IT WAS billed as the day North Melbourne regained Daniel Wells, but it could be remembered as the moment another star was born after Taylor Adams propelled Collingwood to a hard-fought eight-point NAB Challenge win on Saturday.
In oppressive conditions at Robertson Oval in Wagga Wagga, the Pies outlasted the Roos in an entertaining and see-sawing contest, 0.12.13 (85) to 1.10.8 (77).
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On the day his mentor Paul Couch passed away suddenly, Adams drove Collingwood's second win of the pre-season, showing his true class booting two goals and racking up 26 disposals.
Adams drilled a spearing shot on the run to nail the game's opening goal and never took his foot off the pedal, despite the mercury soaring to 38 degrees.
The 22-year-old's poise in traffic and exquisite skills made those around him look better, and the speedster seems ready to take the next step in his career.
"Taylor's had a really strong pre-season, he's a leader of the team and I don't think he knows the difference between a NAB Cup game and home and away game," Pies coach Nathan Buckley said.
"He just goes flat out all the time, which is why he's so well-respected by his teammates."
Teammate Levi Greenwood, facing his old side for the first time, was another of Collingwood's best with 25 disposals in a typically hard-working effort.
His performance mirrored Wells' impact for North, whose blend of young and experienced players lost no admirers.
Wells was a welcome sight back in Roos colours after 328 days on the sidelines and he wasted no time getting into the swing of it with the game's first kick.
The trimmed-down veteran sparked the Roos at centre clearances and covered plenty of ground in a confidence-boosting outing after lingering Achilles trouble derailed his 2015 campaign.
"He's been doing that all pre-season. So he's in pretty good shape and pretty well-prepared," coach Brad Scott said.
"We hope he can improve (on past performances). Whenever he's prepared well in the pre-season he's generally had a good season."
Reigning club champion Todd Goldstein picked up where he left off, while running machine Sam Gibson, skipper Andrew Swallow and captain-in-waiting Jack Ziebell were tireless throughout.
After slamming on 21 goals against the Cats last week, the Magpies’ transition from defence to attack appeared slick again, although Buckley rued some of his side's skill errors.
The Pies' numerous avenues to goal – among them Travis Varcoe, skipper Scott Pendlebury, rookie Corey Gault (three goals) and a rejuvenated Alex Fasolo – are sure to excite fans in a reduced interchange era.
However, Travis Cloke's goalkicking woes continued with the spearhead missing two very gettable set shots in the second term and finishing goalless.
At the opposite end, twin towers Ben Brown and Drew Petrie were in great touch, with Petrie bagging three goals in the second term to briefly hand North the ascendancy.
WHAT WE LEARNED
North Melbourne: Daniel Wells is desperate to resurrect his career and prove his doubters wrong in double-quick time. In his first competitive hit-out since round two last year, the 31-year-old looked to have regained his trademark zip and hasn't lost his football nous. Another A-grade outside midfielder-forward is precisely what the Roos needed and, with recruit Jed Anderson eager to impress, North will run a few teams ragged this season.
Collingwood: The Pies' powerhouse 21-goal display against Geelong wasn't a one-off. Nathan Buckley has built an array of weapons into his forward setup, with Alex Fasolo, Taylor Adams, Darcy Moore, Corey Gault, Travis Varcoe, Jarryd Blair, Mason Cox and resting skipper Scott Pendlebury offering strong support for birthday boy Travis Cloke. Throw Jamie Elliott (back), Jeremy Howe (finger) and Dane Swan (rested) into the mix and there aren't many more versatile or dangerous line-ups.
North Melbourne: Mitchell Hibberd dropped a mark he would normally have taken early, although he recovered well so that it didn't cost his side or affect his confidence in a mature performance. Ryan Clarke and Declan Mountford came on after half-time. Mountford showed he's no sucker, not buying a dummy from Brayden Maynard and catching him holding the ball. Clarke ran hard in limited minutes while Farren Ray was relatively quiet with 10 touches.
Collingwood: James Aish racked up 19 disposals in another encouraging outing in black and white. Tom Phillips copped a knee to the back in a marking contest early, but in a positive sign he buttered up at the next stoppage and was hard at the contest throughout. Brayden Sier spent the opening half on the bench and although the No.32 pick was quiet, he will have learned plenty after the long break.
Both teams will converge on Etihad Stadium next Saturday for their final tune-ups leading into round one. The Pies take on the Western Bulldogs in the afternoon on March 12, before the Roos face the Hawks later that night.
NORTH MELBOURNE 0.2.1 0.6.5 1.8.7 1.10.8 (77)
COLLINGWOOD 0.4.3 0.7.5 0.11.9 0.12.13 (85)
North Melbourne: Mullett
North Melbourne: Petrie 3, Nahas 2, Goldstein, Mullett, Gibson, Thomas, Brown
Collingwood: Gault 3, Varcoe 2, Fasolo 2, Adams 2, Pendlebury, Goodyear, Blair
North Melbourne: Goldstein, Wells, Gibson, Swallow, Ziebell, Brown, Petrie
Collingwood: Adams, Greenwood, Varcoe, Fasolo, Pendlebury, Gault
North Melbourne: Nil
Collingwood: Langdon (finger)
Umpires: Donlon, Bannister, Deboy, Meredith
Official crowd: Approx. 6000 at Robertson Oval