Facing the real deal

Collingwood has winners everywhere. Chris Tarrant, left. Shane Wakelin, centre, and Simon Prestigiacomo, background, make up one of the best defences in the AFL, while youngster Ben Johnson, right, can really hurt the opposition with his long kicking.  
Thursday, July 11

THE young Cats face their biggest test on Saturday at the MCG - playing the ``real deal'' Collingwood in front of their biggest crowd to date.

How the Cats handle this week's game will provide an insight into how they handle pressure factors outside the arena - the press, the expectations of supporters leading up to a big match and a huge crowd with most favouring the opposition.

You have to be totally focussed on the task at hand when playing in front of vocal supporters from teams like Collingwood and Essendon.

The young Cats, after having had a five-win streak over lesser-placed clubs, will encounter a team worthy of its place in the top four.

Make no mistake, this Collingwood side is the real deal. They have taken on all-comers and done very well.

They pushed Port Adelaide in hostile territory a couple of weeks ago and the Power's form is the best in the competition.

Collingwood is playing a typical Malthouse style of game that is based around limiting the scoring of the opposition as much as any other area of the game.

The Magpies' defence is the second best in the competition, not surprisingly behind only Port Adelaide.

Simon Prestigiacomo and Shane Wakelin just nullify their opponents, with Jason Cloke reading the game and running down the ground to set up plays.

James Clement is a great recruit and is capable of stopping the third tall forward, as well as having the speed to play on a small opponent.

Ben Johnson usually plays on a dangerous small opponent and his long and direct kicking hurts the opposition, especially when he often goes forward and kicks a goal himself.

Scott Burns is as hard as they come, not dissimilar to John Worsfold, and has been as big an influence on this team as any other player.

The on-ballers are a group now, it's not just Buckley who does the damage. Paul Licuria and Shane O'Bree have become more than just run-with type players; they also have a very attacking part to their make-up. And young McGough is a first-year hit.

The Magpies' forward line has real match-winning ability in Rocca, Tarrant and the still very young Josh Fraser, who is fast living up to expectations that he would become a genuine superstar.

Super-exciting ``Neon Leon'' Davis complements Rocca with his blistering pace and uncanny goal sense. Didak is also settling into the team and kicking goals.

The other big plus this year has been the form of McKee in the ruck, who is now starting to believe in his own ability and is influencing the results of matches.

Collingwood is well equipped to be a real chance for the flag this year.

Bomber Thompson and his match committee will have to get everything right early in this game so the team can gain confidence that they can compete with the top sides.

I think Thompson will be just as happy to see the continued advancement of his young team and learning more about what it takes to be right at the top of the stack.

I believe we will see the Cats do this - plus more. I'm sure the team's improvement will be better known after the next few weeks, and whether they are capable of playing finals footy.

The Cats are full of promise and can become much better.

But remember what we are being told - that it will take more than just this year for the team to become the real deal.