The forward line failed to fire against the Cats, either missing shots at goal or making poor decisions with the ball when scoring opportunities presented, but the Magpies were still good enough to be a goal up with five minutes remaining.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has called for improvement in all areas but has identified the ball use out of the back half as one area that needs work.
That assessment makes the midfield battle crucial as the Tigers were the best team in the AFL at locking the ball forward and making forward-half intercepts in 2017 and 2018.
If Toby Nankervis, Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Shane Edwards, Dion Prestia and Kane Lambert can prevail over Brodie Grundy, Beams, Adam Treloar, Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom, they will win.
If not, the Magpies will be able to exploit the expected uncertainty of a Richmond defence that will be still working out how to operate without Rance and hoping Nick Vlastuin can compensate for his loss to some extent.
Levi Greenwood has returned for the Magpies but they miss Taylor Adams, who had 36 touches in last year’s preliminary final and is so good at moving the ball between the 50-metre arcs.
Greenwood, who was overlooked in round one, will get the job on either Martin or Cotchin, with both Tigers looking sharp early in the season opener.
The match of the round is hard to predict and neither result will shock as much as last year’s preliminary final, regardless of which team prevails.