A week ago I would have pencilled in this game as a comfortable win for Collingwood, but a week is a long time in football.
The Magpies will go into this game missing two of the four main keys to their success, and the question becomes: can they adequately replace Steele Sidebottom for four weeks and Jeremy Howe for the whole season?
We don’t need to go back too far in history to know that the loss of key players can be covered by competent replacements coming into the team and the players around the ‘gap’ created by the injured player rising to the challenge. Richmond last year lost the services of Alex Rance early in the season and Dylan Grimes stepped up to fill the void and was backed by the likes of Brandon Ellis, Bachar Houli, David Astbury and Nick Vlastuin, all top 100 game players at the Tigers.
Collingwood’s back six have been outstanding this year, with this week being the first time any of the six has been unable to play. Howe, named in the five best players in three of the four games so far, has an AFL Fantasy point score average of over 85. Not far behind him are unsung heroes Brayden Maynard; John Noble, who played five games in his debut year last year; Jack Crisp, who has not missed a game since he joined the Magpies; Darcy Moore; and Jordan Roughead, the bargain buy of 2019.
Maynard played his 100th AFL match two weeks ago and was outstanding. He backed it up in Round 4, but an unfortunate costly miskick marred his performance.
Adam Treloar will be the ideal replacement for Steele Sidebottom, who has also been having a stellar year, if he has been able to shrug off his soft tissue injuries, and Jack Madgen, who has just been squeezed out of the best 22, should replace Jeremy Howe.
Essendon will also be missing two of their prime movers, with Dyson Heppell out with a long-term injury and Zac Merrett suspended, but the kings of close finishes, who have had two six-point wins and one one-point loss this season, are a talented side able to cover the loss of these two players. Even with Heppell missing Essendon will still field more top 100 game players than Collingwood, with three still in the mix and another two on the cusp of joining them.
Michael Hurley will be the only Bomber to advance up the list in this game. He will overtake Alan Noonan, who played for the club in the 1960s and 1970s. Noonan was recruited from Warragul with a huge reputation and topped Essendon’s goal kicking seven times. He still sits in the Dons rop ten goal kickers of all time and is No. 86 on the AFL all-time goal kickers list. He missed most of the 1970 season due to being called up for national service. He finished at Essendon in 1976 and moved to Richmond for one year. He died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer.
The Magpies will be down to just one top 100 game player this weekend, but he will have plenty to celebrate. Scott Pendlebury will play his 306th game at Collingwood, which will see him draw level with legend Gordon Coventry as the second greatest game player at the Magpies. Coventry’s career started 100 years ago and he still is the second greatest VFL/AFL goal scorer of all time.
As well as Coventry, Pendlebury will also draw level with five other AFL/VFL champions who finished their careers on 306 games: Alistair Lynch (Fitzroy/Brisbane), David Neitz (Melbourne), Wayne Schimmelbusch (North Melbourne), Adam Simpson (North Melbourne) and Paul Williams (Collingwood and Sydney).