The most Australian thing of all – a Giant Pie. The HPN Collingwood-GWS Preliminary Final Preview

HPN Team Ratings

The Pies rate as an extremely well balanced team, with no obvious gaps in their ratings. Historically, 105% of the league average across the board is the threshold for premiers under the HPN Team Ratings system back to 1999 (give or take the 2005 Swans and 2016 Bulldogs), so the Pies look as well-placed as anyone for a flag in a really even year.

The GWS midfield transitions out of stoppages and defence have been working only in fits and starts this year, and it’s here where they look most vulnerable, especially with important ball-moving contributors out this week.

Keys to the game


1. Pies need to capitalise on forward entries without De Goey

Where the Qualifying Final saw the return of Jaidyn Stephenson return the Pies to near their maximum offensive potency, now they have to manage the loss of their other, arguably more impactful small forward pillar.

Ben Reid has been named in the forward line, nominally replacing De Goey, but it would be foolish to expect that he would play a remotely similar role to that of De Goey. Reid, being a somewhat hulking tall, takes almost all of his shots at goal as set shots, while De Goey usually takes more from general play (and is significantly more accurate on the run).

Reid’s inclusion does introduce the element of chaos to some degree, helping to create a different set of matchups for the rest of Collingwood’s mix of individually difficult 1 v 1s. Stephenson, Hoskin-Elliott, regular-Elliott and Mihocek will be hoping Reid keeps one of Taylor, Davis or Haynes far enough away from being effective as intercepting defender, giving Collingwood high value shots on goal. In the Round 18 clash which GWS won easily, Davis was injured and Cox didn’t score a goal as the tall target anyway, so having a decoy may not matter.

It’s worth noting that Collingwood didn’t have a single set shot inside 30m of goal against Geelong in the qualifying final – denied any space to operate near goal.

From Stats Insider.

It’s unlikely that 61 points will be enough to beat the Cameron-led GWS attack, so Reid will have to at least open up space for the other forwards to effectively operate in.

2. Dominate inside 50s

Unless you’re living under a rock, the knowledge that the Giants are missing three of their better ball movers and midfielders (Coniglio, Greene and Whitfield) will not come as a surprise. Neither will the fact that most teams win when dominating the inside 50s.

What may be a little more surprising is how critical it is to Collingwood’s success against good teams. In wins against fellow finalists, Collingwood were +11 inside 50s in the Home and Away season, and -8 in top 8 losses. More than an uptick in forward efficiency or defensive miserliness (of which there are slight improvements for both), the sheer number of inside 50s provided from the midfield crew is the best identifier of how well the Pies have done against other sides.

When at full strength, the Giants attack and defence can match any team in the competition, so in order to provide their best chance of victory the impressive Collingwood midfield led by Brodie Grundy will need to maximise their advantage against a weakened GWS outfit away from the bookends.

3. Shutting down Jeremy Cameron (and co.)

This is not meant to be disrespecting Harrison Himmelberg, Jeremy Finlayson and the rest of the Giants attacking structure; more that Cameron has made players such as Tom Boyd, Cam McCarthy, Rory Lobb and James Stewart look potentially world-beating in orange before often looking less so in other colours.

The Giants manage 2 points per inside 50 in top 8 wins – which would be the best by far across a full season as a whole. Cameron manages 4.67 goals in top 8 wins, with Finlayson chipping in 2.6 more and Himmelberg a further 1.8.

In losses against fellow finalists, those three only average 2.6, 0.5 and 1.5 goals per game respectively, with the small forwards providing what little attack that the Giants are able to muster in such games.

The Pies should not be afraid to force the Giants’ small brigade to beat them – even without Levi Greenwood the Collingwood defenders are extremely capable of not only stopping scores but also attacking from opposition entries (as outlined last week).

Putting extra effort into shutting down Cameron – including floating a spare defender in front of him at all times – may seem like a lot to do to just stop one player, but forcing Hill or Daniels to beat you is a much better scenario than letting Cameron get any opportunities.

What HPN said two weeks ago

Forward of centre the Pies struggled, but elsewhere had the game on their terms.

❌ Will the forward line hit the ground running? – Stephenson got a goal but De Goey was injured. The trio of Adams, De Goey and Stephenson combined for just 8 score involvements – far below their season averages. They got help from elsewhere, with Elliott nabbing two majors and Hoskin-Elliott kicking one. However, in a grinding nine goals to seven result where midfielders (Pendlebury and Sidebottom) and defenders (Howe) kicked most of the Pies’ goals it’s hard to say the Pies forward line was fully operational.

✔️ Getting outside – The Pies average a very positive uncontested possession differential in wins over finalists and close to break-even in losses. The differential of +76 was the third biggest differential for the season. The Pies found the space they wanted.

