Carlton v Collingwood: Five burning questions

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Collingwood and Carlton head to the MCG on Thursday night with their rivalry locked at 127 wins apiece and already under pressure after they both lost their opening encounters.

Carlton are in familiar territory – they have not won either of their first two rounds since 2012 – but with big expectations heading into 2021, Thursday night shapes as a must-win clash.

Collingwood had a turbulent off-season and appear vulnerable. If they don’t defeat the Blues they will be under enormous pressure this season, with senior coach Nathan Buckley out of contract.

Taylor Adams tries to break a tackle in Collingwood’s 127th win over Carlton.Credit:Getty Images

Can Collingwood kick a winning score?

The Magpies have played slow, defensive football for most of their recent history, lacking the dare now required to challenge and were the lowest-scoring team in round one and last for marks inside 50.

Their small forwards are a pale imitation of their former selves, with Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas unable to impact the game.

Will Hoskin-Elliott kicks truly from a difficult angle in the 2018 grand final.Credit:Eddie Jim

They need to start Jordan De Goey in the midfield and make their wingman accountable to balance the midfield, with Carlton conceding 75 inside 50s last week. That will provide them the balance to attack the game with quick entries to give Mason Cox and Brodie Mihocek a chance to compete one-on-one.

Can Carlton repeat last week’s effort?

It was another typical gallant loss to Richmond to start the season but this time the signs were good. Adam Saad’s line breaking pace and Sam Walsh’s inside-outside game gave the Blues a couple of A-graders they lacked last season.

Sam Walsh starred for the Blues in round one.Credit:Getty Images

They have also strengthened their team – Jack Martin and Zac Williams will return from injury and suspension – so there is no excuse, particularly if Harry McKay learns from round one and holds his nerve to convert set shots rather than playing on when near goal.

What does Brodie Grundy offer?

Grundy was outplayed in round one and took too much on in his effort to turn his contest with Tim English and Stefan Martin around.

His centre bounce and stoppage work has been below par in recent seasons and he needs to change his approach to give his midfield a chance, varying his hitting zones to create width or not depending on what the game demands.

Grundy should beat Marc Pittonet, who is similarly robust but not as agile around the ground, so he needs to stand tall and do his job when in the middle before giving Cox a run in the ruck to regain energy and go again.

Is Williams capable of turning Carlton into a finals team?

The former Giant has pace and agility but his tank is questionable. Despite this, the Blues believe he adds a spark their midfield lacked last season when it contained too many one-pacers and Patrick Cripps took on too much, particularly when he was also battling a sore shoulder.

Williams torched Collingwood at the MCG in the 2019 preliminary final

playing as a midfielder so if he can play half as well in his first game since at the home of football, this time in new colours, the Blues will win.

Can Collingwood right the ship?

Scott Pendlebury set the tone for Collingwood’s 2018 campaign when he ran with Cripps in an early match, his sacrificial act becoming the example the Magpies needed to make a grand final.

How can they manufacture such an ethos again in 2021?

Perhaps it’s about Grundy setting an example by pushing forward and letting Cox loose in the midfield for a time to see if the under-pressure midfield can generate the start that was so obviously missing against the Western Bulldogs.

It may not come off but it will at least throw the shackles of conservatism from the team that has become stodgy and predictable. If it works, the Magpies could become rejuvenated.

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