The biggest game of the year is on the horizon.
Richmond, seeking a record 18th straight MCG win, faces off against Collingwood.
If the in-form Magpies can win, they will stamp themselves as a legitimate contender in 2018 and set up a thrilling end to the season.
The widely-held view at present is that Richmond is the competition’s best team by some distance, but a Collingwood win would go some way to changing that.
Collingwood faced Richmond in Round 6 off the back of three wins and a building belief.
Richmond was a test the Magpies were hoping to do well in, but I don’t believe they genuinely thought they could win that day.
For three quarters, they were competitive, but in the end, Collingwood was outscored eight goals to three in a decisive final term.
Rather than be discouraged, Collingwood has continued to build from this game.
It showed how dangerous it can be offensively in a demolition of North Melbourne last week, and the Magpies draw favourable comparisons to Richmond in the way they play.
Like Richmond, the Magpies can score heavily from a variety of options.
Brody Mihocek kicked four goals against the Kangaroos and has been a great addition since the last time these two sides met.
It is hard to find a Collingwood player who is not going better than they were back in April.
Since that defeat, Collingwood has suffered two big losses in personnel, with midfield star Adam Treloar and reliable defender Lynden Dunn now sitting on the sidelines, while Jordan de Goey has also been ruled out for two weeks with bone stress.
As for Richmond, the club’s players appear confident and unaffected by the pressure and the challenge of maintaining their hunger for more success.
The coaches simply back their structure and style of play and have faith that every player knows and plays their role.
Few injuries to a club’s star players always helps, but Jack Higgins has been another small forward added to an already formidable group further boosted by the return of Daniel Rioli from injury.
Richmond’s defence has the edge over Collingwood because of Alex Rance and, collectively, the Tigers appear a little more settled and stable in the back six.
Darcy Moore’s inclusion in defence for Saturday’s match will be vital for Collingwood and he has a key role to play during the remainder of the 2018 season.
It is interesting to note that Richmond’s defeats have all been away from Victoria and the MCG – a challenge it is unlikely to face in September.
Taking a closer look at those losses, Greater Western Sydney made a tactical decision to kick more against the Tigers.
There is no doubt Adelaide denied Richmond the ball in its win at Adelaide Oval back in Round 2. The Crows had 140 more possessions, 50 more uncontested marks and 20 more entries inside the forward 50 in a big victory.
Make no mistake, that is a slaughter statistically.
West Coast took 47 more marks than the Tigers in its Round 9 victory. Tellingly, the Eagles took 19 marks inside the forward 50. That meant that despite Richmond having more forward-50 entries, the Eagles were far more clinical going forward.
The issue for Collingwood and every other team is to stop Richmond scoring at the MCG.
In 10 games at the ‘G this year, the Tigers have scored more than 100 points in nine of them, with an average of 106 points per MCG match.
That means that to beat Richmond, Collingwood is going to need to kick 16 goals or more.
It will not be easy, given that not one team has scored over 100 points against the Tigers at the MCG this year.
The average is a meagre 60, too.
Beating the Tigers at the MCG is currently football’s toughest task.
We can only hope the match is a classic and helps lift some of the doom and gloom surrounding the state of the game.
And perhaps Richmond and Collingwood will meet again this year in an even bigger match.
Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager