However, it wasn’t a good day for Jones, the former skipper straining a hamstring at a closed training session. He was sent for scans, which revealed the strain as minor, and the Demons say he could return as early as next weekend.
Jones played his 300th match against Richmond in round six, and was the medical substitute a week later, but was dropped ahead of last week’s clash against Sydney.
Weideman’s return means the Demons continue to have several options, including McDonald and Ben Brown, to help skipper Max Gawn in the ruck. Gawn has spent more time drifting into defence in recent weeks, ensuring plenty of room for Bayley Fritsch (18 goals), Kysaiah Pickett (14), McDonald (13), Christian Petracca (9) and Brown (5) to work up forward.
While the Demons chase a ninth straight win, the Blues are struggling with a 3-5 win-loss record and now must contend with an elite defence. Where the Blues continue to struggle to stop opposition run-ons, having conceded three goals in a row 15 times this season, the Demons’ selfless approach to team defence and working hard without the football has been a feature of their remarkable surge.
Goodwin said this mantra had been a work in progress over three years and the players were now “cohesive” and being rewarded for their efforts.
“You see the best teams over the years defend without the ball to a really high level,” he said.
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GOALS G.Coast: King 3, Rankine, Corbett, Holman, Weller St Kilda: Steele 2, Billings, King
DISPOSALS G.Coast: Miller 27, Swallow 24, Ellis 18 St Kilda: Jones 24, Billings 20, Crouch 20, Steele 19, Wilkie 19, Hill 18
The Saints have had more disposals 296-292, clearances 27-24, tackles 45-44, contested possessions 102-93, free kicks 16-11 and hitouts 42-10, yet find themselves down by 15 points.
It’s been an extremely frustrtaing and wasteful afternoon for the Saints who are playing a very safe brand of footy. The need to take the game on more in the final term.
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Sky Racing and Brisbane Racing Club’s turf expert Nathan Exelby runs his eye over Saturday’s Hollindale Stakes meeting at Gold Coast.
I Could Do Better, R1 No.8 – $5
He’s getting into a more realistic quote now after a juicy price was served up early. Good fresh winner and he’s gone OK in three runs since without threatening. Very strong through the line last start and up to 1800m on testing ground looks ideal.
Lord Belvedere, R3 No.2 – $4.60
He may not have been at his best in two runs since a spell but he’s been OK and should be ready to peak now at third run back. His spring form is good enough to beat these and he’s well in with 57kg.
Ranch Hand, R5 No.4 – $3.20
Showed plenty of talent in his debut prep, culminating in a solid Magic Millions effort. The feeling was he would always be better next time around and recent trial suggested he’s in good shape for his return here. Drawn to get every chance.
Race 1: I Could Do Better $12-$5, Olympic Class $4.20-$3.60
Race 2: Niedorp $6-$3.80
Race 3: Lord Belvedere $5-$4.60
Race 4: Stampe $6-$4.80, Baller $10-$7.50
Race 5: Ranch Hand $4-$3.20, Dovetail Diva $31-$10
Race 7: Rocketing By $9-$5.50, Simply Fly $7-$5
Race 8: Fifty Stars $9-$8, Avilius $6-$4.80
Race 9: Sofie’s Gold Class $14-$10
R6: GOLD COAST BRACELET (1800M)
Chris Waller holds a monster hand with five runners and I’m confident one of them will get the job done. The two I’m keenest on are Signora Nera ($7) and Grace And Harmony ($6.50). Signora Nera didn’t have the best of luck in the Adrian Knox, then battled on solidly enough in the Oaks when probably not quite seeing out the 2400m. This is panels easier and like the fact she brings stronger Sydney form than Easifar ($6), who won the Brisbane lead-up to this. Grace And Harmony looks the big improver. She’s impressed in two wins this time in and her late strength last start says she will lap up 1800m now. If it’s not a Waller-trained filly, then Nothinsweetaboutme ($16) and Tycoon Evie ($4.40) look the pick of the others.
