Magpies' season review: A fourth straight finals on the back of the League's best defence

DESPITE being without two of its most important players, Collingwood made its fourth consecutive finals series this season.

Unable to bring their best footy against the best sides in the competition, the Magpies were knocked out at the semi-final stage, but remained one of the toughest defences to penetrate.

womens.afl is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Collingwood players celebrate a goal during round four, season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Head coach: Steve Symonds

Leadership group: Steph Chiocci, Brianna Davey (co-captains), Britt Bonnici, Ruby Schleicher (co-vice captains), Chloe Molloy, Lauren Butler

Ladder position after home and away season: Sixth, seven wins and three losses, 118.4%

Ladder position after finals: Sixth, eight wins and four losses, 112.6%

Debutants: Imogen Evans, Emily Smith, Charlotte Taylor (AFLW debut), Olivia Barber, Lauren Brazzale, Sarah Sansonetti (club debut)

Milestones: Lauren Brazzale, Sophie Casey, Steph Chiocci, Sabrina Frederick, Stavey Livingstone, Ruby Schleicher (50 games), Tarni Brown, Jordan Membrey, Sarah Sansonetti (25 games)

Rising Star nominations: Nil

Retirements: TBC

Lauren Brazzale in action in Collingwood's S7 round nine match against North Melbourne at Victoria Park. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance

The Magpies started with a bang, downing Carlton by 18 points in the season seven opener. They maintained impressive territory control through a combination of strong defensive structures and forward pressure, keeping Carlton to what would be its second lowest inside 50 count of the season (18), while registering their own equal-season high in the same metric (37).

Eliza James and Chloe Molloy were crucial, each laying six tackles inside 50, while debutant Imogen Evans brought a real physicality around the ball. It was a really even performance for the side who were out to prove they could do it all without Brianna Davey and Britt Bonnici at their disposal.

AFLW S7 Highlights: Carlton v Collingwood

05:12 Aug 25. 2022. 9:09 PM

The Blues and Magpies clash in round 1 of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance

Eliza James' showing in Collingwood's narrow elimination final win against the Western Bulldogs was a standout, not just for the teenager but for the side as a whole.

James became the first AFLW player to kick four goals in a final, doing so from 13 disposals, and in the process pulled her Pies over the line. While her teammates were unable to kick accurately at goal, the side returning a scoreline of 5.10 (40), James was dobbing goals from everywhere.

The star of Collingwood's finals series, she would go on to kick her side's only goal the following week against Adelaide.

Electric Eliza boots four on the big stage

01:58 Nov 6. 2022. 5:38 PM

Eliza James slots four majors in a dominant finals display

Most improved

Jordyn Allen has always been an important player for Collingwood coming out of defence, but in the absence of Davey and Bonnici, coach Steve Symonds leaned on her to assist further up the field this season.

Averaging 14.2 disposals, 3.8 marks, 2.3 inside 50s and 4.8 intercepts running up and down the wing, Allen's strength and two-way running was vital to the Pies who needed more support around the main midfield group than they have in the past.

Allen went on to be named in the All-Australian squad for the first time and took out her first ever club best and fairest award for her efforts.

Star recruit

While not necessarily a new recruit, Ash Brazill's return from netball commitments to play her first games of the year was as good as a fresh face for Collingwood.

The Pies have really missed her drive and strength, and after starting her career down back, she has made a seemingly permanent switch to the forward line. Brazill played eight games this season and although her inaccuracy was a little frustrating - kicking just two goals from 11 scores - her ability to present as a strong forward option was exactly what Collingwood needed.

Unsung hero

Still just 22 years old, Lauren Butler continues to be the backbone of Collingwood's defence alongside Stacey Livingstone.

An elite ball user - averaging 13.8 disposals at 73.3 per cent efficiency - Butler plays a reliable, accountable defensive role while also looking to rebound. A tough balance to strike, but brilliant when it lands.

Butler's role down back was even more crucial this season, given the need for Allen and Ruby Schleicher to play roles higher up the field for extended periods of time.

Lauren Butler in action in Collingwood's round 10 S7 match against Brisbane at Metricon Stadium. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well

Reaching a semi-final while covering the loss of both Davey and Bonnici was Collingwood's biggest win of the season. While it may sound like a repetitive theme of the side's season, filling gaps left by the pair was a significant challenge to which the Pies rose. But it did take some magnet shuffling to achieve and required the buy-in of players right across the ground, not simply midfielders.

With a somewhat makeshift midfield combination, the Pies averaged 22.6 clearances this season - the highest in club history - and this was led by Mikala Cann (39 clearances), Chloe Molloy (38) and Jaimee Lambert (37).

The defensive unit stood strong despite sacrificing key cogs higher afield, conceding just 25.2 points per game, the lowest in club history. Defence has been a strength for several seasons now, but to improve yet again despite disruptions is a hugely positive sign for the Pies.

What needs improvement

Just as defence has been a strength of Collingwood's in recent seasons, attack remains a concern. The side averaged just 28.3 points per game this season, the second lowest in club history behind only 2019 where it lost almost its whole forward line to expansion.

Chloe Molloy was pulled out of that forward role for extended periods of time to support the midfield, and without Molloy inside 50 there was a lack of organisation and clear movement in attack.

The Pies recruited Olivia Barber from Geelong to help up forward, but she was dropped after just four games, and Sabrina Frederick was being used in an effective, but different role in support of the ruck. Brazill's return helped, and Eliza James is solid but can't be the main target around which the line is built.

Frederick on fire with pair of absolute gems

00:51 Oct 16. 2022. 5:46 PM

Sabrina Frederick gets the Pies going with two rippers in quick succession

Off-season focus

Once again, finding a solution in that forward line is key. Someone reliable that midfielders can consistently target and from whom smaller forwards can work around. Improving that chemistry moving into attack will no doubt also be a focal point, which the return of Davey in particular will help to fix.