With typical understatement, gun midfielder Steele Sidebottom quietly slid into fourth position on our all-time games record list at the weekend.
The game against the Giants, arguably his best for the season, took him to a total of 278 senior games for Collingwood, passing the great Wayne Richardson’s total of 277. Ahead of Steele now are only our 300-club members – Gordon Coventry, Tony Shaw and of course Scott Pendlebury.
It’s a herculean effort from Sidey, who has mixed super clean hands and silky skills with resilience and elite consistency since he was taken with pick 11 in the 2008 National Draft.
And while acknowledging Sidey’s achievements, it’s also worth taking the time to recognise Wayne Richardson’s, which are every bit as memorable.
Steele made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2009, while Wayne was a year older, having been forced to sit out the 1965 season over a clearance wrangle before debuting in 1966. Both became automatic selections from almost their first games.
Both players are essentially midfielders. Richo was a classic old-school rover who was also lethal as a forward. Steele has spent most of his time in midfield or on a wing, but has also shown time and again how dangerous he is around goals.
Both have won two Copelands, with three other podium finishes. Both have been supremely dual sided (although that was far more unusual in the 1960s when Wayne arrived on the scene). Neither has been super fast, but they have sharp football brains and are superb readers of the game.
And both, coincidentally, reached this stage of their careers at similar ages, Wayne being 31 years and 289 days when he played his last game, and Steele sitting at 31 years and 175 days last Sunday.
Both have been famously heavy accumulators of the footy, with Steele currently averaging 24.05 touches a game and Wayne 23.73 (a figure diluted by diminished game time in his last two years). But Wayne had 10 games where he topped 40 possessions – including the extraordinary day against North in 1971 when he grabbed 48 – compared to two 40+ games from Steele.
Their respective kick-to-handball ratios say much about how the game has changed: Wayne averaged just over 21 kicks a game and had only 721 handballs throughout his career, whereas Steele is averaging just 13.6 kicks a game and has handballed a whopping 2899 times in his career to date.
Goalkicking is another area where the two players diverge. Wayne kicked 323 goals in his career, compared to Steele’s 181 thus far. Partly this reflects the old-style set-ups which would see rovers ‘rest’ in the forward pocket from time to time, but it also underscores just how dangerous Richo was around the sticks: like Sidey he was brilliant with snaps, set shots and could even launch a torpedo when needed.
Despite the differences, they are similar players who have enjoyed similar careers. Despite his phenomenal record, Wayne Richardson is still under-appreciated in my view. He was a genuinely great player. And so is Sidey.
The biggest difference at the moment is that Sidey looks like being able to play on. If he does, that magical 300-game milestone is in sight. Let’s hope both form and fitness can see him reach that mark – it would give us yet another chance to celebrate what is turning out to be an all-time great Collingwood career.