Lord Olympus ($5) looked super impressive when sitting back and showing a big turn of foot to run over the locals at Doomben a fortnight back. He’s now joined by a couple of others from his home base, who have Sydney form at least the equal of him. Rocketing By ($5.50) did a good job first-up in the Arrowfield and should have plenty of upside from that race. He also gets a key jockey booking. Amish Boy ($9) should have finished closer in that race, but that tends to be his overall story. Marboosha ($5) has a tie in to those horses through Isotope. Just a matter of how much the wide draw plays against her. Simply Fly ($5) was backed off the map last time and is proven on the Coast.
Selections: 2 Rocketing By, 5 Lord Olympus, 12 Marboosha
R8: HOLLINDALE STAKES (1800M)
Great race. Lots of horses you can make a case for. I’m going for what look the strongest formlines, those being the Doncaster Mile and All Aged Stakes. Zaaki ($6.50) should have finished closer in a terrific Australian debut in the Doncaster before maybe just anchored under 59kg second-up. He should be right at his peak now and expect him to measure up, given the way he finished off first up. Avilius ($4.80) wasn’t as dynamic in the Doncaster as he had been in the Ryder/Chipping Norton, but it was still a tidy effort and he’s clearly flying. Fifty Stars ($8) was monstrous though the line in the All Aged and 1800m is lovely progression. Melody Belle ($7) is going to give away a start.
Selections: 7 Zaaki, 1 Fifty Stars, 2 Avilius
R9: SILK STOCKING (1400M)
Liked what Sofie’s Gold Class ($10) did first-up. She couldn’t win from where she was, but kept finding the line behind a super smart one. Out to 1400m on soft ground is ideal, particularly getting a soft run off the inside draw. Wonderful Riri ($3.90) loves the wet and is going super. This is another step up but she’s making great steps in Queensland and will finish off strongly. Maui Girl ($14) is at bigger odds and can’t win on what we saw last time, but have to respect her chances on what she did at Newcastle prior in a better race than this. Given the publicity around William Pike this week, she’s a likely omen bet for many to finish the day on. Shahzade ($17) is better than what the first up run says on paper.
Mozzie Monster (Caulfield, R8, $4.20) has chased a good filly home twice this campaign. Gets into a race lacking anything in that class and up to 1600m can suit after she was just left right out the back at the wrong time last start. Gosford hosts the metro meeting in New South Wales and Blesk (R3, $3.20) looks to have found a suitable race.
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Buckley hasn’t completely given up on the concept of Moore as a forward but has gone for the most immediate need, which is to batten down the hatches in defence.
“Darcy will go back,” Buckley said.
“The last three weeks, that trial to look at that, has given us some information and not all the information we were looking for in a positive sense. Darcy is one member of our team. He’s not the be-all and end-all.
“He’s a very good footballer, he has played some exceptional football behind the ball but we’ve seen breakout performances in losing teams from Darcy Cameron and Brody Mihocek and we think Darcy’s presence has assisted in that regard.
“But with a defensive focus for us, once we stripped that back, it was really clear that Darcy behind the ball makes us a better defensive team.”
Defender Jeremy Howe has been ruled out for this week due to needing complete more “volume” running following his hamstring injury, while Levi Greenwood and Mason Cox could make returns to the side although Greenwood didn’t train Thursday.
Buckley wanted more from his senior players but wouldn’t address speculation about the team or Jordan De Goey’s talking-to from some of his teammates.
“We support Jordy absolutely. He is a young man who is trying to contribute to the club as best he can and he is one of 45 other young men and the staff that is extended from that. Whatever we do, win, lose or draw we will do it together and we won’t carve anyone away.
“Feeding into that narrative is not something I want to do.”
Buckley said the group was “looking after one another”.
“Externally there are people looking for answers but ultimately we come back as a group and are looking after one another,” he said.
“This is not an easy caper. The only answer is to work hard, come back to each other, find some light and shade in your week and we control what happens in our four walls, not what happens outside of that.
“We understand what we are seeing externally is largely regarding our win-loss ratio, there is a quick way to fix that and that is to play better footy.”
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Michael Ennis and Braith Anasta can’t understand how the Brisbane Broncos let Reece Walsh slip through their fingers and sign with the Warriors after seeing the young gun’s potential in the first two games of his NRL career.
The 18-year-old has been earmarked as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s replacement when the Warriors skipper departs at the end of the season to switch to rugby union. Walsh signed a three-year deal with the Warriors in March, starting in 2022 but was granted an immediate release last month.
Walsh made his NRL debut in Round 7 at fullback, then in Round 8 he played in the halves as the Warriors stunned the Cowboys in the first half to eventually secure a 24-20 win.
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The two-game rookie was a standout. He ran for 83 metres, had two tacklebusts, one linebreak and one linebreak assist.
Anasta said the Broncos made a “shocking call” in letting him go after watching the teenager impress in the last fortnight.
Warriors hold off unlucky Cowboys
“I don’t know how they let him go,” Anasta told Fox League’s Big League Wrap.
“I’ve only seen him the last couple of weeks… but he looks like he has a lot of time, he has great footwork, he glides across the field, he’s electric.
“Walsh was amazing, Nikorima was fantastic as well. Their combination complemented each other and they let (Roger) Tuivasa-Sheck just do his own thing at the back. He’s a great player.
“What a shocking call.”
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Walsh is a product of the Queensland rugby league nursery, Keebra Park State High School and has played in the Queensland under 18s as well as Australian Schoolboys.
Ennis has kept an eye on him coming up through the ranks and says the Warriors saw something in Walsh that the Broncos didn’t.
Dragons have ‘fallen off a cliff’
“The fact that Nathan Brown said during the week that he wouldn’t play him at fullback because he still needed six weeks or so to really find that development in the fullback position, but he didn’t drop him. He put him the front line at five-eighth.
“He showed great confidence in him and I thought (on Sunday), even in the second half, there was no second half points for the Warriors, but he continued to go after the contest. He made a number of linebreaks and he threatened every time he had the footy.
“I watched him as a kid, particularly through his teenage years, and far out it astounds me that they let him go.
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“I spoke to people at Brisbane last year, and I know Brisbane were going ordinary last year but as a 17-year-old at training, he was carving them to pieces.
“The only concern was, could he handle the physicality of first grade. Gus Gould’s seen that a mile away and said ‘absolutely he can,’ thrown him into the deep end, threw him into the furnace at AAMI Park and there was no dramas.”
It’s not a good look for the Broncos who not only let Walsh walk, but also Sam Walker and David Fifita. Walker has been an absolute sensation for the Roosters since making his NRL debut in Round 4. On Saturday the 18-year-old became the first Rooster to set up five tries in one game. Meanwhile, Brisbane weren’t prepared to pay big money for Fifita and although the 21-year-old was well contained last Friday, he’s been destructive for the Titans and is the competition’s second leading tryscorer.
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Twelve years ago, on a suburban footy field in Auckland, Nathan Cleary played his first game of rugby league.
It was almost his last.
The 11-year-old had played soccer earlier that day but was convinced to play rugby league with his mates in their Mt Albert Lions side.
“As I rocked up, one of my mates was coming off with a broken arm,” Nathan says. “He wasn’t much bigger than me.”
There wasn’t a spare jersey for him to wear so he turned his soccer strip inside out and trotted out to the middle, filling in at hooker.
At the first scrum, he looked at the monstrous players in the front row and gulped.
“What are you doing here?” asked one.
Cleary wasn’t entirely sure.
When he arrived home, his father, Ivan, who was coaching the New Zealand Warriors, asked how he’d played.
“Dad,” Nathan said, “they were so big.”
If Nathan had been playing in the western suburbs of Sydney, one of the great careers – which has started to blossom at Penrith in the past three years – might never have happened.
Instead, because of the weight divisions entrenched in junior rugby league in New Zealand, his young career took off.
“The next year, I played in the restricted weight division,” Nathan says. “You were still up against big kids, but you were playing more footy to win games instead of just giving it to the biggest player on the field.”
Ivan doesn’t underestimate the importance of that system for his son’s career.
“If there was no restricted-weight footy, I don’t think Nat would’ve played in New Zealand, which means he wouldn’t have played until he got to Penrith,” he says. “I’m not saying he wouldn’t have made it in the NRL, but it would’ve severely restricted his development as a half. I like telling this story to as many people as I can in Australia because I really liked the concept.”
It’s a story worth telling as the production line of halves starts to dry up at the top level, although a weight disparity at junior level is only part of the story.
How can Sharks veteran Chad Townsend, 30, command a three-year deal worth $2.4 million with the Cowboys?
How can Broncos rookie Tom Dearden, 20, go from being the “next Allan Langer” with a devastating running game to being so unwanted by his club that it doesn’t table an offer?
How does Roosters sensation Sam Walker, 18, with his vision and long spiral passes, become the exception and not the norm of young halves rising through the ranks?
Why does the modern-day half play in a straitjacket, limited to one side of the field instead of playing – dare we say it – “eyes up footy”?
“Good halfbacks are as rare as rocking-horse shit,” two-time premiership coach Warren Ryan said in a recent Herald interview.
Ivan Cleary agrees. “As long as I’ve been coaching, which is about 15 years now, there’s always been a shortage,” he says. “But with the new rules, the gulf between the best and the rest has become really obvious.”
How did it come to this? And how does rugby league ensure the next Nathan Cleary isn’t lost to another code?
For best part of 30 years, at the Dragons, Storm and now the Roosters, Tony Barnes has nurtured generations of superstars, from Mark Gasnier to the Morris twins to Boyd Cordner to Latrell Mitchell.
But he’s worked with just a sprinkling of halves who have made it through to the NRL, most notably two-time premiership winner James Maloney.
“The biggest reason we don’t get many good halves is because it’s all about size,” says Barnes, who has been the Roosters under-20s coach for the past six years. “It’s about loading up the big fellas and rolling through the opposition. That’s the game, that’s what the coaches coach, and there’s no footy in them apart from the occasional back-line play.
“They don’t teach halves to play short, to play through the ruck, to work on decision-making. All these things get clouded if you have kids twice your size running at you. It’s about who can bash and barge over the line.”
There has been debate about weight divisions in junior football for years.
Many claim the disparity is because of the popularity of the game among young Pasifika players, something that Samoan, Dr David Lakisa, addressed in his recently completed PhD on Pacific Sport and Diversity Management.
A former development officer at the NSWRL, Lakisa writes: “This is a complex issue: on the one hand, non-Pasifika parents might be criticised for overreacting to the athleticism of Pasifika youth who are the same age as their children; on the other hand, researchers have argued that Pasifika adolescents typically have larger physiques and hold vastly different attitudes and ideals towards body image than their Caucasian counterparts.”
Interestingly, the NSWRL says there hasn’t been an overwhelming desire from parents to bring in weight restrictions. Some parents have expressed concerns about fat-shaming at weigh-ins while others believe it will prevent larger kids from playing.
Weight dispensations have been introduced to some junior leagues in NSW, which allow children to play down an age group if they are under a certain weight.
Some junior leagues on the NSW North Coast can use their discretion to allow players born after July to drop down an age group if necessary.
Regardless, size remains an issue in the eyes of many, and talent scouts have had to find resourceful ways to get around it when searching for playmakers.
The Raiders’ Peter Mulholland scours OzTag tournaments.
“At least they will go to the line there because they’re not scared of being dumped,” he says.
Immortal Andrew Johns tells aspiring halves to emulate the careers of Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson.
“If I talk to any young half, I tell them to play touch footy like Benji and Shaun,” Johns says. “You can learn your trade there without being buckled in defence.”
Consider that for a moment: the halfback of the century advising young halves of the future to avoid contact rugby league.
That’s a broken system.
The price of ambition
A couple of years ago, Ivan Cleary watched a junior team’s training session from afar.
For half an hour, he saw a coach put his side through a gruelling opposed session, with spilt halves standing on the left and right of the ruck, running plays that had been clearly cut-and-pasted from an NRL team.
The players were 12 years old.
“I’m passionate about this issue,” he says. “Rugby league coaching at a junior level has becomes so NRL-like it’s ridiculous. I was once at an under-8s game and this kid was a natural offloader of the ball but his coach was on the sideline screaming out, ‘Don’t pass the ball!’
“Rugby league is a game, unlike other games, that you can win purely by size and strength. At junior level, you don’t have to be skilful. And many of these coaches just want to win. My younger son [Jett] is 16. He learnt more playing union and OzTag because he could roam around the field.”
So it’s not just about size but coaching ambition.
Leading player agent Sam Ayoub has had some of the best halves in the game’s history on his books, most notably Johnathan Thurston.
He reckons the issue is a NSW problem because NRL clubs have too much influence on junior teams.
