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The premiership’s a cake walk

The Magpies are in hot form leading into September?

We are at the half-way point of season 2012, a year notable for the relative competitiveness of the best 10 or so sides.  Though cutting through the pack and pulling to the front even now is the real contender: Collingwood.  This should not be a shock to anyone.  The surprise is that so many had written off this battle hardened team of champions, this champion team, so early.  After Round 3, Carlton having delivered them a 10 goal drubbing, they were apparently done.

Mick Malthouse suggested that new coach Nathan Buckley had tinkered too heavily with the defensive structures that he had near-perfected.  There were mutterings that the players were not behind Buckley either.  They’d lost their hunger, too.  What nonsense that all seems now.  Even with a veritable all-star team off the track injured, Collingwood are on their winning way.  They sit atop an albeit wonky ladder part-way through a run of bye rounds.

Buckley should be applauded for making just enough of a change to a proven game style, as Chris Scott was last year in rejuvenating the Cats.  He has let this skilful team a little off the leash, kept up with the evolution of the game and now looks forward to the second half of the year at the helm of the red-hot premiership favourite.

There are realistically three teams in contention after round 11: West Coast and Adelaide are the others.  At least one of these two will win a home  preliminary final, most likely the Eagles, so one is all but assured of a grand final spot where they will face off against the Magpies.

The only fly in this ointment would be a shock loss amongst the top 4 in the first round of the finals, possible if the Pies have to travel west.  This would throw them back amongst the flock, and forceeably run them into someone like Geelong, who only a fool would completely write off.

The premiership defenders are going through a considerable generational shift.  Having lost a chunk of their core, the super team of the last few years have filled the gaps with a very young fleet of not-quite-there-yets.  The Cats look a few mid twenty-something year old draft picks away from genuinely being amongst it.

Sydney will threaten to finish in the top 4.  They are up and about and playing exciting footy, their game against Essendon last week was revelatory.  Their outside run was stunning and left the Bombers shell-shocked for three quarters.  As for the boys from Windy Hill, they have lost an engine mid-flight, again.  Having failed to win a game in June in either of the last two seasons, and with the bye and a trip to Perth to meet a fighting Fremantle ahead, it’s difficult to see them holding a position in the top 4 by season’s end.

Hawthorn are the undoubted wild-card.  Never has a term so befitted a team.  If the Hawks can string together a decent run, there may be no stopping them.  There’s no doubt that their best is good enough to have anyone worried in September, nobody will want to draw them in a final.

Carlton will come back into the eight.  As bad as their last period has been, one suspects they will find some form again once their stars find some confidence, and they bring back some of their injured.

Having played out one of the greatest spectacles in modern home-and-away footy a week and a half ago, St Kilda and Richmond will be unlucky, and fall agonisingly short.  Fremantle may have enough home games to threaten for eighth spot, and might just sneak in and ruin someone’s final.

Nick Ashenden

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