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Season preview: Collingwood

Is American Pie Mason Cox the answer up forward and pinch-hitting in the ruck? - AFL,Season previews,Collingwood Magpies
Is American Pie Mason Cox the answer up forward and pinch-hitting in the ruck?

Best 22 – round one

B: Brayden Maynard, Lynden Dunn, Tom Langdon
HB: Jeremy Howe, Darcy Moore, Jack Crisp
C: Will Hoskin-Elliott, Taylor Adams, Tom Phillips
HF: Travis Varcoe, Ben Reid, Steele Sidebottom
F: Jarryd Blair, Mason Cox, Alex Fasolo
Foll: Brody Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar
I/C: Sam Murray, Jaidyn Stephenson, Josh Thomas, Callum Brown

Emerg: Brody Mihocek, Tim Broomhead, Ben Crocker, Josh Daicos 

Fans' season preview: Collingwood

2017 best and fairest top three

1. Steele Sidebottom
2. Taylor Adams
3. Adam Treloar 

Injury list

Tyson Goldsack is the Pies' biggest loss this pre-season, with the veteran tearing his ACL in March and needing a knee reconstruction. Jamie Elliott (ankle), Daniel Wells (Achilles), Jordan De Goey (hamstring) and Levi Greenwood (knee) have been ruled out of round one, while James Aish (calf) and Alex Fasolo (shoulder) are in a race against time. Darcy Moore (Achilles) and Jeremy Howe (calf) had interrupted starts to 2018 but played in the second JLT Community Series game and should be fine for round one. 

The big questions 

When will Nathan Buckley finally be given the chance to get his best side on the field?
Well, not right away, in any case. Elliott's had a slow pre-season again, Wells got sore last month and De Goey's summer went from bad to worse when he strained a hamstring while training with the VFL team as part of his club sanction for drink driving. Buckley's had a cruel run of luck of late, and it looks like it's not going to ease up for at least the first few weeks of the season.

Will Darcy Moore find a happy home in defence?
Early rumblings indicated he wasn't thrilled with the idea, but he showed in the pre-season win over the Western Bulldogs his intercept marking ability and natural leap mean he has the potential to form a formidable and exciting partnership with fellow high-flyer Jeremy Howe in the backline if he fully embraces his positional change.

Can the Pies go from being a competitive side to finals contender?
Despite missing the finals for a fourth season, the Pies remained competitive in 2017 with their average losing margin three goals. They'll have to overcome a less than ideal pre-season to get their season off to a decent start and hope their new-look forward line featuring Mason Cox and Ben Reid fires.  

How will Darcy Moore's move to defence pan out? Picture: AFL Photos

Check out every club's season previews

Look for …
Mason Cox as their power forward. The hard-to-miss American Pie, who resisted the advances of rival clubs to sign a three-year contract extension in September last year, will pair with Reid in attack and with Brody Grundy to do the brunt of the ruck work. Cox showed in the pre-season it's a move that could pay off, with four goals and four contested marks against the Bulldogs impressive hallmarks of the Pies' decision to build their attack around him as they look to shelve the inaccuracy issues that plagued them in 2017.

Who they play
Hawthorn first up won't be easy with some key players missing, and it won't get any better the following week when they run into last year's preliminary finalists Greater Western Sydney. They've got a winnable clash with Carlton in round three, but then enter a red-hot patch where they travel to meet Grand Finalists Adelaide, Essendon on Anzac Day and then the premiers in a tough three weeks. But, five of those first six games are at the MCG and they only play two finalists from 2017 – Richmond and Essendon – twice, with return games against Carlton, Brisbane and Fremantle, so there are definite advantages to be gleaned from their fixture.

Fantasy cash cow
Sam Murray ($170,000). The former Sydney rookie had 24 touches and seven rebounds against the Dogs to put himself well and truly in the round one selection frame. The Pies brought in Murray as they needed to inject some drive off half-back, and the ex-Swan's ball use, ability to read the play and run the ball out of defence are all reasons he'll get looked at as early as the season opener.

Sudden impact

Jaidyn Stephenson. Described by coach Nathan Buckley as "easily" the quickest player on their list, the No.6 draft pick from last year impressed in the AFLX and across the pre-season with his good kicking skills and blistering pace. Stephenson had a crack against the Giants and did some nice things against the Dogs to leave himself in the conversation for an early debut.

It's crunch time for …
James Aish. Out of contract and at the crossroads, the former Lion needs to deliver in his third year at Collingwood. Highly rated as a junior, the talented wingman has played just 23 games in two seasons as a Pie and was well placed to further that this year after a flawless summer before a recent calf strain cut him down. Now needs to refocus and overcome his latest setback if he's to show he's worth another year this season. 

James Aish is under pressure to earn a new contract. Picture: AFL Photos

Pressure rating on the coach
"Signed, sealed and delivered, but the Pies' faithful remain restless."

The 2017 habit the Magpies must kick …
Their inaccuracy. It's pretty simple. Last year, they were ranked 15th for scoring accuracy, converting at a rate of just 55.3 per cent. They've just got to get better at making the most of their scoring opportunities.

The Magpies will have a good year if …
Elliott gets fit and kicks 50 goals, Cox clunks them and takes the forward line by storm, the Moore and Howe show takes flight, and the midfield remains a force despite Scott Pendlebury and Taylor Adams spending time across half-back.

They’re in trouble if …
Elliott's pre-season problems litter his year again, the positional changes backfire, an injury to Brody Grundy robs the forward line of Cox, and Wells doesn't get going.

Pass mark
Finals, or pretty close. The Pies haven't been there since 2013 and the natives are getting restless. A lot has to go right, but they've got the mix to make it happen if they get a change of luck when it comes to injuries. And, the last two years have taught us that fairytales can happen.

AFL.com.au predicted ladder finish: 14th

Player Ratings star
Scott Pendlebury, 3rd. Missing the last six games with a broken finger didn't stop the five-time All Australian nearly claiming his six club best and fairest. Averaged 28 disposals over 16 games and led the Pies in goal assists in another consistent season.

 
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs