On the back of a disappointing 2015 season, there is a real belief that Collingwood could be possible surprise contenders next season in the AFL.

The Magpies slumped to a 12th place finish last season, recording a below-par 10-12 record and failing to build on a start to the campaign that saw them fourth in the table after going 8-3 during the opening eight rounds of the season. While there was an argument that the club boasted a young squad that was always going to struggle to maintain their early-season form, the Pies will have been frustrated to have dropped from fourth in the ladder to finishing outside the top eight for a second.

It could have been a very different season if the club had won a number of close games against some of the AFL’s top sides. The Pies dropped five straight defeats in games they could well have won, returning from their Round 12 bye to drop games to Fremantle, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide, West Coast and the Bulldogs. While having such a young squad didn’t help when it came to those razor close games, Magpies fans will be hoping those players don’t make the same mistakes this season.

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Collingwood might have some work to do to convince punters betting with the likes of bet365.com that they are genuine contenders in 2016, they certainly have a host of talented youngsters who will be wiser after going through a tough campaign in 2015. Top draft selection Jordan De Goey established himself as a key player in his first season, racking up 16 appearances and proving he has a bright future ahead of him. Meanwhile Darcy Moore made an instant impact when he broke into the team late in the year.

As well as that exciting duo, other rookies also gained some valuable experience, with Matt Scharenberg, Brayden Maynard and Jonathon Marsh all making debuts in a season that could end up being a defining one for this Pies squad. But it wasn’t just the first-season professionals which have given Collingwood fans belief that 2016 could be a successful campaign, with veteran duo Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury continuing to prove they are still hugely important to this Pies midfield.

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It’s in the centre of the park where Collingwood will be hoping to compete with the best teams in the league. As well as Swan and Pendlebury, the likes of Steele Sidebottom and Taylor Adams continue to enhance their reputations and show that they have the tools to be big players this year. With Brodie Grundy, Travis Varcoe, Jordan De Goey and Jack Crisp, it’s going to be the midfield that could hold the key to Collingwood’s hopes of securing a top-eight finish for the first time since 2013.

One of the most famous names in the AFL, another season outside the top eight would be devastating for Pies fans, but with a mix of talented youth and proven experience, there is more than a strong case to suggest that Collingwood could be one of the surprise packages in 2016.