Collingwood AFL trades | Jake Niall outlines the Magpies’ real agenda in the fire sale

The aggregate draft haul for Treloar and Stephenson was pick 14 and a future second round from the Western Bulldogs, who should play finals next year, with the Pies also losing pick 39 this year.

Peter Schwab, the former Hawthorn coach who traded Trent Croad for Luke Hodge in 2001 and was list manager at the Brisbane Lions from 2014 to 2016, did not think the Pies fared as badly as most external observers – and their fans – believe.

Trent Croad, playing for Fremantle.Credit:Archives

Schwab did not reckon Stephenson and Tom Phillips, who crossed to Hawthorn for diddly squat, were significant losses. “I don’t think they’re big losses but they didn’t get much for them.

“Treloar’s a loss.”

The ex-Hawthorn coach’s assessment was that Collingwood’s return was a little below par. “You probably want a top ten pick for Treloar, but you’ve also got his money off your books.

“They’re a little bit light but it’s not the disaster everyone’s saying it is. It’s a PR disaster.”

Since Thursday night, we’ve been reminded of the volatility of the Collingwood supporter base, which isn’t simply aggrieved about these trades. Their anger has been, like Collingwood’s salary cap problems, a slow burn since the 2019 preliminary final, and I’m sure has been exacerbated by watching Richmond win a third flag in four years and Geelong land a free agent, Jeremy Cameron, who would fit a dire need at Collingwood.

Geelong, indeed, have spent about the same amount of money on three very mature recruits (Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins) as the Magpies have removed from their books by jettisoning their three grand final players.

The trades for sub-prime returns was the match that lit the fuse for the fans, who will need appeasing in the coming months, as the Pies learn what cancel culture means for a footy club. Had Collingwood lost Treloar and Stephenson, but gained Cameron, I doubt there’d be much complaining.

This leads to the underlying agenda that the Magpies have not explicitly mentioned, and to the communication failure or information gap that exists between a club and its supporters and even between the players concerned and the decision-makers who’ve forced them out.

As officials at rival clubs well know, the Pies will be eyeing free agency and the trading market from 2021 and 2022. It is an indictment on planning that, despite the size and potency of the brand, they have not landed one A-grade free agent since the system was introduced eight years ago.

Collingwood’s explanations to Treloar and Stephenson might have contained home truths about on or off-field foibles and concerns (though Treloar’s devotion was never in question), but unless I’m mistaken, they did not bluntly tell the players: “We want to open up salary cap space for free agency and targeted trades because we need to revamp the list and we’ve overpaid some players. You’re not playing up to the level of your contract, we prioritised Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey and Brodie Grundy, who are more important than you, and we need some draft picks. So, we’re sorry, but you have to go.”

Treloar and Stephenson, thus, are victims of countervailing forces within the modern AFL club: ruthless, business-like list management on one hand, and the need for holistic care and empathy for vulnerable players on the other. If they counted on the latter, the former prevailed.

Treloar’s contract of about $900,000 times five ($4.45m) was exorbitant only because the Pies kept pushing money back like a bad debt. This was not Treloar’s fault and he’s entitled to be upset given he was re-contracted not so long ago.

Collingwood could have traded De Goey, who’s been out of contract, rather than Treloar. That they didn’t was a statement about the value of those two players.

The easily-overlooked reality is that Nathan Buckley would not have consented to trading Treloar and Stephenson if they were fabric players within the playing group, no matter what Treloar thinks. But unfortunately for the marketing department, they are fabric players to the fans.

So, there’s an information gap right there. The fans view Treloar and Stephenson differently to the club’s footy bosses. That the pair went public with their grief – and with versions of events at odds with Buckley’s – has further fuelled the backlash.

A clear lesson is that Collingwood needed to give the fans some idea of their plans for free agency, of their need for a shake-up, to tell them that while they didn’t “need” to get under the salary cap, they couldn’t bring in A-graders without creating room.

This would involve admitting to past contracting mistakes. Had they presented this narrative, list manager Ned Guy would not have been unfairly made the veritable fall Guy for a litany of poor contracting calls over several years.

If the fans can only be appeased by winning games and potentially finding a gun forward prospect, the other party that will need careful management is the playing group, which will need reassuring about future directions and an explanation for the fire sale.

Right now, the Pies just need to douse the flames.

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AFL Finals 2020 | Richmond Tigers facing greatest challenge since they were kings, writes Jake Niall

In the previous meetings of 2019 and this year, Brisbane had been the inefficient team which couldn’t muster a winning score from abundant chances.

Tom Lynch’s absence meant the Tigers were back to 2017 in their reliance upon a combination of smalls and Jack Riewoldt. Mabior Chol doesn’t yet have the forward craft to drag defenders away from Riewoldt.

Further, the Riewoldt of 2020 isn’t quite the Jack of 2017, and Dusty Martin did his best work upfield rather than as a forward isolated one-out.

Jack Riewoldt.Credit:Getty Images

The no-Lynch problem was compounded by the return of his usual opponent, Harris Andrews, who didn’t have a threatening forward to subdue and was allowed almost unfettered freedom to act as a spoiler or interceptor.

High balls into the Tiger attack were too easily defended and turned into counter-attacks. Richmond were playing a team in their image, with this proviso – it was at the little G, the Gabba, rather than the big G in Melbourne.

Hardwick, having initially grumbled about “trigger happy” umpires (at half-time) and started on the futile road of whingeing about umpiring (albeit the Lions did benefit from four timely 50-metre penalties in the first half), wisely back-pedalled and praised Brisbane while also observing that the Tigers could play far better.

Hardwick’s right: they can play miles better than they did on Friday night. The corollary is that they must do so to have a serious chance of franking their four-year term of dominance with a third flag.


