Off the back of a fairly turbulent off-season, Collingwood will look to do their talking on the field as they take to the MCG tonight. Having lost Mark Neeld during Grand Final Week to Melbourne, the Pies, despite Dane Swan’s Brownlow win, were beaten convincingly by Geelong on that cold Saturday afternoon in October. Having then, as expected, lost Mick Malthouse the minute the Premiership Coach had time to do his all-to-familiar losing Grand Final comfort routine and Scott Watters to St. Kilda: Nathan Buckley’s Pies will be looking to prove themselves to be as scintillating as ever after the ball is bounced. Having won the NAB Cup last season, the Pies have the opportunity to make a big statement that they are a long way from gone.
Key Men: Dane Swan will be expected to continue his meteoric rise up the footballing ranks. With the Bulldogs and the Giants sporting two of the weakest midfields in the competition, the Brownlow Medalist will be on the hunt for big numbers along with teammate Luke Ball. Expect Darren Jolly, Chris Dawes and Heath Shaw to also play key roles for the Magpies.
Ones to Watch: Jarrod Witts has been spoken about like a young, freakishly tall, son for over a year now by Collingwood supporters. The giant ruck man, who stands at 208cm and has joined the AFL Big-Man ranks along with Aaron Sandilands and Max Gawn, will look to stamp his authority with Jolly on the likes of Brogan and Minson. Shae McNamara, the young American who shot to fame over YouTube, remains an unknown but will certainly draw some attention due to his confident manner and unorthodox playing style.
Season 2011 was not one to remember for the Dogs of the West, they crashed out of their top 4 perch in spectacular fashion, missing the finals before losing young-gun Callan Ward to the side they will face tonight, the GWS Giants. With Rodney Eade spared the opportunity for further hair-loss by David Smorgon and the Dogs board, Brendan McCartney will take the headset and, after so many years of waiting, the former Essendon assistant is unlikely to let the chance slip through his fingers. Whether or not they will continue on with their attacking game plan remains under wraps, but however they line up, they’ll be doing so in style; having removed the clip-art Bulldog from their traditional two-striped Guernsey.
Key Men: As per usual, Matthew Boyd the captain will be looked upon for leadership by a young Bulldogs outfit. Coming off a good 2011, ‘Boydy’ will again be the feature of a Bulldogs midfield that has lost a lot of experience over the last two years. Expect to see a few hip and shoulder on old-boy Ward as the game progresses tonight. Daniel Cross will play a similar role, while Liam Jones who has impressed during the pre-season will look to become a feature in the forward line after the retirement of controversial big-man Barry Hall.
Ones to Watch: Zephaniah Skinner barely got a look in under Rodney Eade but the high-flying forward will be given his chance for the Dogs tonight. Expect to hear some noise when the ball comes near him, and hope that he has his jumping boots on against a defense with 18 games between it. Matthew Panos was highly-touted on the BigFooty Forums during his final year of junior football, but despite not being picked in the National Draft, he has impressed on the Rookie List for the last two years and will line up for the Dogs at least once during the Round-Robin.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
The second of the new generation of franchise clubs, the Giants have certainly ruffled some feathers with the way they’ve gone bout establishing themselves. Hiring Kevin Sheedy as coach, a myriad of changes in the board room and some patchy recruitment techniques won’t have landed the Giants too many neutrals on their side tonight, but the Orange and Charcoal brigade hope that future success will convert a typically Rugby League supporting population to tune in. Having released a club song that will have immigrants longing for another lonely night at the Cabaret Club, the multi-cultural Giants are having a second attempt at a night Premiership and will have a better shot at it this year with some experience and exciting youngsters added to the list. Sheedy and Mark Williams can safely anticipate that they’ll have their hands full tonight and throughout the next season (and beyond) as their Motley Crew of ‘Golden-Oldies’ and ‘Young-Guns’ begin their AFL odyssey. Expect blood.
Key Men: Callan Ward gets his third mention of the article here, with the former Bulldogs midfielder having been handed one third of the captaincy reigns for the club this season. Perhaps the biggest body on the list, Ward will have his work cut out when he tries to stop the likes of Boyd, Cross, Swan and Ball from overrunning his boys tonight. He’ll be relying on help from his more experienced teammates, specifically Luke Power, Rhys Palmer and Tom Scully. Let it be said that despite his cat-and-mouse defection last year, the latter may well be the most talented player on the Giants list. Earning $1m per year, everybody involved with the gamble will be hoping it pays off, and specifically praying that his troublesome knee doesn’t obstruct his scope for further progress at Blacktown.
Ones to Watch: One can’t be entirely sure how to pick out two players from a list that sports 10 first round draft selections. Stephen Coniglio arrived at GWS with big expectation on his shoulders; the midfielder will be keen to match them with a style that screams Trent Cotchin. Dom Tyson and William Hoskin-Elliot are two more young midfielders, while Jeremy Cameron is a forward whose name has grown in stature over the break.
Collingwood over GWS by 100
Western Bulldogs over GWS by 40
Collingwood over Western Bulldogs by 3