PLACES in Collingwood’s forward line in 2023 are at a premium.

Jamie Elliott is the resident star, the matchwinner he was always meant to be before back and leg injuries threatened his career.

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Jordan De Goey is the point of difference, one of the game’s elite talents, seemingly entering his sweetest spot in his ninth season as he splits time in the forward 50 and stints in an also-elite midfield. Brody Mihocek is a four-time leading goalkicker for the Pies, ever reliable, always dependable. Will Hoskin-Elliott remains creative and clever, forever prepared to run far up the ground to cover for teammates.

When Mason Cox drifts deep, few defenders want the responsibility of being his opponent.

As of round one 2023, ex-Lion Dan McStay and ex-Giant Bobby Hill are part of the mix, too. Jack Ginnivan, Ash Johnson and Josh Carmichael missed round one, but will be used this year.

Hill kicked three goals against Geelong in the Pies’ big win, his footy smarts and explosive style as a small forward presenting as a key missing link from the 2022 campaign, which fell one-point short in a preliminary final.

It was a hugely exciting debut for Collingwood, and one which will prove challenging for selectors come round three against Richmond, when Ginnivan’s two-match ban for use of an illicit drug in the off-season expires.

Ginnivan kicked 40 goals as a 19-year-old last year from 23 matches, including three in a semi-final win against Fremantle. That was rare output for someone so young, and the future seemed both assured and vibrantly bright.

Jack Ginnivan watches from the sidelines after Collingwood’s win over Geelong in R1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

And yet, for two reasons – the Hill acquisition and his own questionable behaviour – he is not guaranteed to be selected for the first game that he will actually be available after his heroics of 2022.

It is that type of match selection quandary which true premiership contenders seek. And speed kills opponents in the modern game. Hill has it, and Ginnivan doesn’t.

Ginnivan is too smart a footballer to not play a role this season, but his visit to the men’s bathroom of a Torquay Hotel in February was not in any way smart. And it may well cost him a whole lot more than the penalty imposed by his club.

Bobby Hill celebrates a goal for Collingwood against Geelong in R1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Pathetic Eagles have tempted me to break tradition

MY NORMAL policy is to allow six, and sometimes eight, rounds of each season to unfold before making sweeping judgments on clubs and individuals within them.

But when it’s West Coast and it plays as pathetically in round one of a new season as it did for the entirety of the previous one, I’m tempted to break tradition.

West Coast’s style under Adam Simpson is the opposite of Collingwood’s under Craig McRae. “We want to be exciting, we want to be fun to watch,” is McRae’s mantra. Simpson’s could be mistaken for being: “We aim mostly to be a complicated, risk-free, lethargic mess.”

Adam Simpson during West Coast’s loss to North Melbourne in R1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The Eagles’ slide to mediocrity began after round 19, 2021. Having positioned themselves for a finals campaign to that point, they lost their final four matches. They won just two games last year, and the round four win against Collingwood at Marvel Stadium may have been 2022’s most unbelievable outcome.

The scoreline since round 19, 2021 is 25 losses, two wins, and the losses have come at an average of 44 points.

Some West Coast players should be spared criticism for the opening effort of 2023, captain Luke Shuey, Jeremy McGovern, Liam Ryan, Tom Barrass and Dom Sheed included. First-gamers Reuben Ginbey and Noah Long were OK as well.

In the off-season, Simpson attempted to reassure the AFL industry that his team would be infinitely better than its recent showings. It was arguably worse first-up. This club has settled into being very ordinary.

Concern for Cats ahead of showdown with big Blues

IF IT wasn’t Geelong, it would be panic stations.

Even before round one, there was no Jack Henry, out indefinitely with a fractured foot, or Jake Kolodjashnij (concussion), two key members of one of the game’s best defensive groups.

Out of round one, there will be no Tom Stewart for a month, after he suffered a knee injury, and there are doubts about Sam De Koning’s knee, also damaged last Friday night at the MCG.

Tom Stewart after suffering an injury in Geelong’s loss to Collingwood in R1, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The ever reliable and always versatile Mark Blicavs will now be required to cover the defensive hole. Esava Ratugolea will need to play like never before to assist.

With Stewart’s early-match exit against Collingwood in round one, the Cats’ structure was unable to contain the surging Magpies late in the game.

The one team most clubs would like to avoid when dealing with absent key backs is the one Geelong faces next – Carlton, at the MCG on Thursday night.

Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay, the past two Coleman Medallists, will be even more dangerous against a Cats team without Stewart, Henry, Kolodjashnij and maybe De Koning.

Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow celebrate a Carlton goal against West Coast in R17, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

Gold Coast, Hawthorn and West Coast follow in rounds three to five, before a re-match of last year’s Grand Final against Sydney in round six.

They usually find a way to cover for their stars, the Cats, but these absences will certainly stretch their resolve in the early stages of their premiership defence.