“They’re coaching the daylights out of their players here in NSW, whereas in Queensland they’re not in a structured NRL system,” Ayoub says. “I can tell you because I see it all the time. I could pick three young halves in Cairns, in Townsville, in Mackay who haven’t come through those systems who are standouts because they just play football, as they should.”
Barnes does his best to buck that trend. For example, in trial matches he’ll prevent players from running block plays.
“You do things out of the ordinary to teach them things,” he says. “I’m a skills coach, not a wrestle coach. That’s what I believe in. I leave that to someone else because my heart’s not in it. I’m about gripping the ball properly, passing the ball properly.”
Former Penrith general manager Phil Gould identified these issues more than a decade ago when he established a halves academy, although it no longer exists.
He brought in Trent Barrett to run some sessions. Among the first teenagers through the door were Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, the current halves for the Panthers.
The halfback is born. The only one out of the box has been Cooper Cronk.
“The halfback is born,” Barrett says. “The only one out of the box has been Cooper Cronk. As soon as I saw [Warriors rookie] Reece Walsh touch the ball the other night I thought, ‘Here we go’. He moves like a six. So does Kalyn Ponga. Dylan Brown is another. They don’t have to think – they’re born halves. You’re just hoping these types of players get a coach at a young age who can nurture their skill, their left to right pass, their kick.”
When Barrett was learning his trade at the Dragons under David Waite, the game was flush with playmakers: Johns, Brad Fittler, Brett Kimmorley, Scott Hill, Darren Lockyer, Craig Gower, Craig Wing …
All of them could play either seven or six, centre, lock or hooker. In the modern era, many players are less skilful.
“You’d be amazed how many first-graders can’t spiral pass left to right,” Barrett says.
The Dearden dilemma
Tom Dearden can’t play.
That has been the line coming out of the Broncos for the past fortnight after one of their brightest young prospects signed with the Cowboys for $1m.
It wildly conflicts with the intelligence coming out of junior footy only a few years ago.
“When I saw Dearden as a 16-year-old, he was playing off-the-cuff football all of the time,” former South Sydney head of football Shane Richardson says. “Everyone knew Sam Walker would be a superstar, but everyone thought the same of Tom Dearden.
“It’s bullshit to say there’s a lack of halves. It’s a matter of where they end up and who coaches them. You need a quality coach with patience. As John Lang would say, ‘if you bring a young half into a team, you have to leave them there’. They didn’t do that with Dearden.”
Not that long ago, Dearden was at the front of a long line of quality young playmakers at Red Hill. He played for Queensland under-18s in 2018.
The Broncos also stockpiled Tanah Boyd (now at the Titans), Sean O’Sullivan (now at the Warriors) and Cory Paix (who is being groomed as a hooker).
What would have happened to these players if Wayne Bennett hadn’t been shoved out the door and Anthony Seibold, and now Kevin Walters, brought in?
Erratic coaching has cruelled Dearden, who was told he was going to be the starting halfback this season right up until round one when Brodie Croft, who the Storm gladly let go 18 months ago, was selected instead.
The same head games have been played with five-eighth Anthony Milford, who is a shadow of the player he was under Bennett three years ago.
Three weeks ago, after the loss to Souths, Walters said, “I like what I saw from Milford tonight”, then dropped him. Last week, after Milford turned out for South Logan in the Intrust Super Cup, Walters said he “wasn’t up to standard”, but has picked him for the match against the Titans on Friday night.
The Dearden dilemma is symbolic of what happens at other clubs, who show little patience.
Elsewhere, other coaches simply turn their halves into robots.
For all the criticism levelled at Ivan Cleary for the way he left the Wests Tigers, people easily forget the form of halfback Luke Brooks on his watch when he was named Dally M Halfback of the Year in 2018.
“I told him to run the ball because that’s his strength,” Cleary says. “I’m not sure what he’s doing now.”
Mention the term “eyes up footy” to Andrew Johns and watch his eyes roll back into his head in anger.
“I hate it: eyes up footy,” he grumbles. “Your eyes should be up all the time. That term is just a cop-out from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. A proper halfback should always react to the defence.”
The upside of the quicker ruck from the new six-to-go rules has been the re-emergence of the creative half playing what is in front of him. Witness the form of Benji Marshall at the age of 36, and the emergence of Sam Walker at 18.
