Less than eight months after his world was rocked by a brain bleed, Higgins was back at it on Sunday at Wangaratta’s Norm Minns Oval, but finished with just six disposals.
After a pre-season in which his application has come into question and he was involved in a high-profile split with his manager, Jordan De Goey made telling contributions to help Collingwood to a 40-point win after the Tigers wound back a 31-point second-term deficit to draw within a couple of goals at three-quarter time.
Playing largely as a deep forward while also pinch-hitting in the midfield, De Goey floated in and out of the game before kicking two long-range goals in the final term to end the match with three majors.
Experienced quartet Treloar, Taylor Adams, Jack Crisp and Chris Mayne all found a stack of the ball as the Pies coped better in the absence of a host of top talent, with both sides having been heavily represented in Friday night’s bushfire relief state of origin match at Marvel Stadium.
Josh Daicos toiled hard and kicked a couple of goals, while off-season recruit Darcy Cameron was impressive in the ruck for the Pies, producing a showing which should ease fears about Collingwood’s reliance on Brodie Grundy. Buckley hinted that Mason Cox’s spot in the Pies’ 22 was under pressure following Cameron’s strong pre-season.
Collingwood were without Jaidyn Stephenson, who was a late withdrawal because of personal reasons.
Speaking post-match, Hardwick said premiership players Kamdyn McIntosh (ankle), Toby Nankervis (groin) and Jack Graham (shoulder) could all play next week in a VFL practice match after restricted pre-seasons.
Both sides will welcome back an array of established players for their respective hitouts next Sunday, with the Tigers taking on Greater Western Sydney in Wagga Wagga and the Pies up against St Kilda in Morwell.
A POPULAR ENTRANCE
It was hard to overstate the significance of Higgins’ return to the game given the extremely serious nature of his condition. The small forward started on the bench but received a solid smattering of applause when he made his way onto the ground at the five-minute mark of the opening term.
Higgins was involved early too, dishing off a handball to Jayden Short who unloaded a trademark long bomb to kick the game’s first goal. Ultimately Higgins’ impact was limited, and he gave away a handful of free kicks, but such minutiae shouldn’t overshadow the broader story.
“He’s so hard on himself Jack, he’ll be disappointed probably with how he played,” Hardwick said.
“He’s probably outside the 22 at the moment, to be fair, and he knows that.”
PICKIN’ HIS MOMENTS
When you poll in the Norm Smith Medal in front of a six-digit crowd at the MCG on your AFL debut, there is always the risk of a let down when you rock up on a Sunday afternoon on the first day of March in Wangaratta.
So it proved for Marlion Pickett, who couldn’t quite replicate his grand final form in Sunday’s much-lower stakes encounter. It wasn’t through lack of trying, but the types of tricks pulled off by the West Australian on the last Saturday in September didn’t land this time around. Pickett’s blind turn around Greater Western Sydney star Lachie Whitfield was arguably the grand final’s signature moment. Late in the second quarter on Sunday, Pickett tried to escape the clutches of unheralded Collingwood Irishman Mark Keane, only to be run down. It was one of four free kicks conceded by Pickett in the first half.
HEART OF A TIGER
It’s the Punt Road romance which has had tongues wagging: emerging star Sydney Stack’s relationship with Richmond AFLW jet Monique Conti. A day after racking up 28 disposals in her side’s loss to Geelong in Bendigo, Conti made the trip to Wangaratta to watch her beau, sitting amongst other Tigers’ families and friends in the main grandstand.
5.1 8.1 8.4 13.6 (84)
1.0 4.0 6.6 6.8 (44)
Collingwood: De Goey 3, Cameron 2, Daicos 2, Mihocek, Reid, Crisp, Elliott, Cox, Phillips.
Richmond: Coleman-Jones, Prestia, Caddy, Short, Lambert, Chol.
Collingwood: Crisp, Adams, Treloar, Mayne, Cameron, Madgen, Noble, Maynard, De Goey.
Richmond: Baker, Short, Vlastuin, Stack
Collingwood: Treloar (leg).
CROWD: 7164 at Norm Minns Oval, Wangaratta
Daniel is an Age sports reporter