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THINK Collingwood and you think of a midfield that makes those who play AFL Fantasy lick their lips with anticipation.

Scott Pendlebury. Dane Swan. Dayne Beams. Luke Ball. Steele Sidebottom. Add Jarryd Blair and Clinton Young for guaranteed possessions and Taylor Adams for potential.

It is as a midfield that looks great on paper but right now, it is letting the Magpies down. You can talk about the absence of key position types Ben Reid and Nathan Brown who are so crucial to Collingwood's structure but it is in the cut and thrust of the midfield where the seeds of the Magpies' struggles have been sewn.

They were beaten 139-119 by Essendon in contested possessions during their 64-point belting at the MCG on Sunday. Last week, Gold Coast got hold of them by 11 in that department. That's Gold Coast with Gary Ablett missing for half a game. The week before against Carlton, they just held the ascendancy, but Hawthorn had 28 more contested possessions the week before that, and the Western Bulldogs got them by seven back in round 13.

WATCH: Match highlights - Essendon v Collingwood
"If you're an opposition coach you know that if you beat us in contested possessions you'll beat us in the game of footy," said Pendlebury afterwards, offering a candid piece of self-scouting. "It's pretty obvious."

A look at Collingwood's season to date suggests that their last good win was against the Bombers on Anzac Day by 23 points. The Pies were also good against North the week before, winning by 35 points. Since then, they've beaten Carlton twice, West Coast narrowly and won easily against St Kilda and Melbourne. The magnitude of those last thrashings, 86 points and 33 points respectively, is as much a reflection on the opposition as it was on Collingwood.

Until this week, Pendlebury reckoned Collingwood had been playing OK and he pointed to stages of the Gold Coast and in particular the Hawthorn game as proof. "But when we play bad, we play real bad," he added.

The competitor in Pendlebury wants to get out on the ground within 24 hours and try to restore a campaign that is starting to come off the rails, with four losses from the Magpies' past five matches. The Bombers won by enough to leapfrog Collingwood into seventh place, and had Gold Coast not stumbled, the Magpies would be out of the eight.

Next up is Adelaide, also a loser last start but in considerably better form. But the realist in Pendlebury also understands the week's break might have come at the right time. "We can review this game, train really well, fix up the mistakes and get refreshed. In two weeks' time, it will be game on against Adelaide," he said.

It will be the last roll of the dice for the Crows, who need to win to keep their finals hopes alive. But it is now enormously important for the Magpies as well.

Dogs' midfield pups are growing - now they need help

Saturday twilight games can be off-Broadway sometimes, particularly when they are played in Cairns, but Saturday's 28-point win by the Western Bulldogs over Gold Coast was one of the most significant of the weekend.

It showed that for all the talk of the exciting young midfielders the Suns have amassed, the group put together by the Bulldogs is tracking wonderfully.

Jack Macrae and his 43 touches have earned rave reviews, particularly after having the heat put firmly upon him by Brendan McCartney the week before, but the names Nathan Hrovat, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis, Marcus Bontempelli and Jason Johannisen were prominent. Add Jake Stringer, Jack (please call him Ian) Redpath, Mitch Honeychurch and Lachie Hunter to the mix and you have an awfully young side that travelled north and beat a top-eight side.

WATCH: Showreel - Macrae's monster game
It is coming together for the Western Bulldogs – at pace admittedly – and they are assembling a group of talented and versatile midfielders. The side needs stiffening in the key position posts and that's where the McCartneys, coach Brendan and list manager Jason, need to turn their attention next.

Could the Dogs pry a surplus developing key position player out of the Giants? Do they make an audacious play for someone like West Coast's Jack Darling? Can they promise more game time to the raw, but athletic Hawk Sam Grimley?

The build up has been slow for the Dogs but they should get to eight wins for the year. Perhaps even nine if they can spring another upset on the way. But the most important work for the Bulldogs won't come on the ground over the remaining six weeks of the season. It will come over a few discreet lattes as Jason McCartney goes in search of a few more talls. He needs to be bold and inventive to help his club take that next step.


Which player was more missed?
Over the course of the season, there has been cause on a few occasions for the Tigers to have lamented the loss to fee agency of speedster Matty White. For much of the season, Richmond has lacked that bit of spark that a line breaker like White obviously provides.

