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Magpies itching for big test

20/05/2010 02:54:44 PM Comments (0)

Collingwood are confident their improved midfielders can prove they have bridged the gap between them and Geelong in Friday night's AFL blockbuster at the MCG.

Nothing underlined the gulf in class between the two sides' onball divisions than last year's preliminary final, when Cats stars Gary Ablett, Joel Corey and Jimmy Bartel ran rampant against the Magpies, who missed Scott Pendlebury and were soon shot.

But with Pendlebury fit and firing, recruits Luke Ball and Darren Jolly having an impact and a handful of others taking giant strides, the Magpies feel the gap between the two groups is no longer as stark.

Collingwood assistant coach Mark Neeld said on Thursday Geelong's midfield was still the benchmark on achievements alone, as it boasted Brownlow medals (Ablett and Bartel), a league Rising Star award (Joel Selwood) and, above all, premiership medals.

But he tipped Collingwood's group to be unfazed when the first bounce came in the first-versus-second clash.

"We're in better form now than when we were when we played them in the preliminary final," said Neeld, who oversees Collingwood's midfield.

"We're going to back it in that our midfield will take that form into tomorrow night's game.

"Younger players (are) probably being more consistent in their efforts, a couple of players are beginning to mature, for example Dale Thomas, who's definitely had a more consistent season.

"And the input of Darren Jolly and Luke Ball, so we've changed personnel and a couple of boys have improved."

Neeld would not reveal who, if anyone, would get the task of running with Ablett, or whether the Magpies would take the same approach they did to Carlton captain Chris Judd.

In round six the Pies had seven players have stints on Judd, and even though the Blues star had a big day, the Magpies' attacking nature proved more effective.

Collingwood defender Heath Shaw, who will play his 100th career game, said the Magpies were itching to test themselves against the benchmark side of the past three seasons.

"It's important for us because we've played a lot of good teams over the first eight rounds and we've been looking forward to testing ourselves against good quality opposition and Geelong are good quality opposition," he said.

The Magpies and Cats have both clocked up big scores of late, but whereas Geelong have conceded on average, about nine goals a game the past three rounds, Collingwood have let through 15 a game in the same period.

Shaw and his fellow half-backs Harry O'Brien and Nick Maxwell have enjoyed great starts to the season, but admitted they would like to see fewer goals being kicked by their rivals.

"The way have gone we've been pretty offensive, we've scored pretty highly," he said.

"But if it's two goals to one goal at the end of the game and Collingwood win then I'll be very happy with that."

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