The Tackle: Can Pies carry Cox against ‘big boy’ Tigers?
Make no mistake about it, the Tigers look every bit like a premiership contender.
And this Friday night's clash with Collingwood is going to be absolutely massive.
But how should the Magpies hit the MCG blockbuster given the struggles of Mason Cox?
Mark Robinson looks at both Collingwood, Richmond and plenty more in this week's Tackle.
WHAT I LIKE
1. BIG BOYS COME TO PLAY
Richmond has a 4-1 record with Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch in the team and looks every inch a premiership contender.
The suggestion these two would take time to jell has been dismissed. Lynch is in terrific form and Riewoldt, already a selfless forward, is making further sacrifices to give Lynch more room.
Over the past two weeks with Riewoldt back in the team, Lynch has won 37 disposals, 26 contested possessions and 13 marks, had 23 score involvements and kicked 6.4. Riewoldt has kicked 4.2 and played a team role. They will pose a mountain of problems for Collingwood on Friday.
2. WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE COLLINGWOOD FORWARD LINE?
Mason Cox's output on Saturday raises questions. Is he a liability or is he surviving because of structure?
He had just four disposals against GWS, his fewest in more than 40 matches. It was the first time he has been held goalless this year. Since Round 6, Cox has averaged 43 ranking points, the seventh fewest of anyone to play five or more matches. Players below him include Ben King, Will Schofield and Billy Gowers.
Does coach Nathan Buckley persevere or change the structure and play a "small ball" set-up? That could mean returning Jordan De Goey to full-forward and surrounding him with Brody Mihocek, Josh Thomas, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Callum Brown and Travis Varcoe. It could also mean returning Chris Mayne to the forward 50m. It's a bit radical, but how long can you hope Cox will turn it around?
3. LIAM SHIELS
Sometimes a player is highly respected at a club but doesn't quite get the same from outside. Shiels is one of those players.
Assigned to Patrick Dangerfield, Shiels, like his team, was magnificent. Dangerfield was no slouch but Shiels was among the most influential on the field.
"Pup has been a special player for our club in a different sort of way,'' coach Alastair Clarkson said. "He's a great teammate and he sacrifices his game for the benefit of the team."
4. BRISBANE LIONS
Good news pouring out of the Lions, not least the admission by Luke Hodge that there was a "small possibility" he could play in 2020.
He laughed when he said it, but there's no doubt a discussion will be held between him and the coach at the end of the season.
Why wouldn't he play again if his body holds up?
After 18 rounds the Lions sit in second spot and that should finally convince the doubters they can win the flag. If they hold on to second spot, Collingwood, West Coast or Richmond would not enjoy travelling to the Gabba to play a final.
5. IT'S HAPPENED AGAIN
New coach, better response, this time coming from St Kilda. The Saints kicked 11.6 to 3.4 in the first half and withstood a more spirited Bulldogs in the second half.
You have to wonder what former coach Alan Richardson was thinking.
He might say he didn't have Jack Lonie from Rounds 7-16 - and on Sunday Lonie booted three goals in the first quarter. He'd also wonder where that accuracy has been. The Saints would be pleased and the Bulldogs so disappointed. Finals were a possibility and they blew it.
6. LEON CAMERON
Lambasted for his supposed poor coaching against Richmond the week before, Cameron responded with a masterclass in preparation, selection and game-day coaching.
He was forced to act due to injuries and then was able to soup up his team and squash the Pies in the first quarter.
Some say it was the best quarter the Giants have played. It was brutal football and it delivered eight goals. Cameron's plans all worked, among them moving Toby Greene, Zac Williams and Daniel Lloyd into the midfield and Lachie Whitfield to a wing.
The ruck combination of Dawson Simpson and Shane Mumford, where one of them played forward, stretched a Collingwood defence that was overwhelmed by the three key-forward set-up of Jeremy Cameron, Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg (13 goals between them).
Four wins in a row and talk about coach John Worsfold being under pressure to keep his job has been significantly alleviated.
The contest was at the forefront on Friday night and from there everything else clicked after quarter-time.
There were winners at half-back (Aaron Francis and Conor McKenna) and in the forward line (Jake Stringer and Mitch Brown), but it was in the middle where the Crows were left chasing air.
Dylan Shiel has had his critics, but since Round 9 he has raised his kicking efficiency from 51 per cent to 59 per cent and kicked five goals. He didn't kick a goal in the first eight rounds. He now has five.
If the Dons beat Gold Coast on Sunday, a finals spot is almost assured.
8. TRIPLE TREAT
Gutsy coaching from Ross Lyon on Saturday night.
Played three ruckmen in the one-point win over Sydney, a rare tactic in today's running game.
"It was (a gamble), but it's a big ground and really difficult in these conditions," Lyon said. "It was a calculated risk. They had mobility so it could have gone either way."
Sean Darcy attended 38 ruck contests, Aaron Sandilands 23 and Rory Lobb 23. The result was Fremantle was plus 24 in clearances - the second largest in a game this season. And Sydney won the first five of the game.
The three big men had a combined 45 disposals, 36 contested possessions, 53 hitouts, and 14 hitouts to advantage, and kicked three goals. It was a torrid debut for Swans ruckman Hayden McLean but coach John Longmire was encouraged. "We thought Hayden McLean had a real go tonight,'' he said.
9. ANOTHER CHANCE
Departed St Kilda coach Alan Richardson is holidaying in Bali and he might well need to get used to the warm weather.
