WILL IT be a track meet? Or can the Pies tame the Lions?
Ahead of Saturday's highly anticipated Grand Final, AFL.com.au has teamed up with Champion Data to dive into the numbers and assess the five crucial areas where this year's biggest game will be decided.
THE PIES MUST TURN IT INTO A SLOG
Collingwood has traditionally struggled to slow Brisbane's scoring. Since 2021, the Pies have conceded more points against the Lions (110.6 points per game) than any team. It's significantly worse than the club's next opponent on that list, which is the Hawks (90 points per game). During a run of six straight losses to Brisbane, which is ongoing heading into Saturday's clash, Collingwood has shipped scores of 124, 116 and 142 against Chris Fagan's outfit. Craig McRae and his side must therefore stop this game from being a high-scoring, free-flowing affair. Brisbane is the No.2 scoring team in the competition, while Collingwood has the No.2 defence in the League. What type of game this turns into, be it a shootout or a slog, could therefore be crucial to deciding the outcome.
WHO KEEPS HARRIS ACCOUNTABLE?
The decision as to who replaces Dan McStay will be interesting for a number of reasons. But, aside from the obvious, they may also have to play a key role in keeping Brisbane skipper Harris Andrews quiet. Jack Payne's emergence this season has led to a slight role change for Andrews, who is now playing on the secondary forward target and has become a better intercept player as a result. He's now averaging 3.5 intercept marks per game, having gone at 2.3 per game last year. He is also averaging more disposals (14.1 compared to 12.5), more intercept possessions (7.5 compared to 6.3) and more spoils (9.7 compared to 9.0). His loss rate in one-on-one situations has also improved, going from 21.5 per cent last year to 15.9 per cent this year, which is a byproduct of playing on less dangerous forwards. Last week, Carlton forward Harry McKay was able to keep Andrews accountable with Darcy Gardiner manning Charlie Curnow. This week, be it whoever replaces McStay or the resting ruck in Mason Cox or Darcy Cameron, will need to produce a similar type of nullifying role to keep the ball in Collingwood's front half and stop Andrews from dominating defensively.
PIES MUST GET DUSTY CLONE OFF THE LEASH
Over the last decade, and perhaps in the game's history, no player has defined finals matches and Grand Finals quite like three-time Norm Smith Medal winner Dustin Martin. However, Collingwood has a 'Dusty' replica up its sleeve in Jordan De Goey. Since 2018, Martin and De Goey are the only two players in the competition with 180-plus disposals and 15-plus goals in finals matches, highlighting their unique ability to impact both as clearance midfielders and damaging forward-half players. De Goey was simply fantastic in Friday night's win over the Giants, winning 34 disposals and a career-high 13 clearances. His 17 contested possessions were also the equal-most in his career, tying the 17 he won against Geelong way back in 2015. Martin and De Goey are also two of only four players to have recorded six finals performances featuring 15-plus AFL Player Ratings Points dating back to 2018. The other two are 2021 Norm Smith Medal winner Christian Petracca, and De Goey's Grand Final nemesis in Brisbane star Lachie Neale. If that's anything to go by, strap yourselves in for a mouth-watering midfield battle. Can De Goey come out on top?
CAN THE LIONS BE STOPPED FROM STOPPAGE?
Brisbane has one of the best and most potent midfield groups in the competition. This season the Lions rank No.1 in the League for clearance differential, No.2 for total scores from stoppage, and No.3 for scores from stoppage differential. With the likes of Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage and Josh Dunkley, and with one of the game's best ruck options in Oscar McInerney, Brisbane can slice and dice teams out of the centre. However, the last time these two sides played, Collingwood managed to quell the influence of Chris Fagan's team from the middle. The Pies equalised out of the centre, with the game finishing 39-39 for clearances, then they managed to kick 11 goals to five from stoppage to get the upper hand in one of the Lions' biggest strengths. It enabled Collingwood to still be within a sniff at the start of the final quarter, before Brisbane finally kicked away. If the Pies can't neutralise that area of the game on Saturday, the Lions could be clear before they know it.
THE LIONS MUST APPLY THE HEAT
The weather forecast suggests it's going to reach temperatures of around 30 degrees during Saturday's Grand Final. But can Brisbane make it just as hot out in the middle of the MCG? Collingwood is undoubtedly the cleanest team in the competition, and can really hurt teams if it gets the contest going on its terms. That's been evident all season, with the Pies' ability to move the ball efficiently and with minimal mistakes making it difficult for sides to even get near them. That's reflected in the fact Collingwood has received the least pressure of any side this season, while the club also ranks No.1 in the League for tackle differential. Brisbane, conversely, ranks No.15 for pressure and No.17 for tackle differential. It's clearly not the Lions' biggest strength. Across the campaign, the Pies have proved that if they're able to hit targets and transition easily, they're difficult to stop. So, can the Lions clamp down on their ball movement? How much pressure they generate could ultimately define the match.