And he gave his former club a taste of what it's missing with a brilliant, darting three-bounce goal on the run in the final quarter at Etihad Stadium on Sunday in which he first gained the ball near half-back. But what Port is missing right now is some experienced defensive height, with Alipate Carlile and Jackson Trengove out of the side through injury.

WATCH: Matt White's contender for goal of the year
Troy Chaplin, of course, is now a Tiger and in a deft piece of coaching, Damien Hardwick threw the longtime former Port defender forward against the Power and he responded with two goals. Chaplin had just 11 career goals before Sunday and had never kicked two in a game, so this was a day out for him. And the ramifications are now massive. It helps salvage a rotten season for his new club but also helped knock his old club out of the top four. Three straight losses and Port looks increasingly unlikely to snare a double chance come the finals, given their poor form of late and problematic run home to the finals. Only Melbourne and Carlton between now and the end of the season shape as likely winnable games for the Power and with North Melbourne finishing the season fast, they might even end the home and away season in sixth place.

This has become an alarming form slump.

Is this the new, caring, sharing AFL?
What the AFL can't be accused of in the early days of the Gillon McLachlan era is not listening. On Monday night he is hosting 16 of the 18 AFL coaches for a lamb casserole and pavlova dinner (actually we have no clue what's on the menu) and a bit of a chat. His predecessor would meet briefly with the coaches at the annual AFLCA meeting the week before the season and more expansively at a dinner the night before the draft, but good for McLachlan that he doesn't want to wait that long.

It also comes at a time with the departure of the two main men at the coaches association – Danny Frawley and Paul Armstrong – that the coaches as a group is in a state of flux.

McLachlan also spent part of last week listening to another key group within the game, the umpires. He spent an hour with them last Monday evening and veteran observers within the umpiring group estimate it was 12 years since the head of the AFL last addressed the whistleblowers as a group.

Ashley Browne: Given the Suns are 0-6 without him, there is a fair case to be made that there is a huge leadership void when he doesn't play. It is illustrative that the Suns dug deep to beat Collingwood last week once Ablett left the ground but could not go four quarters against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday in Cairns without him. This is the time for David Swallow, Dion Prestia, Harley Bennell, Jaeger O'Meara and others to take the next step without him.

AB: Pencil in the round 20 game against the Western Bulldogs in your diary, Saints fans, because that might be the last game you win for the season. And we emphasise the word ‘might' because you'd have to play remarkably well and the rapidly improving Bulldogs would have to have a stinker. But otherwise, Fremantle (H), Gold Coast (A), Sydney Swans (A), Richmond (A) and Adelaide (A) promises a world of hurt.

AB: Giving Eddie Betts his own pocket at the venerable Adelaide Oval (with his name on the scoreboard) and handing out all those yellow t-shirts to celebrate his 200th game only set up Betts for failure on Friday night. And given his lofty form of late, seven touches and a goal does represent a failure. A look at the history books suggest that one reason Carlton hasn't beaten Hawthorn since 2005 is that Betts rarely fires a shot against the Hawks. Brent Guerra always had his measure and on Friday night it was the unheralded Angus Litherland. The Crows have always fallen hard for their star forwards (Tony Modra and Tex Walker being cases in point) but they need to temper their excitement over Betts just a touch.

AB: A bit of bad luck for Razor Ray - what he thought was the siren chiming in his ear might have been the call for a taxi outside Adelaide Oval. Of all the ideas for making sure players, officials and fans know when the siren has gone, I like the light on the scoreboard idea, just like in basketball when the backboard glows red when the time clock reaches zero. It's a shame the otherwise brilliant Adelaide Oval is still experiencing a few teething problems.

WATCH: Razor Ray's siren blue
Running item department

The 2014 Grand Final will be between ... the Sydney Swans and Fremantle.

Nothing out of the weekend has swayed me from that point of view. They might not be the best team of the last 30 years yet (sorry, Mick) but the Swans are a fabulous outfit and unless they get a sudden rash of injuries, nothing is standing in their way of a top-two finish.

Freo has taken full advantage of a great recent draw and looks better by the week. The defining game for the Dockers might be in round 21 against Hawthorn at home. The Hawks are back on track it seems, but might need to get past Freo in the third last round to stay ahead in the battle for the top two. And this year in particular, a top-two finish seems an imperative.

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