“The slower ruck from the wrestle meant you had to play your set plays to get around teams,” Johns says. “Now, with the quicker play-the-ball, the best halves are standing up again. The best teams with the best halves who don’t play structured football are the ones going well.”
And that’s when rugby league is at its best: when it’s unpredictable, played with flair, much like Johns and his brother Matthew at a sun-bathed Marathon Stadium on a Sunday afternoon.
“Although you’re being paid as a professional, you play your best when you’re playing like it’s a pastime,” Matthew said recently.
The Johns boys played like they were in the backyard, like nobody was watching – much like Cleary and Luai play now.
“We were fortunate growing up,” Nathan says. “That sort of football was encouraged. The boys I’m playing with now, we’re very grateful for the coaches we’ve had.”
Could his career have started and ended at one match for the Mt Albert Lions under-11s if not for the restricted weight divisions of New Zealand rugby league?
“I probably would’ve kept playing because I just love the game so much,” he says. “But there were other kids who just couldn’t get into the game.”
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Nathan Buckley has revealed he wants to remain as coach of Collingwood next year and insists making the finals is “absolutely” part of this season’s agenda.
The Magpies have tumbled to 1-5 to start the season and pressure continues to mount on Buckley, who is off contract at season’s end and in his tenth season in charge.
As speculation intensifies over his future, Buckley confirmed for the first time that he was keen to secure a new contract.
“Do I want to continue? The short answer is yes. Do I want to coach? Yes,” Buckley said on Wednesday.
“But as we have been really consistent with, and there still comes questions with, we will have that conversation in the back half of the year. That’s what I want to do because regardless of what I think I want to do for Nathan Buckley, the only thing that matters is what is best for the Collingwood footy club.
“Every day that I am here and our performances or otherwise, or a our growth and otherwise, the connection of the playing group or otherwise, the environment of the football department, is going to be part of determining whether I am the best person to be at the helm and be the senior coach.
“There are plenty of other leadership roles, there are plenty of other impactful positions in a football club, in a football program that makes a difference, but the one that gets scrutinised heavily is my role … I understand that. There is plenty of water that is going to go under the bridge that is going to give us more information, me more information, on what the best course of action the club can take going forward.“
Buckley, managed my prominent player manager Craig Kelly, said discussions would open after the mid-season bye. He said new president Mark Korda, chief executive Mark Anderson, football department chief Graham Wright and Paul Licuria and Peter Murphy, the two board directors who deal with the football department, would all be involved.
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Nathan Buckley is adamant the uncertainty surrounding his future as Collingwood coach is not distracting his team and said he would not use it as an excuse after the Magpies tumbled to second-last on the ladder by losing to Essendon on Anzac Day.
The Pies’ hopes of a fourth consecutive finals berth are quickly evaporating, with Buckley’s side having lost four games in a row, including the 24-point defeat to the regenerating Bombers at the MCG on Sunday.
In his 10th season at the helm, club great Buckley is out-of-contract. Having lost a raft of experienced players at the end of last season, the Pies have been further depleted in recent weeks by injuries to key players including Jeremy Howe, Taylor Adams and Jordan De Goey, none of whom played on Sunday.
Buckley said the Pies’ performances in recent weeks suggested they weren’t handling being without so many stars but he refused to use that as a blanket reason for his team’s run of outs.
“Essendon have got a lot of youth, we had a lot of youth. We haven’t got that many on the sideline. Up until two weeks ago we didn’t have many guys that weren’t available to play. Jamie Elliott and Trent Bianco who hasn’t played a senior game at this point. We’ve had a few more add to that over the last two or three weeks and we haven’t won a game in that time, so we haven’t had the capacity to cover if it’s a personnel issue. “But I think it’s not the only issue we have. I’m not about to sit here and say we can’t win with who we’ve got, that’s a defeatist attitude that we won’t take,” Buckley said.
“We want to win games of footy. We’re not playing well enough at the moment. There were positives in tonight like Daics [Josh Daicos] was really good as a midfielder…JT [Josh Thomas] went in there and gave us a little bit. Will Hoskin-Elliott looked better on the wing, [Nathan] Murphy was good when he came in on that wing. Isaac Quaynor’s continued his good form, Darcy Cameron has had a breakout game, 21 touches as a tall. There’s positives to take from it but we just didn’t have the weight of numbers go our way, and we didn’t play with any efficiency at all.