He is expected to stay in Victoria and work in footy, according to his good mate, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley, but don't rule out a move interstate.
Gold Coast has already contacted Richardson and he has told it he would be delighted to talk. A role in development or even as an assistant coach is part of the Suns' thinking.
10 NO CRIPPS, NO COMPETITIVE BLUES?
That's not the case any more. Patrick Cripps had four kicks and 14 handballs and yet the Blues won by 24 points.
Wins deliver beautiful moments and the best was the celebration for Josh Deluca's first goal in his first game for the club.
He played four games in three years at Fremantle and is the latest player in the mid-season draft to leave a mark in the game.
Surely David Teague is favourite to get the coaching gig full-time.
WHAT I DISLIKE
1. IT'S JUST NOT MASON COX?
Since the bye Collingwood is averaging 67 points (ranked 14th).
The Pies can't score. It doesn't help when a midfield - the supposed best midfield of all time, according to Matty Lloyd at the start of the year - bowed to the Giants.
The Giants were missing Josh Kelly, Stephen Coniglio, Callan Ward and Matt de Boer and they still had the ascendancy, despite Magpie ruckman Brodie Grundy's dominance.
The Pies are in a scrap to finish in the top four after being in the top two for the most of the season. If they lose to the Tigers on Friday night, they will be fifth and could slip to sixth. The Pies are going in one direction while their main opponents are heading the other way.
2. GO-SLOW GEELONG
Three of Geelong's past five scores have been 56, 55 and on Sunday 61 points.
All those scores resulted in defeats. The opposition gets credit for denying Geelong how it wants to play, but the Cats must be a little concerned about how they are moving the ball.
"For whatever reason we were a little too safe with the ball, which played into the way they defend,'' coach Chris Scott said.
Scott likes safe football, but it was too safe and Sunday was reminiscent of the loss to the Bulldogs in Round 16. Even down to the inaccurate kicking. That night it was 7.13. On Sunday it was 8.13.
3. NEAR ENOUGH NOT GOOD ENOUGH
One team Melbourne has challenged this year is West Coast.
The Dees were beaten by 16 points at Perth Stadium in Round 9 and by 13 points in Alice Springs on Sunday. When you watch the Demons take on the premier like they did, it's even more dumbfounding when you look at the ladder and they sit in 17th position behind Carlton.
So much to like, such as Bayley Frisch's 14 marks and four goals and Christian Salem off a back flank, and the fact the team has not thrown in the towel.
Still, they are in 17th spot and the owners of the title of the most disappointing team in 2019.
4. PORT ADELAIDE
Focused on the draft last year after going to the trade/free-agency market the year before and both approaches have resulted in mid-table placings.
Since 2014, Port Adelaide has finished 5th, 9th, 10th, 5th, 10th and is currently 9th. The last time it finished in the top four was in 2007.
It's become increasingly apparent Port is not good enough or consistent enough to play in September.
The positive is it will finish mid-table with youngsters such as Connor Rozee, Zak Butters, Xavier Duursma, Karl Amon, Dan Houston, Riley Bonner, Sam Powell-Pepper, Willem Drew and Dougal Howard coming through.
The alternative of being mid-table with an old team is hardly ideal.
5. MATT CROUCH
He is the quintessential accumulator at Adelaide but you have to wonder how much he hurts the opposition.
True, when he has the ball the opposition doesn't and that's an important factor in any game. He won 33 disposals against Essendon on Friday night but had just three score involvements and 242m gained - terribly low numbers for a 33-possession performance.
Of the top-50 ball-winners this year, he sits second-last for metres gained per disposal. He also has the sixth-lowest contested-possession rate among the 34 midfielders averaging 25 disposals. Of those 34 midfielders, he is sixth last for score involvements per disposal.
To break it down, Crouch is an outside midfielder who doesn't hurt the opposition enough as an outside midfielder.
6. BUT HE'S NOT THE REAL PROBLEM
The Crows were the oldest team of the round and got pumped at home by an Essendon team ranked the fourth youngest of the round.
That equates to alarm bells. Adelaide has the profile of a team that should be contending, yet it is clinging to a finals spot.
The Crows have Matt Crouch, Brad Crouch and Rory Sloane in the middle and have added Brodie Smith and Wayne Milera to inject speed. Big decisions loom at the end of the year, mainly around Eddie Betts and Hugh Greenwood and how they find more speed via trades. Betts has kicked 32 goals for the year - 12 against Gold Coast.
7. NOT IDEAL FOR NORTH MELBOURNE
The AFL said on Sunday the decision against Scott Thompson for blocking Oscar McInerney was wrong, but it's little comfort for North Melbourne, which almost certainly won't play finals.
But what can be done about it? Mistakes are made, just as Jamie Macmillan did when he dropped a mark and handed Brisbane a goal earlier in the game.
The Roos are on the right track.
The scoreboard probably flattered them for the second time in two weeks, but they were still in both games at the death. Surely it's a good sign to be so close when not playing your best football.
8. OR FOR CHRIS SCOTT
The AFL's official Twitter page on Sunday put Scott in focus.
Alongside a demonstrative video of Scott complaining in the box, the AFL wrote, "Thank you Chris Scott for all your gif goodness", which of course invited the Scott haters to take potshots.
It's OK if AFL Media wants to take the mickey out of coaches and players when the opportunity arises, but if it wants to be considered a fair dinkum media company, why doesn't it take the mickey out of Gillon McLachlan, Steve Hocking and Richard Goyder when the AFL is under the pump?