West Coast v Collingwood: Saturday 5/3 – 5.40pm (Local Time) at Patersons Stadium, Perth
After a deplorable 2010 season, West Coast has come out in 2011 as if it has a point to prove to the rest of the league. The Eagles upset a young Hawthorn side by two points then defeated arch-rivals Fremantle by 12 points in their two 20/20 matches during the opening round of the NAB Cup. Last week, they taught an inexperienced Gold Coast side a lesson with a commanding 37-point victory. Veteran ruckman Dean Cox has been outstanding so far, accumulating 28 disposals and a couple of goals in the two games he’s played in.
The Magpies have begun their 2011 campaign in the same fashion they finished their 2010 one. In the first round of 20/20 matches, they comfortably defeated a helpless Richmond side by 43 points, and then backed up with a tight seven-point win over Carlton. Forward Chris Dawes threatened all match against the Tigers with three telling goals, while Steele Sidebottom showed why he is going to be a star of the future with a classy 12-possession game against the Blues. Last week, gun midfielder Dane Swan kicked four goals and gathered 24 touches to lead the Pies to a hard-fought 14-point win over Sydney.
Taken at pick three in the 2007 national draft, Chris Masten has still yet to announce himself as an AFL player. The 21-year-old has shown glimpses of his blistering speed and sublime ball skills, but hasn’t been able to do it on a consistent basis. According to all reports, Masten has torn up the training track over the preseason and is set for a big year with the Eagles. A solid game against the Pies on Saturday night will certainly put him on the right track.
Veteran Leon Davis might have saved his AFL career. The 29-year-old – who didn’t play in Collingwood’s successful grand final side last year due to poor form – produced an eye-catching performance against the Swans last week, but this time playing off the half-back line. Davis, widely renowned as a livewire forward pocket, used his creativity and fabulous foot skills to find targets while rebounding out of defensive 50. He will need to manufacture a similar effort on Saturday night to cement his spot in the side for the upcoming home-and-away season.
The Eagles have made it clear they want to field a strong team on Saturday night to give them the best chance possible of beating Collingwood and advancing to the grand final. In recent years, the club has used the third pre-season game as an opportunity to rest some of their best players. But that is not the attitude the club has taken this time round, with skipper Darren Glass, Andrew Embley and Beau Waters among a host of senior players included for the game against the Pies.
Conversely, several Collingwood stars won’t make the trip to Perth this weekend, with Alan Didak, Heath Shaw, Chris Tarrant, Luke Ball, Leigh Brown and Brad Dick all set to miss the match. However two-time premiership ruckman Darren Jolly will play his first game of the preseason, so the Pies can counter the Eagles’ strong ruck combination of Cox, Nick Naitanui and Quinten Lynch. Rising stars Sidebottom, Scott Pendlebury and Tyson Goldsack also return to the side.
No doubt this game will be won in and around the stoppages. West Coast dominated the clearances against the Suns last week, largely due to the dominance of its three big ruckmen. However Jolly is an experienced campaigner who has a great understanding with Collingwood’s star-studded midfield, which includes Swan, Sidebottom, Pendlebury and Dale Thomas.
Despite the three-hour flight and a few first-choice players missing, the Pies should be too classy and experienced for West Coast.
Collingwood by 30 points