Richmond will not be thinking beyond next weekend’s semi-final, in which they will be heavy favourites. Should they navigate that assignment, as they should, the prize will be another meeting with Port Adelaide at their Adelaide Oval cauldron – a rested and well-prepared, hungry Port, which will be respectful rather than fearful of the Tigers.

Upend Port, and they’re in the grand final for the third time, potentially against a Lions’ team on a ground that, for the first time since 2004, is worthy of the moniker Gabbatoir for visiting teams.

Richmond’s 2017 and 2019 flags had far lesser degrees of difficulty than the task required in 2020. The insurgent 2017 Tigers did not leave the MCG, had home finals against Geelong, the Giants and a supine Adelaide (which hasn’t recovered).

The more formidable 2019 Tigers, after mid-year adversity with a slew of injuries, had the adolescent version of Brisbane at the Gabba last year, then an admittedly capable Geelong (sans Tom Hawkins) in the preliminary final. GWS, enervated and beset with injury, was an easy kill in the grand final.

Only once did the Tigers have to meet a Melbourne team with surging momentum, fierce support and which was utterly at home at the MCG: Collingwood in the 2018 preliminary final.
If Hardwick’s team haven’t looked longingly at Hawthorn for years – they only succeeded once they eschewed Hawthorn’s kicking game and crafted a method that fitted their personnel – Hardwick might benefit from a conversation with his mate Alastair Clarkson about Hawthorn’s 2015 campaign.


The 2015 Hawks were beaten by a vibrant younger team, West Coast, on the latter’s home turf in the qualifying final. They outclassed Adelaide in the semi, then went to Perth for a second time in a fortnight, this time against Fremantle.

Like the 2020 Tigers, the three-peat Hawks had also had off-field disciplinary issues in the prelude to the finals, with Luke Hodge booked for drink-driving. But piloted by Hodge and Sam Mitchell and with Cyril Rioli’s wizardry given full expression, they prevailed over a less capable Fremantle in Perth and a less seasoned West Coast at the MCG, where the Eagles then struggled with the width of the MCG’s spaces – and with Hawthorn’s slicing foot skills.

Richmond’s method is more frenetic, less reliant on maintaining possession, and even with Lynch, they don’t have Hawthorn’s ludicrous array of talent forward of the ball.

They play a completely different game, in a vastly different environment of a COVID-19-compromised season. Their method is predicated on pressure, which is why they’ve been so imposing in the games that count.

As with Clarkson’s Commandos of 2015, Richmond knows what’s required to win finals. They must know, too, that as their leaders enter twilights and the draft’s gravity pulls at the powerful, they can’t assume they’ll get another crack.

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Jake Niall names his All-Australian team

The ratings would say Nat Fyfe, another in the line of usual suspects, has been second only to Petracca, but Fyfe, asked to spend more time forward, has been less influential in swaying results.

Yes, it’s arguable that I’m judging Fyfe according to his stellar standards rather than against the competition, but he didn’t grab hold of games this season in the same way that Danger and Dusty did.

He’s probably the most contentious non-selection in my team. The All-Australian selectors may well have seen it differently.

Petracca, Neale, Naitanui, Hawkins and Sydney’s standout small forward Tom Papley were locks in their positions. Travis Boak, whom I’d left out of the mid-year team, is another mandatory selection, along with Dylan Grimes and Nick Haynes in defence – two players who hold their sides together from behind the ball.

While Martin and Dangerfield will be debated by some observers, they’re easy selections in my side for the home-and-away season, even if they didn’t terrorise and dominate the competition as they have in seasons past; without them, Richmond and Geelong wouldn’t be in the top four. Ditto for Hawkins and probably Grimes.

Charlie Dixon is second only to Hawkins among power forwards this season and deserving of a key forward post, named at centre-half-forward, although that position barely exists.

Harris Andrews, who missed games with injury, still had a more consistent season in defence over the entire year than Melbourne’s Steven May, who finished superbly, but was just shy of selection in my team (and left out of the AFL’s 40-man squad).

Darcy Moore’s selection over Jacob Weitering here will irritate some who bleed navy blue, but I don’t see it as controversial. Moore led a dominant backline and his closing speed assists teammates caught out of position more than the Carlton back.

The half-back flanks were up for grabs. I’d picked Adam Saad in my mid-season side, but have since recanted and opted for Eagle Brad Sheppard on one back flank, with Nick Vlastuin, a cornerstone of Richmond’s super defence, on the other.

Brayden Maynard, who can both launch and defend one-on-one, is the back-up on the bench, besting Caleb Daniel of the Bulldogs, who launches but doesn’t defend so much.

Lion Hugh McCluggage is an easy pick on one wing, Geelong’s Sam Menegola’s meteoric rise this season should see him picked as a wingman, too.

Meteoric rise: Sam Menegola.Credit:Getty Images

Liam Ryan overtook Dan Butler, Charlie Cameron and an injured Toby Greene in the latter stages of the season to win a forward pocket berth – Ryan is a flat-out match-winner.

Max Gawn, second only to Naitanui among rucks this year, isn’t needed in this team, because Marc Blicavs – Geelong’s premier key back – can also ruck and provides better balance, while the extra midfield spots on the bench belong to Dangerfield and St Kilda’s Jack Steele, who has turned from tough tagger into one of the year’s most damaging mids.

The coach of the year, at this stage, is clearly Port’s Ken Hinkley, though the eventual coach will be the one who wins the premiership, more likely to be Damien Hardwick.

The focus of All-Australian teams in media is invariably about who didn’t get a game, rather than those who made the side.

Fyfe, Gawn, Pendlebury, Butler and Daniel are among the obvious unlucky omissions in this side. In this strange season, reaching a consensus dozen, much less a 22, is not possible.

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