Blueprint revealed: How to stop the damaging Nick Daicos

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When Adam Kingsley and the GWS coaching staff began their opposition analysis ahead of Sunday’s game with Collingwood, one name would have gone straight on the whiteboard – Nick Daicos.

The Magpies’ young gun has earned a reputation in just his second year of football as one of the league’s most damaging kicks and decision-makers, making him Collingwood’s biggest weapon in a season in which they’re regarded as one of the teams to beat. But Adelaide and Sydney have provided a blueprint over the past fortnight for how his influence can be curbed.

Nick Daicos (left) is enjoying a brilliant start to his career.Credit: AFL Photos

It’s not by taking the physical intimidation route, although former AFL coach Rodney Eade believes there’s still a place in the game for such tactics.

Rather, more simply, plan A is to deny the Brownlow Medal favourite uncontested ball, and plan B should be to limit his effectiveness when he does get it.

In the opening six weeks of the season, Daicos averaged more than 23 uncontested possessions, eight score involvements and more than 600 metres gained per match, with his kicking efficiency at well above 80 per cent. He has amassed 45 coaches’ votes in that period, including consecutive perfect 10s in rounds five and six.

As of this week, Champion Data rates Daicos as the fourth-best player in the AFL through eight rounds, elite for score involvements, inside 50s and effective disposals for his position.

But his impact was significantly reduced by the Crows, who did everything bar beat the Magpies in round seven, keeping him to just 13 uncontested possessions and two score involvements. Daicos went at just 47.4 per cent efficiency by foot in that match.

“You can’t afford to let him get 40 possessions and run at 85 per cent efficiency. It’s nonsensical,” Eade said.

“There are a lot of situations where he’s smart, he works hard. He wins contested ball enough, but I think when he gets 40, he gets a lot of uncontested because he’s smart and goes to the right spots, and he’s good under pressure. But if you can take away those uncontested possessions, or as many as you can, that’s when his effectiveness will drop down because from there he generally hits a target.”

In round eight, Sydney kept Daicos to just 14 uncontested possessions. One in every three kicks Daicos had was ineffective, and he was involved in just three score chains. After averaging 616 metres gained in the opening six rounds, he gained just 276 metres last Sunday.

So, Collingwood “flipped” Daicos’ role at stoppages, in an attempt to break Ryan Clarke’s tag and also exploit the Swans by freeing up another player. On one occasion, Daicos went to Chad Warner at a stoppage, forcing Clarke to pick up the loose player, and when the ball was thrown up, Clarke left his man to pick up Daicos again, only to leave Scott Pendlebury free to be used as a clearance outlet.

While the stoppage numbers were split 24-24, the Swans scored just one behind from clearances.

Former Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson said it looked like a game of chess, except the Magpies were one step ahead.

“The Nick Daicos tag with Ryan Clarke potentially influenced their ability to be able to be consistent around clearance,” Sanderson said on SEN on Thursday.

“Collingwood kicked 4.4 from stoppage, which is not a massive amount, but it was a very low-scoring game. But what it allowed Daicos to do was create a two versus one, so he went to another Swans player at stoppage, which would release a free Collingwood player, and if Collingwood are good enough they can use that extra to their advantage and chain out of stoppage.

“You can do your very best, and we’ve seen two weeks in a row, [Ben] Keays against the Crows and Ryan Clarke with the Swans, they’re probably the right match-ups for Daicos, but you’ve got to make sure the next moving part doesn’t hurt you as well.

“You can take out a good young player or take out his impact, but you’ve still got 21 other players you have to influence as well, and I think when you go all-in on stopping one player it can have a detrimental effect on the rest of the impact of your squad.”

But Eade said a more experienced team would know how to set up better for those stoppages.

The Magpies are 7-1 through the first eight rounds of the 2023 season.Credit: Getty Images

“I heard some narrative this week that you can’t tag him because of team balance, and you lose him at stoppages, and I don’t agree with that,” Eade said.

“I think you educate your players around that. That’s just a moment in time. You then get Warner to go to Pendlebury, so it’s a 2-1 in your favour.

“That’s what you call a flip, he flipped roles in the stoppage, and Clarke got a little bit confused.

“But it’s easily fixed. It just needs a bit of homework.”

Much was made of Sydney going after Daicos physically early, but coach Craig McRae believed those tactics would be short-lived.

“I’m not sure if the opposition will rough him up after last week,” McRae said on Friday.

“I thought it actually lit us up a bit and connected us. You could see Brayden Maynard go to another level when there was an opportunity to stand up for his teammate. We prepare for whatever. Every week we anticipate it could be Jordy [De Goey], it could be Nick that they might target.

“That’s why footy is difficult to win every week.”

Nick Daicos came in for plenty of attention against the Swans.Credit: Getty Images

And while former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire believes taunting needs to be stamped out of the game, describing the tactics as “disgraceful” and “pure bullying”, Eade said there was well and truly a place for physical intimidation.

“It’s been happening since year dot, and it’ll keep happening,” Eade said.

“Nothing’s said about what Carlton did to Lachie Neale on Friday night. They went after him, and [Nic] Newman got him in the throat, but [Patrick] Cripps, Newman, they were all getting into him. It happens every week to the good players, so they’ve just got to cope with it.”

Asked how Eade would tackle Daicos if he were coaching the Giants on Sunday, the former coach said the focus had to be on making Daicos execute as many kicks as possible while under pressure.

“It’s a matter of, more than anything, minimising his effectiveness,” he said.

“I think if you just let him run free, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“He might still get the ball, but at least have some sort of pressure on him, or push him towards the boundary line and not give him a look through the middle.”

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