Collingwood's change in style, the AFL's next young superstar and Izak Rankine

The 2022 AFL season is finally here and that means more FTP analysis! This week we discuss Collingwood's 'join in mentality', Tom Green who is quickly becoming a superstar in the AFL and Izak Rankine's promising Round 1.

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Collingwood’s ‘join in’ mentality

When a new coach takes over an AFL club, more often than not you can notice a change in play style immediately. Friday night with the Magpies was no exception. It’s clear that the directive from McRae is to surge the ball forward with a high risk, handball happy offense that centres around going through the corridor at all costs. Under Buckley, Collingwood looked to control the tempo of the game. it wasn’t uncommon to see the Magpies switch the ball sideways 2-3 times before attempting to advance forward. Not under McRae. On Friday night, Collingwood challenged St Kilda’s press by going through the corridor all game, even when St Kilda had it covered. It worked more often than not due to Collingwood’s ability to outnumber at the contest and outwork St Kilda - who were noticeably poor defensively on the spread. It doesn’t result in a goal but look at how quickly Collingwood go from defense to offense with a smart draw and release handball from Pendlebury, a SUPER risky kick by Howe into the middle of the ground (rather than going out the open side) and a surge kick forward by Adams off the ground. This is SO high-risk high-reward but in this instance, it pays off with a shot on goal.

Obviously a small sample size, but the numbers reflect this shift in mindset. Collingwood had 171 handballs on Friday. They averaged 140 last year. Their ability to join in waves and outnumber at the contest was also impressive. It allowed them to continually slingshot off half back with hands because they were the first to the drop of the ball or off a turnover. Here, the balance around the marking contest is evident as they have multiple players first to drop of the ball and chain it out with handballs into the corridor, resulting in a damaging Pendlebury driving the ball I50 (who was allowed to do whatever he wanted without being forced to defend).

It will be interesting to see how this play style holds up against the elite defensive teams like the Lions and the Demons. It’s hard not to see them getting punished on turnover and shooting themselves in the foot. Midfield turnovers are death at AFL level and Collingwood may start to run into trouble with this high risk style. Something to watch for as they continue to perfect it.

Regardless, a breath of fresh air for Magpies fans and for us AFL fans.

Tom Green - the next young superstar of the competition

Tom Green is the next superstar midfielder of the AFL. Bold, I know. Or is it? After Saturday’s display and the flashes from his first few years in the league, it's pretty warranted. There had been murmurings out of the Giants camp that Green had taken his game to another level. The standard pre season chatter we always hear when a club pumps up their high draft pick. And yes, it’s been one game, but wow. It’s hard not to be impressed with what he did on Saturday:

31 disposals, including 17 contested possessions, 8 clearances (!), 7 tackles, 4 inside 50’s and 2 goals.

It’s easily the best game of his AFL career so far.

There were a couple of things that caught my eye:

i. We all know about Green’s clean hands out of stoppage. It’s his biggest strength and I talked about it last year here. What impressed me on Saturday was his field kicking and composure. The game has slowed down for Green. Under a pressurised D50 stoppage, he reads the ball at of the ruckmans hands quicker than McIernerney, wins the football and looks to kick it long. But at the last second, he sees Cogs with a metre of space on his opponent and owning front position. He checks his kick to Cog’s advantage on the left side. Green wasn’t making these kinds of reads last year.

Green’s decision making is lightning quick in tight stoppage scenarios, constantly finding avenues and handball lanes to put his teammates into space. As he improves on his outside game and the game slows down for him, that decision making should correlate over to his kicking, as evidenced here.

ii. For such a big midfielder (191 cm), Green hasn’t shown much in the air in his first couple of years. But if he’s going to confidently fly and start taking contested marks like this forward of the ball, he is going to be a terrifying proposition for teams to handle.

Green’s only kicked 10 goals in his AFL career. 2 of those came on Saturday. Often, a midfielder will ascend into superstar status and All Australian contention once they start consistently hit the scoreboard. It’s early days but the 21 year old is well on his way.

Izak Rankine, a sign of things to come?

It’s fair to say that Rankine’s had a rollercoaster start to his AFL career. Firstly, Rankine missed his entire rookie year with injury. Not a great star. Then, he burst onto the scene quickly, kicking freaky goals weekly, providing an aerial threat and showing off his bag of tricks and elusiveness. He kicked 6 goals in his first 3 games. The buzz was palpable. He faded as the year went on but we could pin that down to a byproduct of Gold Coast's drop offs. But Rankine came crashing down to earth last year, going goalless in 9 of his 18 games before being dropped and never reclaiming his spot in the final four rounds.

So what do we make of the mercurial Suns player coming into this year? By all reports, the penny dropped for Rankine and some of those deficiencies we saw frequently last year (lack of fitness, work rate and team first mentality) had been addressed. Again, it’s a small sample size but Suns fans must be salivating after his round 1 performance in arguably his best game for the club:

23 disposals, 11 score involvements, 2 goal assists and 4 goals

He looks fitter, putting himself in dangerous positions forward of centre and actually getting to more contests. Rankine can do special things when the ball is in his vicinity. The issue has been that he hasn't given himself enough opportunities to be in that vicinity of the ball. Sunday was a step in the right direction. His elusiveness and step is sublime to watch. I mean, look at this. Rankine times this crumb perfectly, identifying quickly that the ball is going out the back, trapping it just before it goes over the line and then creating space out of thin air by duking the defender and kicking the goal.

Again, his timing impeccable to feign Rotham one way and then get right to the drop of the ball for a shot at goal. ‍

The defensive aspect of his game still needs work. He only mustered 1 tackle for the entire game even with Gold Coast having the 3rd highest I50 count in the AFL on the weekend. Nevertheless, the Suns are 1-0. For any other club, it’s probably not a huge deal, but for the Suns it genuinely is. They win their first ever game in Perth and for now, the pressure valve loosens on Stuart Dew.

With no King for the entire year, Gold Coast are going to struggle for consistent avenues to goal. They can’t rely on Casboult to offer the same sort of production. Gold Coast have other smalls that should be better this year in McPherson and Ainsworth. But if anyone is going to burst onto the scene and have a 40 goal season, it’s Rankine. In year 4, this could be his time. His moment to step up and become of the best small forwards in the AFL.

He has the obvious ability to rip a game apart, as we saw in his first few games at AFL level (without the attention and game planning he gets now) and through his U/18 championships (kicking 5 against Vic Metro).

The AFL hasn’t helped the Suns from a fixutre point of view, getting Melbourne next up on a 10 day rest. But with most of Melbourne’s premiership defence out, including the likes of Salem and Hibberd who would defend Rankine, it may be the perfect game for Rankine to back up his performance and maybe, just maybe, give the Suns the unlikeliest of starts in 2022. Maybe it’s a little too optimistic from a 30 game player. But everytime I see Rankine play I see little inklings of Akermanis in him, a legend who only needed a handful of moments to completely change the course of a game. It’s high praise but what's the ceiling on Rankine’s potential? The 21 year old has a ways to go but the skys the limit. I look forward to seeing more Rankine magic.

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