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High-flying Magpies face AFL litmus test

3 minute read

Collingwood's blockbuster AFL clash with Melbourne on Friday night will go a long way towards shaping both sides' top-four hopes.

BEN BROWN. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Finals-bound Collingwood are bracing for the biggest test yet of their AFL premiership credentials in Friday night's blockbuster clash with Melbourne.

The Magpies have surged into third spot on the ladder, riding a growing list of narrow victories on an enthralling 10-match winning streak.

The red-hot run includes a 26-point upset of the Demons less than two months ago.

But the reigning premiers present a massive challenge for the return bout at the MCG, having issued rivals a brutal reminder of their capabilities in a thrashing of Fremantle last week.

Melbourne's line-up looks even more imposing with key forward Ben Brown cleared to return from two weeks out with a knee injury, replacing Sam Weideman.

Jeremy Howe (corked buttock) and Brody Mihocek (hip) have shaken off minor concerns for the Magpies, who have lost Taylor Adams (groin) for the rest of the home-and-away season.

"We're playing the best team in the competition and they looked like they were back to their best last week," Collingwood coach Craig McRae said.

"They've been building for the last few weeks and it will certainly be our biggest test for a while.

"This is a chance to see where we're at against a great opposition, the reigning premiers.

"We've had a good run of form and we've been growing ... so this is a great test for us."

Collingwood have shocked critics in McRae's first season at the helm after being widely tipped to miss the finals.

The 48-year-old took time to "smell the roses" after the Magpies locked in a finals appearance with victory over Port Adelaide last Saturday.

But it has been back to business in the build-up to the second-versus-third Melbourne clash, which is expected to draw a huge crowd.

"As we've always done, we stepped back into our four walls and we get back to work," McRae said.

"There's no complacency in what we're doing.

"We're trying to get better and this is part of our journey and part of our story.

"The boys trained exceptionally well on Tuesday and if that's any guide we're going to be coming ready to play."

Melbourne's previous loss to Collingwood was their third consecutive defeat in a mid-season slump that raised questions over the Demons' chances of snaring back-to-back flags.

Coach Simon Goodwin said his side learnt plenty from that short period and had made necessary adjustments to their game, while focusing methods of putting teams away when the game is in their control.

"We spent some time on it last week, about being a more ruthless and more urgent footy team more often," Goodwin said.

"Hopefully we're not in that situation where we let teams back into games."

Melbourne are nevertheless prepared for a tight contest against a Collingwood side that's won a competition-record nine games by margins of less than two goals this season.

The Magpies' past five wins have been by single-figure margins.

"There's no doubt when the game gets tight Collingwood are very good," Goodwin said.

"It's something that we've spent a lot of time on ourselves, working around how we execute under pressure and how we execute in those close moments.

"We feel really comfortable that if the game gets into that position we'll hold up well."

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