James Willoughby: Beams stepping up

Sportal June 14, 2012, 6:04 pm

They say Friday the 13th is a date that brings bad luck.

That rung true for the Collingwood Football Club in April as they were smashed by rivals Carlton to the tune of 10 goals in front of 84,259 fans at the MCG.

Not only were the Magpies made to look second-best in the Round 3 encounter they lost the contested possessions (152-122), hit-outs (56-26) and clearances (50-32) but Luke Ball (knee) and Ben Reid (quad) also suffered serious injuries.

While Reid would return in Round 6, only to succumb to the same problem three weeks later, it was all she wrote for Ball's 2012 season.

The loss of the experienced midfielder was a big blow and sitting at 1-2 after three rounds, inevitable talk of Nathan Buckley's future as coach surfaced, as did questions about Collingwood's legitimacy as a premiership contender.

Carlton's nine-goal-to-three blitz in the second half stuck in the minds of punters and the Blues were installed as the new premiership favourites after winning their first three matches.

With Ball struck down, someone had to fill the void.

"It's an opportunity for others to step up," said Buckley at the time.

"We are really looking at (Sharrod) Wellingham, (Dayne) Beams, (Steele) Sidebottom and (Jarryd) Blair to name a few but there's going to be more pressure on (Scott) Pendlebury and (Dane) Swan and the rucks to control the stoppages."

How things can change in the footy world.

Fast-forward two months and Collingwood are on top of the ladder after eight straight wins while Carlton sit ninth, having lost four of their last five matches.

Sidebottom has enjoyed a terrific 2012 season, averaging 29 disposals a game, while Wellingham and Blair have also taken on increased roles of importance and impressed.

But it is Beams who has made the most notable improvement with the 22-year-old from the Gold Coast almost untouchable in recent weeks.

The midfielder was dropped in 2011 and struggled with a broken foot and a groin injury, which saw him stand down from the team that lost the Grand Final to Geelong.

And he did not even start the 2012 season in the side, named as an emergency in the club's 22-point loss to Hawthorn in the opening round.

He won 22 disposals against Richmond and Carlton, the latter in that loss, before a 27-disposal effort against Port Adelaide highlighted what was to come.

In his last seven matches he has won 32, 33, 30, 28, 36, 32 and 37 disposals respectively, giving him an average of 32 per match after Round 3, third-best in the competition.

Put simply, Beams is a ball magnet.

His increased fitness base has helped him win 199 uncontested possessions, which is fifth-best in the league.

Beams has played one game less than most of his rivals, making that statistic even more impressive.

He has also won 57 clearances this season which sees him equal-top with Scott Pendlebury at the club and laid 42 tackles, which is fourth-best at Collingwood in 2012.

Despite all this, Beams is not the finished article.

His kicking efficiency (57.2 percent) is slightly below that of his more experienced midfield stars, Scott Pendlebury (64.4), Dale Thomas (62.4) and Dane Swan (60.6), while his conversion in front of goal could be improved.

But a player as young as Beams is always going to have the ability to get better.

That's a pretty scary thought for the other 17 sides in the AFL.

And it is also concerning for Collingwood, who are already stretched by the salary cap and would be smart to try and seal a new deal for the midfielder - who is out of contract at the end of the season - before his asking price rises any further.

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