AFL, with many expecting him to pick up All Australian honours at the end of the year. The half forward flanker plays the perfect role in his team, floating up into the midfield on occasion to give Port a much needed boost. While he doesn’t consistently play in here, giving the A-list midfield a break, whilst adding that bit of X-factor is hard for opposition midfielders to contain. Macaffer is perfectly suited to this role, and is very capable of holding his own in the midfield. Tagging Daniel Wells last week, who is in a very similar mould to Wingard shows just the sort of role he’s suited to. Wells was kept to 21 possessions and kicked 2 goals, so nothing overly special from Macaffer. Expect him to lift his game this week.
Key Individual Matchups
Dane Swan v Travis Boak
Is Swan worth tagging? Yes, he’ll probably pick up 30-plus possessions, but only half of those will be in meaningful positions. He runs exceptionally hard, don’t get me wrong, but tagging someone picking up uncontested marks in the back 50 is a bit of a waste. Last time these teams met this was a very one-sided affair. Boak absolutely crushed Swan. At times you wondered if Swan had bothered to show up. He just simply was not working hard enough around the ground. Even a move up forward for Swan did little to get him into the game, failing to tally a goal. Boak on the other hand had a meaningful 29 touches and a goal in a blistering display through the midfield. Swanny will be bitterly disappointed by his performance in this match
Angus Monfries v Heath Shaw
Another matchup where a tag could be implemented, but wouldn’t this be a ripper if it happened? Last time they played, Monfries was able to take Shaw deep in the forward line to completely nullify his slingshot ability. Monfries ended up kicking 2 goals, and Shaw was kept to only 12 touches. The situation of the game probably allowed for this to happen, with Port dominating most of the proceedings. In a good game for the Pies, Shaw is playing last man and running free from half back. If this is the case, Port is going to have real trouble in stopping the Pies.
Hamish Hartlett v Harry O’Brien
Harry O has been electrifying since his return late in the season, and is usually a good indicator of how the Pies are playing. His attacking capabilities are well known, with powerful running through the midfield key to his team’s success. He’s every chance of running up forward and snagging a goal or two. One thing that comes into question though is his defensive capability, which is where Hamish Hartlett comes in. With Hartlett returning from suspension, Port needs his running capabilities to go with O’Brien on the defensive, but then will be able to punish him with Port heading forward. Another crucial matchup in the context of the game.
Areas to Watch
Last time they played
In one of the more surprising results of the year, Port Adelaide crushed the Pies in Round 14 at AAMI Stadium. After a shaky start, the Power took control of the game halfway through the first and never looked back. In a high intensity match where both teams had at least 70 tackles, the Pies were completely outrun, dominated in the clearances and were smashed 54-38 in inside 50’s. In an up and down season for Collingwood, this was certainly close to the bottom. Is this going to be playing on the mind of both teams heading in? Port will certainly be confident of their ability to overpower the Collingwood midfield and stop the run on all areas of the ground. The Pies on the other hand are now well aware of how dangerous Port Adelaide can be. They have to work harder with and without the ball to get over the line in this match
Port Adelaide is entering a finals series for the first time since 2007, with only 5 players surviving from that campaign. Collingwood on the other hand are taking in many premiership winning players from 2010, plus deep runs in 2011 and 2012 have given the majority of the Collingwood squad a look at what finals footy intensity is all about. This will be a significant difference between the two sides on the night, and may be too much for the Power to overcome. Can the Pies turn it back on though? Their match against the Kangaroos last week was almost comical, with only 39 tackles, and 117 contested possessions. That will lose you most matches, and in an Elimination Final it simply won’t be good enough.
This should be a closer match than what most people are predicting. Port has shown throughout the year that they can match it with the top sides when they’re on their game. The Power will have many matches like this in the coming years, so what better way to announce their legitimacy by taking it right to Collingwood on Saturday night. Their young guns have injected life into what had been in previous years a pretty dull team. Everyone is playing for the coach and have all bought into his game plan. Their ability to contest the ball on every occasion is quite impressive, most notably in their defeat of the Swans in Round 13. Play like that again and they’ll win. Simple as that. Whether or not they’ll be allowed to play like that is another thing.
Collingwood has a very solid team in every area of the ground. Ben Reid up forward has given them something else to look at rather than just Travis Cloke. Their small forwards are always in the right spot, and are capable of pushing up the ground. Their defence is solid, run by Captain Nick Maxwell, and with Shaw running through and setting up counter-attacks, it’s hard to get through. Put one of the most impressive midfields in the competition on top of that and there’s a very solid team. The past month of footy has seen a more stable Collingwood, who had been struggling with dips in form throughout the season.
The Pies will be too strong in too many areas, and with so much finals experience amongst their key players, it will be too much for a young Port Adelaide team to overcome. The Power will give it a red hot crack though, and it should be tight for around three quarters before the Pies will kick away
Prediction: Pendles to have a huge one, and the rest of his team to be too strong in the key moments. Pies by 21