FOLLOWING a short-lived start to the 2020 AFL season, we'll be taking a look back at the performances of four players who took the field in round one. This week, Norm Smith medallist Scott Pendlebury is analysed through the scope.
Not many would have been more disappointed in the postponement of sport across Australia than the Collingwood Magpies after their 52-point demolition of the Western Bulldogs in round one. Despite the prominent black-and-white army watching on from home due to COVID-19 restrictions, Pendlebury's Magpies still managed to notch up a near-faultless performance, where they took control of the match from the first bounce. All seemed to be clicking for the 2018 runner-up premiers, as it was evident they had addressed key areas for improvement in the offseason, such as their increased midfield productivity and a new-look forward structure.
The Magpie captain was at the forefront of his side's dominance, like he has been consistently through his decorated 14-year career. He yet again showcased his rare ability to maximise his decision making time before effecting disposal by manoeuvring through traffic to create space. This is why experts often refer to his ability to 'slow the game down', as he always seems to have time and space. However, one underrated aspect of Pendlebury's skillset is his ability to remain composed and execute his disposal when under opposition pressure. The six-time All-Australian frequently maintains a calm approach while experiencing contact and still manages to assess all potential options before precisely executing his disposal. As a result, he exits the oval with one of the highest disposal efficiency percentages almost every match.
Some of Pendlebury's most effective disposals when coming under opposition pressure can be found below.
First quarter, 1:53 remaining
Towards the end of the first quarter, Collingwood midfielders prepare for a centre bounce set play where Brodie Grundy attempts to tap to Jordan De Goey forward of the centre circle. However, he places slightly too much power on his hit-out, forcing the ball to fly over De Goey's head. Pendlebury identifies the ball's drop zone early and realises he is in a better position to take possession. He bursts from the defensive side of the bounce for three steps before slowing his attack on the ball to ensure a clean pick-up. As De Goey also bursts forward to create a handball option for his captain, Pendlebury observes his movement, as well as the emerging opposition pressure of Josh Dunkley. He quickly realises he will soon be pinned in a tackle if he is unable to protect the front of his body from the pressure. Therefore, he plants his left foot towards Dunkley in order to face him side-on, before performing an exceptionally clean pick-up. On his way up from the ground, the five-time Magpie best-and-fairest rotates his body to the right to ensure he gets to his dominant left side while his back shields his hands from Dunkley. He also understands he is still low to the ground and Dunkley is in a threatening position to wrap him up. Therefore, Pendlebury decides to not attempt to get his arms free, as this action would give his opposition more time to effect a tackle. Instead he trusts his play-awareness and elite hand skills to execute a behind-the-back handball to De Goey, who he previously saw break forward. While facing his opposition's goals, Pendlebury somehow manages to land the ball in De Goey's hands with an extraordinary left-handed hook handball over his right shoulder, before De Goey takes cleanly and clears the ball into their forward 50.
First quarter, 1:36 remaining
Shortly after De Goey's centre clearance, Collingwood debutant Tyler Brown finds himself under opposition pressure close to the far wing boundary line. He releases a lofted inboard handball to Pendlebury who drifts in from the defensive side of the ball. The positioning of the handball forces the captain to slow to a halt in order to take possession. In the process of receiving the handball, he observes the emerging opposition presence of Ben Cavarra through his peripheral vision. Therefore, he ensures his feet stay grounded and his centre of gravity is low to stabilise himself before being tackled. He then attempts to sidestep the Bulldogs debutant to create space. However, the high handball gives Cavarra enough time to reach Pendlebury and tackle him around the waist, while also pinning his left arm. Despite the intense contact, the 300-gamer rips his arm free of the tackle and lowers his centre of gravity further, allowing him to maintain his balance. Despite being swung around rapidly in the tackle, he remains composed. Understanding the high-risk situation, Pendlebury opts against distributing the ball to Tyler Brown or Taylor Adams, but instead trusts his core and hip strength to regain a stationary motion and execute a low-risk disposal. With a struggling Cavarra hanging from his waist, the three-time Anzac Day medallist waits until his rotation stops, before executing a right-hand handball to an awaiting Callum Brown on the boundary with ease. After releasing the ball, Cavarra falls from his opponent's waist and onto the ground, demonstrating Pendlebury's highly-underrated hip and core strength, in addition to his sound ability to always remain calm.
These plays are both clear examples of Scott Pendlebury's tremendous ability to maintain his composure when coming under opposition pressure. One of the reasons he is widely-considered one of the greatest Magpies to ever pull on the black and white is for his disposal efficiency in contested situations. Whether he is wrapped up in a tackle or facing an approaching opponent, he always seems to force the ball into teammate hands. By remaining stable and upright, Pendlebury is able to maximise his time with the ball in order to identify a suitable option and effectively execute his disposal.