IT SEEMS increasingly likely that Dayne Beams' decision to take an indefinite break to focus on his mental health issues will open up a spot in Collingwood's midfield, even if only for the early part of the 2020 season.

The two leading candidates for that vacancy are big-bodied onballers Rupert Wills and Brayden Sier, who have played just 33 AFL games between them but have both shown they can be valuable contributors.

Rupert Wills wears a tackle at Collingwood training in November. Picture: AFL Photos

The unassuming pair are among the quieter personalities on the Magpies' list but they are both staking claims with their actions this pre-season.

Wills, 26, and Sier, recently turned 22, have been in direct competition for a senior berth for the past two seasons and their healthy rivalry appears set to intensify in the new year.

Brayden Sier tries to burst clear during a drill in November. Picture: AFL Photos

This year, in the absence of both Beams (hip, shoulder and mental health issues) and Sier (calf and concussion), Wills enjoyed his longest stint at AFL level, appearing in Pies' last six games, including both finals. In the process, he probably saved his career at Collingwood, averaging 17 possessions (eight contested), three clearances and nine tackles.

In their neck-and-neck battle Wills would probably be the early frontrunner to retain his place, as was reinforced during the Magpies' match simulation session on the Monday before their Christmas break.

In front of an appreciative black-and-white crowd at the club's open training session at Olympic Park, Wills was the standout performer. Sier wasn't far behind him.

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Admittedly, there was greater opportunity for both to shine given the collective engine room was also missing Taylor Adams, who has a lower left leg issue, while skipper Scott Pendlebury predominantly ran off the back of the square. But there was no ignoring the productivity of 'Rupe' and 'Bear'.

The two inside midfielders from the 2015 draft, who boast almost identical dimensions (they both weigh 88kgs and Wills is 1cm taller at 192cms), were teammates in the black team. Although they have combined well at VFL level they have never played together in the same AFL team, and perhaps ideally they wouldn't given their similarities, which also include a lack of leg speed, high handball-to-kick ratios and modest kicking skills.

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The greasy conditions were custom-made for their contested-ball prowess, but their hunger was such that it wouldn't have mattered if it was 40 degrees.

The most notable feature was Wills' fierce approach at stoppages: hitting the ball with power, bulldozing through tackles and releasing to outside runners.

When he delivered a fearful fend-off it sparked a collective: "Ooh!" In an official game that action might have been penalised but the intent was impressive. Indeed, there is no harder or more desperate player on Collingwood's list.

It raises the question of whether the bullocking Wills could become part of the solution to translating Brodie Grundy's hitout supremacy into clearance supremacy

And if Wills didn't get it in close he often didn't give opponents an escape route, showing the determination that this year took him past 100 tackles in the fewest AFL games – just 14, two clear of anyone else. (That's according to stats guru 'Swamp'.)

  

lt wasn't all bash-'n-crash though for Wills, who also intercepted some forward thrusts and linked up well during general play.

Sier, who looks leaner and meaner, also made a statement of intent. Opposed to another onball contender in third-year prospect Tyler Brown, he got to the right spots as he often does but seemed to cover the ground easier.

It has been a positive pre-season so far for Sier, who looks more than capable of recapturing his 2018 form after a challenging 2019 season in which he battled form, injury and commitment issues, the latter exemplified by his 'Phill Inn' social basketball blunder in August, for which he received a club-imposed fine of $5000 and was ordered to do community work. 

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A key advantage Wills has over Sier at this stage is that he's more flexible. He can also pinch-hit in attack and even in the ruck, as he did most admirably in the dying stages against Sydney at the SCG in round 10 when he nullified a ruck duel with Callum Sinclair and shovelled the ball out, resulting in the match-sealing goal.

In contrast, Sier is exclusively an inside midfielder at this point of his development.

 

Brayden Sier

Rupert Wills

Age

22

26

Games

18

15

Height

191cms

192cms

Weight

88kgs

88kgs

Ave. possessions

17.8

16.3

Ave. contested possessions

9.8

7

Ave. clearances

3.6

2.7

Ave. tackles

4.3

7.7

 

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