COLLINGWOOD coach Craig McRae hasn't seen a better first year than Rising Star favourite Nick Daicos', and believes he is going to another level after his best afield display in Saturday's thrilling win over Adelaide.
Daicos had a career-best 40 disposals with three goals as the Magpies edged the Crows by five points to boost their top-four aspirations.
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The 19-year-old was switched forward in the second half and kicked two crucial fourth-quarter goals as Collingwood came from 16 points down to claim a crucial victory to improve to 12-5.
Daicos' dominant display means he is averaging 26.6 disposals per game in his rookie year, while his impact going forward is more impressive when you consider he had only booted two majors in his previous 16 AFL games.
"No, I haven't," McRae said when asked if he's seen a better first-year player.
"He's just doing it in different ways. The last few weeks he's been kicking classy goals."
The 2021 NAB AFL Draft pick No.4 is the clear Rising Star favourite ahead of Sam De Koning, Jai Newcombe and Nic Martin. He's also playing a key role in Collingwood's push for a top-four berth.
"It just seems to be going to another level," McRae added.
"He had 40 (touches) today and kicked three. He's a first-year player. Unbelievable.
"We moved him forward. The coaches upstairs made some awesome decisions today and that was one of their best ones.
"That decision-making won us the game. Clearly Nick has to do it. Nick is having an outstanding season and it seems to be getting better every week."
McRae was also full of praise for skipper Scott Pendlebury who had 28 touches and kicked a crucial third-quarter goal in his 350th game. The Pies coach said the side had tried to honour the club's record games holder.
"All year we've had this mantra of honouring the jumper," he said.
"We want to honour the past, Collingwood greats, the history. Today we talked about honouring 'Pendles', a guy who's worn the jumper more than anyone else at our club.
"He's so important to us. He's leads from the front. He takes others with him. He's on a roll, it's unbelievable. Players wanted to play for him. We mentioned at three-quarter time (when trailing by three points) to honour 'Pendles', this is the time to do it right now."
McRae was also full of support for divisive young forward Jack Ginnivan who was unable to earn any free kicks from the umpires throughout the game when trying to draw high tackles in trademark style.
"My message to Jack was to keep attacking the footy hard," he said.
"What comes of it, whether it's a high tackle or holding the ball, just keep attacking the footy hard.
"If you're a victim, you think you are…We don't make excuses. We don't look for blame. Umpires make mistakes, they get some right and wrong. I don't want to play the blame game.
"It's probably the 10th week in a row but there's a skill to it."
The win also marked Collingwood's eighth victory in a row, with six of those triumphs coming by two goals or less.
"Ideally we don’t want to be in that position to have to dig deep, but we're finding ways," McRae said.
"This group wants to win. It's almost the thrill of the chase. This group has a real will to win and a belief."
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The defeat is Adelaide's ninth from its past 11 games, leaving it 15th on the ladder with a 5-12 record. The Crows finished 15th in 2021 with a 7-15 record, while they were last in 2020 in coach Matthew Nicks' first season in charge.
"The rebuild will take time," Nicks said.
"We are going to have moments where we don't quite get it right.
"This week was one of those moments, we walked off the ground quite proud of what our guys put out there but disappointed that we didn’t get the result.
"We've found ourselves in this position a number of times this year, two, three goals down in the last quarter and we haven't fought back to where we did tonight. It's only a matter of time. I'm confident we're on the right track."
Nicks praised the impact of Taylor Walker, Darcy Fogarty and Riley Thilthorpe, along with onballer Rory Laird who claimed the AFL record or most tackles in a single match with 20, usurping Jack Ziebell's previous mark of 19.
"We know what 'Lairdy' brings," he said.
"He's been consistent with that all year. There hasn't been games where he's been off. He's a competitor.
"Twenty tackles for him and you'll find a teammate had 17 (Sam Berry). They're learning from him."