✔️ Rebounding off the intercept – Moore and Howe had 22 intercept possessions between them and 17 rebound 50s, and just 8 turnovers. The prime interceptors also created, often driving the ball forward directly, in just the way the Pies prefer.


1. Don’t put much effort into the clearances (again)

HPN identified this last week, and it bears repeating again – the Giants do better when their efforts are focused on scoring on the rebound, against from clearances. The Lions beat the Giants by 14 in total clearances last week, and conceded 17 more inside 50s than Brisbane. These are usually terrible signs, but GWS were able to make it work (just) but setting up well enough behind the ball to deny Brisbane high value shots at goal.

From Stats Insider.

That’s a lot of shots on goal, but from mostly speculative spots. According to Stats Insider, Brisbane didn’t kick particularly inaccurately against expectations – more they were denied valuable shots at goal. The Giants had 7 more intercepts than turnovers, concentrated in the Davis-Haynes-Taylor trio (Zac Williams also managed eight).

Collingwood are a good stoppage clearance side, but oddly they appear to do a worse when they win more of them. The Pies win 1.18 more stoppage clearances in top 8 wins, while they are +2.2 in top 8 losses. If GWS can lure Collingwood into focusing on winning the hard ball, they can set up in defence to cut off the glut of entries that they will be facing and work from there.

2. Maintaining quick and efficient shots at goal

Much of the AFL news of the week focused on the dramatic suspension of Toby Greene, but that might not even be the most important out for GWS this weekend. During the week Lachie Whitfield had his appendix removed, which the Giants hope will only need one week out (if they win).

Whitfield is critical to how the Giants move the ball and score, with his direct and accurate kicking often ending in GWS scoring shots. Whitfield led the Giants for Score Involvements that weren’t actual scores, with 5.75 per game (Toby Greene was 8th at the club). And for sheer ball movement, Whitfield led all Giants with 482 Metres Gained per game (MGPG), ahead of names like Kelly, Taranto and Coniglio (Greene finished in 7th for this measure).

The issue is that there is no ready made replacement on the outside to take on the burden of Whitfield’s workload. In their team last week, the Giants had 15 of their top 17 for MGPG onfield, with only Coniglio and Deledio unavailable due to injury. Ian Hill is not a like for like replacement for Whitfield (nor Keeffe for Greene), so existing players like Williams, Shaw, Haynes, Perryman and Kennedy will have to shoulder a bigger load.

If they can match the directness of Whitfield (and to a lesser extent Greene), the Giants might be able to do enough to cover their absence.

3. Avoid the bail out kicks

This might be the most obvious thing HPN will write this finals series, but here goes:

Marks are good.

Marks give you a free, no-pressure disposal, and are a critical way of getting the ball from point A to the goals. However, some types of marks are better for some teams than others. For GWS, it’s the uncontested marks that indicate that they are flying. The Giants have a difference of +20 uncontested marks in wins against fellow finalists, against being just +1 in losses against fellow finalists.

The Giants often play close-ish to the boundary lines, often swinging the ball from side to side, which will juice these numbers somewhat. But those confident switches are also a sign that their ball movement is flowing well, showing that they are trying to break the game open by searching for cracks in the defence.

Too often when they are struggling (and this is not limited to just the Giants) they will resort to long kicks down the line, hoping for a bailout contested mark or stoppage on the boundary. As indicated above, the Giants generally play better when focusing less on stoppages, and hoping for contested pack marks or advantageous crumbs is a high risk, low reward strategy.

If the Giants can ping the ball around via foot, and Collingwood can’t make it more contested in the air, the Giants will be in good shape.

What HPN said last week

GWS ticked off all the keys HPN identified.

✔️ Control turnovers, especially by the prime ball movers – GWS gave up five fewer turnovers than Brisbane, and a lot of them were from offensive players like Greene (7), Cameron (5) and Taranto (5), not jut primary ball winners like Hopper (7) and interceptors like Haynes (5) and Whitfield (5).

✔️ You know your targets, hit them – All but two of GWS’ goals came from the core group of Cameron, Finlayson, Kelly, Greene, Himmelberg and Lloyd with Brent Daniels and Hopper hitting the scoreboard once each (Daniels with the late winner). The core six forwards had 10 of the 12 goals.

✔️ Don’t worry too much about winning the stoppages – As noted, GWS do better in stoppage clearances when they lose. They were smashed 35-24 in this area but still put themselves in a winning position. The Giants were willing to let Brisbane win the ball at the coalface and kick it right to the waiting Giants’ defence.


Note: the HPN tipping model this year was bad. Don’t gamble, especially not with this information. Look at the work of Squiggle for a variety of better performing models.

Collingwood by 23.

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