If, at the start of the year, someone had declared that on the eve on the ANZAC Day match, the sides would be entering with a 4-0 and 2-2 record, you’d probably would have nodded your head in agreement and thought, ‘seems obvious enough’.
If they then told you Essendon would be the undefeated team, you probably would have scoffed at the mere suggestion of the Bombers making it to round five without a loss.
But here we are, and this contest becomes one that has huge ramifications on the rest of the year, something the last few ANZAC Day’s have been unable to promise.
The ANZAC Day match is one of the rare encounters where both sides have a knack of playing out of their skin and beating a much more fancied opponent.
Form becomes irrelevant, and for the first time in quite some time, Essendon will be hoping their form holds up after embarrassing Premiership fancies Carlton last week.
It’s also been a long time between drinks for Coaches James Hird and Nathan Buckley.
The two enhanced their reputation as players on the big stage that the ANZAC Day match provides, and they will be hoping their charges can do the same.
Both sides have been ravaged by injuries, and will be hoping their youth manages to hold up after such a short break, but it is likely that the more experienced core will have to carry the burden.
Watson has become elite in the last few seasons, and he has not put a step wrong in 2012. Where once there were queries over his foot disposal, Watson’s vast improvement has completely quietened all critics.
With key inside midfielder Luke Ball missing from Collingwood, stopping Watson becomes a nightmare for the Pies. Often the best way to limit an in and under player like Watson is not through negating tactics but rather through your inside mids simply being better and denying the opponent first use.
With Ball out, someone needs to step up and stop Watson from getting his hands on the ball first, if not, Watson’s clean use to runners on the outside has the potential to carve the Pies defence apart.
After one quiet game against Carlton, Pendlebury was back to his breathtaking best against Port Adelaide last week.
The Blues showed that if Pendlebury is stopped, the Collingwood midfield will slow down with him, and so Essendon must place great emphasis on shutting him down.
Pendlebury has shown in previous years that he thrives on the big stage, winning a Norm Smith and the previous two ANZAC Day Medals.
James Hird will be hoping Pendlebury doesn’t win a third as it would surely result in a Collingwood victory.
Crameri has quickly become one of the great success stories in the AFL. After three years on the Bombers’ rookie list, Crameri took his chance and has shone at the elite level.
Last week was no different, as he finished with 11 shots on goal, and after winning the Bombers’ goal kicking last year, he is the go-to man for Essendon in attack.
Collingwood will attempt to shut him down by utilising a loose man floating across and destroying the contests, but if Crameri can get on the board early, it will go a long way to an Essendon victory.
Two weeks ago, Jolly was comprehensively beaten by the ruckmen of Carlton, and Collingwood as a result looked incapable of stopping the onslaught.
This week Jolly faces a strong rucking duo in Ryder and Tom Bellchambers, who, based on 2012 form, are threatening to do the same as Carlton did a fortnight ago.
Ryder is in career best form, kicking goals and dominating stoppages, and it is no surprise to see Essendon’s surge up the ladder coincide with his purple patch.
Jolly must give the Collingwood midfielders a chance from the ruck, otherwise they may quickly find themselves blown away by the Bombers’ speed around the contest.
Based on all evidence available, this match is set to be a gem. Both sides are capable of exhilarating football, and whilst only Essendon have put that together for four quarters, Collingwood’s best is probably above what Essendon are capable of.
The fact that Collingwood have yet to put it together under their new coach adds another layer of intrigue to the contest, but on the big stage in front of a massive crowd they should pull together and win the four points.
But most importantly, lest we forget.
Collingwood by 8 points
B: Harry O’Brien, Lachlan Keeffe, Nathan Brown
HB: Simon Buckley, Nick Maxwell, Tyson Goldsack
C: Dane Swan, Sharrod Wellingham, Ben Johnson
HF: Paul Seedsman, Chris Dawes, Ben Sinclair
F: Dayne Beams, Travis Cloke, Alex Fasolo
Foll: Darren Jolly, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom
I/C: Alan Toovey, Martin Clarke, Jarryd Blair, Kirk Ugle
Emg: Alan Didak, Cameron Wood, Tom Young
In: Nathan Brown, Kirk Ugle
Out: Tom Young, Jackson Paine
New: Kirk Ugle (Swan Districts)
B: Dustin Fletcher, Cale Hooker, Dyson Heppell
HB: Michael Hibberd, Tayte Pears, Kyle Hardingham
C: Jake Melksham, Jobe Watson, David Zaharakis
HF: Brent Stanton, Patrick Ryder, Jake Carlisle
F: Alwyn Davey, Stewart Crameri, Leroy Jetta
Foll: Tom Bellchambers, Heath Hocking, Angus Monfries
I/C: Ricky Dyson, Sam Lonergan, Ben Howlett, Cory Dell’Olio
Emg: Henry Slattery, Travis Colyer, Luke Davis
In: Jake Carlisle
Out: Michael Hurley (hamstring)
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