Collingwood has never before started a season 3-0, and on Sunday recorded three consecutive wins for the first time since 2017.

The Pies endured a rollercoaster first few years in the competition, struggling to get out of the blocks before storming home, falling just short of finals qualification.

But things have changed, and this appears to be a steelier squad who look ready to not only play finals, but cause some serious damage once there.

The rebuild

At the end of the 2018 season, with six wins from 14 games over two years, the Pies made the decision to hit the NAB AFLW Draft hard.

They made nine selections: Jordyn Allen, Katie Lynch, Mikala Cann, Lauren Butler, Maddie Shevlin, Sophie Alexander, Georgia Gourlay, Jordan Membrey and Erica Fowler.

Lynch has moved to the Western Bulldogs (and is thriving in her new role as a key back) and Gourlay was delisted following her third ACL tear, but all seven remaining players have featured at some point this season, and the majority are in the first 21.

The abrupt change in tact was made in part due to a tumultuous Trade Period which saw Jasmine Garner, Jess Duffin, Emma King and Moana Hope all depart for expansion club North Melbourne, Christina Bernardi for GWS and Millie Mullane for Carlton.

The acquisition of star mid Brianna Davey in 2019 effectively cleared the Pies out of picks, although they did bring in tough duo Alana Porter and Ebony O'Dea through late selections.

Last year saw a return to the youth policy, with five 18 and 19-year-olds brought in. Tarni Brown, Amelia Velardo, Bella Smith and Joanna Lin have already made their debuts, with Abbi Moloney named an emergency.

Collingwood has also been canny with its rookie selections, signing lightning-fast Irish duo Sarah Rowe and Aishling Sheridan in successive years, and throwing its support behind Sharni Norder after a tough debut season in 2019.

The on-field results

Players have spoken about the different game plan coach Steve Symonds brought in when he started at the club ahead of the 2020 season.

There was a clear focus on moving the ball with speed, embracing handball and employing wingers – particularly Steph Chiocci – to greater effect.


Basic overview statistics back this up, with a marked difference between 2019 and 2020, and similar numbers so far this year as the Pies focus on bedding down the style of footy.

The one area which has picked up so far this year is scoring, and it's a different attack than last year.

The starting five on the team-sheet in round one last year was Chloe Molloy, Sarah D'Arcy, Sarah Dargan, Mikala Cann and Jordyn Allen, with Sophie Alexander, Aishling Sheridan and Jordan Membrey on the bench.

This year saw Molloy and Sheridan join Amelia Velardo, Bella Smith and recruit Aliesha Newman, with Alexander and Tarni Brown on the bench.

D'Arcy and Dargan have moved to Richmond, while Allen is well settled back in her original defensive post.

Davey has also been spending time forward in patches, and even if she doesn't hit the scoreboard, her talent and strength is such that she demands a strong opponent.


The big improvers

But not all of the changes have come on the back of drafting and recruiting.

Two of Collingwood's most improved players were the two youngest on its list in the inaugural year of 2017.

Britt Bonnici has gradually evolved from a small defender to a tagger to a genuine ball-winner, who on Sunday against Richmond finished with 31 disposals and 10 marks. Coincidentally, it was her 31st game of AFLW.

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The tough midfielder's numbers have exploded even year-on-year, averaging 25.7 touches so far, up from 19.6 last year. Wind it back to 2017, and she was averaging 9.1 disposals.

Defender Ruby Schleicher is another to have come on in leaps and bounds this year.

The West Australian wasn't an overly experienced footballer when she joined the Pies ahead of 2017, having come close to moving to the US on a college basketball scholarship before a back injury intervened, and she bounced around the field trying to find where she best fit.

Now settled as a rebounding defender – and fully fit after battling knee and wrist injuries last year – the effervescent Pie has become one of the club's biggest weapons out of defence, averaging 15 disposals and four marks, up from 5.5 and 0.5 last year.

The intangibles

The unmeasurable mustn't be overlooked in the Pies' rise up the ladder, either.

Newly elected co-captain Davey touched on the change in mindset she'd sensed at the club in her second pre-season since crossing from Carlton.

"There's a lot more belief in the group, and even though that's not football-specific, it goes a long way," she told just before round one.

"When I came in, we had that lingering doubt over the group because those first three seasons didn't go to plan. But then when the season started, we hit our straps and got some belief into the group.

"This season, we really think we can be contenders and challenge teams in this League."