“The margins are quite narrow…we were in the game for a lot of it.”
Following a loss to Essendon in 2017, another year in which he was out-of-contract, Buckley said the uncertainty surrounding his future was having an impact on the side.
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A week after calls for Collingwood to come out in support of Nathan Buckley, new Pies president Mark Korda has weighed in on the coach’s contract situation.
But the boss’ words won’t fill Buckley with confidence about extending his 10-year reign in charge when his contract expires at the end of the season.
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The club legend is under pressure as his team sits in 16th, having slumped to 1-4. A disastrous trade period meant the Magpies were always facing an uphill battle in 2021 and Buckley is under the pump to turn things around.
Despite guiding Collingwood to within a kick of the premiership in 2018, a preliminary final in 2019 and the second week of last year’s finals series, Korda wouldn’t guarantee Buckley’s future and said the Pies will do what’s best for the club when it comes to his contract.
“That contract is up, and we’ll do whatever is in the best interests of the Collingwood Football Club,” Korda told Gerard Whateley on SEN.
“But Nathan’s the coach now and those discussions will continue with the CEO and (GM of Football) Graham Wright and whatever is in the best interests of the Collingwood Football Club will transpire.
“We know that the contract has to be renewed this year, so Graham Wright will manage that process and we’ll rely on Graham’s expertise.
“Nathan’s a seriously competent and passionate person and a man of great integrity and everyone will put the interests of the Collingwood Football Club first.
“I think Nathan is fantastic … we’re going to do the process properly. We’re going to do what’s in the best interests of everybody.”
Following a bombshell report earlier this month about player unrest at Collingwood towards Buckley — before Korda had been unveiled as president — footy journalist Mark Robinson said we were seeing the “start of the end” of the coach’s decade-long rule.
Robinson was also puzzled why none of the Collingwood powerbrokers had publicly backed the coach as speculation swirled about his future.
“It seems to me at the moment that Nathan Buckley is on his own island. Where’s any of the public support from people in positions of power at that club?” Robinson said on AFL 360.
“The fight over who’s (the next) president, park that — come out and say something, Mark Korda and Peter Murphy. I think there might be internal struggles … but someone say something.
“I reckon a lot of them (board members) in their heart know whether Buckley is the man to rebuild this club. I honestly believe they do.”
Buckley prepared to stand down
Earlier this year Buckley said in a wide-ranging interview he would be prepared to stand down as Collingwood coach at the end of the year if the Magpies decided it was best for the club to move in a new direction.
“Those conversations take place consistently and it’s a really easy one because whatever’s best for the football club will occur,” Buckley told afl.com.au.
“Our performances this year, no doubt, are going to have a say on what is best for the club going forward.
“I don’t feel like I have to be the senior coach going forward if that’s the best thing for the club and I feel that I can still impact and help the club move towards contending consistently and winning flags well then I’ll put my hand up.
“And if the club felt it was better to go in another direction then I would understand that. That conversation will be held in good faith and it’s not something that we’ll be addressing until later in the year.”
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“Your strengths are going to be important for us. You get up and down ground insistently and you’ll do it for four quarters,” the coach said in a video released by the club.
Darcy Moore will remain up forward as Buckley gives him more time to adjust to the new position while replacements will be needed in defence for Mark Keane (suspended) and Jeremy Howe (injured) with Mayne potentially moving into defence if he is fit.
“We would like Mark Keane to get more opportunities and more football and with Howie going down last week we will have to find replacements for both,” Buckley said.
“Will Kelly played back last week, Jack Madgen, who has played on the wing, has also played in that back seven quite a bit as has Chris Mayne – so we have some decisions to make on what the make-up of our back six looks like.
“Chris has had a knock, so he wasn’t able to complete training today but it will be a matter of him proving his fitness in the next couple of days to be selected. There is a question mark on him.”
Moore doesn’t want his move forward to be portrayed as the saviour of the team’s season and Buckley knows other forwards will need to step up alongside him.
“As he said to me last week, just as long as people don’t think I will be the ‘white knight’ to fix it all up,” Buckley said.
“We don’t see him that way, he is not the total solution. He is definitely someone that can help us.”
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