Travis Cloke's ability to regain his best form will be a major factor in Collingwood's 2013 chances
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Is Quinten Lynch the missing link?
One of the key areas where Collingwood's game plan fell apart in 2012 was the decision to play Chris Dawes in the role of second-ruck to support Darren Jolly. The idea of a tall utility playing multiple roles across the ground was a Mick Malthouse initiative that he used to great effect when he had Leigh Brown at his disposal in 2010. But Dawes wasn't up to the task, frequently losing the ruck battle, and worse still, his output and confidence up forward also took a big hit, reducing his effectiveness as a foil for Travis Cloke.
Nathan Buckley wasted no time seeking a replacement that was capable of playing both as a ruck and a forward and found one of the best available in Quinten Lynch. While Lynch should be able to play the role Buckley wants with aplomb, perhaps even better than the way Brown performed in the role in Collingwood's premiership in 2010, fans should be cautious about expecting the same result. When Brown was playing the role effectively, he was the third tall forward option behind Cloke and Dawes. Now that the Pies have lost Dawes, they need either another permanent key forward capable of taking strong contested marks or a different plan in attack.
Can Cloke win a Coleman Medal?
One of the biggest contract dramas of 2012 was resolved the way Cloke always said it would be, with him staying at Collingwood. Now, the Pies will want to see a return on their $4m investment. Cloke kicked 59 goals last year, with the contract negotiations clearly affecting his output after he managed 69 goals in 2011. Despite his goal numbers falling in 2012, Cloke was the leading contested mark in the competition for the second consecutive year, and by a long way. If he can continue that trend he should be able to win a Coleman Medal within this contract period - and perhaps even in 2013.
Can Buckley beat his former mentor?
Carlton didn't manage much last year but they were one of few sides to embarrass Collingwood and they did it twice. That in itself would have been enough to stick in Buckley's craw, but the fact that the side will be coached by Malthouse in 2013 gives the Pies even more reason for revenge.
With so many pundits questioning the sense of giving Malthouse the flick in 2011 for the Eddie McGuire-inspired succession plan, Buckley will be under pressure to show that his game plan is a vast improvement over that of his former mentor. The Pies do have the benefit of meeting the Blues in round two while Malthouse will still be trying to bed down his strategy. It should give the Pies the leg-up in their first meeting but Buckley will have his work cut out for him the next time around, and in any potential finals meeting.
What else do they need to get back to their flag-winning form?
The Pies probably achieved the bare minimum expected of them last year and appeared well out of sorts for much of the year. Buckley's game plan was under attack early in the season, while the constant speculation over Cloke's contract and a struggling forward line didn't help either. A little bit of luck on the injury front would go a long way to improving their fortunes. The Pies lost Luke Ball early in the season and forwards Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer before the season had even started. Rapid improvement from Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo will also help, as will 12 months of getting to know what Buckley expects from each of them.
But getting the forward line working is the chief ingredient and that will fall to Cloke, Lynch, Krakouer and Macaffer. Dane Swan spent significant time forward last year, kicking 25 goals in the process, as did Dayne Beams, who kicked 28. With Ball back in the side, this will be able to be repeated next season, making the Pies a very dangerous prospect.
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