COLLINGWOOD has consolidated its top-four spot and severely dented North Melbourne's finals aspirations with an imposing 66-point victory at the MCG on Saturday.
The Magpies emphatically rebounded from their flat round 17 loss to West Coast, rocking the Roos with an opening six-goal burst that effectively ended the contest after just 21 minutes.
The Pies did not let up after that, outclassing the Kangaroos with their ball movement and rattling them with their manic attack on the ball and man to inflict their biggest loss of the season.
Increasing their lead at every break, the Magpies romped to a 20.10 (130) to 9.10 (64) win that underlined their status as a credible premiership contender and set up a mouth-watering contest against reigning premier Richmond next Saturday at the MCG.
DOING IT BY HALVES Five talking points
Midfielders Scott Pendlebury (30 possessions and four clearances), Taylor Adams (28 possessions and a game-high 10 tackles) and Steele Sidebottom (24 possessions) set the tone for Collingwood from the get-go, while Brodie Grundy (17 possessions, 28 hit-outs and one goal) won an entertaining ruck contest against Todd Goldstein.
Collingwood again had a good spread of goalkickers, with Jordan De Goey (four), Brody Mihocek (four), Jaidyn Stephenson (three) and Will Hoskin-Elliott (three) far more than North's embattled defence could handle.
After Darcy Moore withdrew 15 minutes before the game with hamstring tightness, Jeremy Howe was given the big job on Ben Brown and rose to the occasion, holding the Coleman Medal leader to two goals, while he was well in defence supported by Matthew Scharenberg.
The Magpies' win was their fourth from their past five meetings against the Roos, and their eighth from their past nine games this year.
SHOWREEL Bloody Kangaroos
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was a happy man after the match.
"Good, solid team performance, strong over the majority of the game," Buckley said.
"When we were down in some areas, we were able to buffer it by being strong in others. I thought it was a really balanced performance for us over the four quarters."
North has now lost three of its past four games, while Saturday's thumping slashed its percentage by more than six points (114.16 at the start of the round down to 108.0) and made its finals bid that much harder.
Ninth at the start of the round, the Roos slid to 10th, below Hawthorn (113.97 per cent), with the Hawks still to play last-placed Carlton on Sunday.
North's previous biggest losing margin this year was 37 points, against Melbourne in round three and Geelong in round 12, with its improved defence one of the features of its outstanding first half of the season.
The Magpies' score was the biggest the Roos have conceded this year.
FULL MATCH COVERAGE All the news and stats
Coach Brad Scott lamented his team's inability to take their chances in front of goal early in the match, but said Collingwood's pressure had been the decisive factor.
"It was disappointing in terms of taking our opportunities. To Collingwood's credit they took theirs early and the scoreboard pretty quickly blew out to a four-goal difference and then a six-goal difference," Scott said.
"From that point on, we were just completely out-pressured. I thought Collingwood's pressure was outstanding.
"I thought they really hunted us well. I think we were still in front in the contested possession count at the end, but it counted for little because every time we won it and gave it the receiver was under enormous pressure."
Ben Cunnington (30 possessions, five clearances and seven tackles) was North's best on a horror day for the club, while Shaun Higgins (33 possessions and seven clearances) never stopped trying and Robbie Tarrant was valiant in holding Magpies spearhead Mason Cox to one goal despite Collingwood's inside 50 dominance (57-44).
But it was Scott Thompson who summed up North's day. The veteran sported a bandage around his nose after a first-quarter clash and was forced from the ground under the blood rule on numerous occasions as he – and the Kangaroos – struggled to stem the bleeding.
With Adams, Pendlebury and Sidebottom dominating in the midfield, Collingwood controlled the ball in the first term, winning the possession count by a remarkable 47 (116-69) and the inside 50s by eight (18-10).
The Pies capitalised on that dominance with slick and assured ball movement that tore through North's defences and presented their forwards with regular gift-wrapped opportunities.
Mihocek was the main beneficiary in attack, kicking three goals, all of them from contested marks.
Collingwood's finishing was clinical too. It converted its opening six shots on goal – North missed its first three shots – and led by 35 points before two late Roos majors helped reduce the quarter-time margin to 29 points.
The Magpies stretched their lead to 41 points when they kicked the opening two goals of the second term.
North then showed some fight, kicking three of the next four majors – the first two via Ben Brown – to close the deficit to 27 points at the 21-minute mark.
But Collingwood quickly snuffed out any hopes of a Roos revival, piling on three late goals through Cox, Stephenson and Hoskin-Elliott, to go into the main break 45 points up.
Collingwood: Darcy Moore was late withdrawal with hamstring soreness just 15 minutes before the opening bounce. After the game, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said the club would not know the severity of Moore's injury for another 48 hours.
North Melbourne: Scott Thompson (nose), Jed Anderson (forehead) and Luke McDonald (forehead) were forced from the ground under the blood rule late in the first term but came back on soon after with bandages. Thompson came from the ground several more times after his nose continued to bleed throughout the game, while Todd Goldstein (lip) and Jack Ziebell (eye) also came off temporarily with cuts in the second half.
The Magpies face ladder-leader Richmond at the MCG next Saturday, having lost five of their previous six games against the Tigers. The Kangaroos host West Coast at Blundstone Arena next Sunday in the last of their three games in Hobart this season. The Roos and Eagles have split their two previous games in Tasmania's capital.
COLLINGWOOD 7.2 13.3 15.5 20.10 (130)
NORTH MELBOURNE 2.3 5.6 7.7 9.10 (64)
Collingwood: De Goey 4, Mihocek 4, Hoskin-Elliott 3, Stephenson 3, Grundy, Adams, Phillips, Greenwood, Cox, Thomas
North Melbourne: Daw 3, Ziebell 2, Brown 2, Goldstein, Hrovat
Collingwood: Pendlebury, Adams, De Goey, Howe, Sidebottom, Mihocek, Hoskin-Elliott
North Melbourne: Higgins, Cunnington, Tarrant, Goldstein, Anderson, Clarke
Collingwood: Moore (hamstring) replaced in selected side by Daicos
North Melbourne: Thompson (nose), Morgan (lower left leg)
Umpires: Margetts, Hosking, Findlay
Official crowd: 50,393 at the MCG