Injuries ease for Pies ahead of AFL season

Collingwood will need to overcome a troubled pre-season if they are to play finals for the first time since 2013.

Six of Nathan Buckley's best 22 had their preparations for the 2018 premiership campaign interrupted by injuries.

Jeremy Howe (calf), Darcy Moore (Achilles), Jamie Elliott (ankle), Daniel Wells (Achilles), Levi Greenwood (knee) and Alex Fasolo (shoulder) have all been hampered to varying degrees.

Irrelevant on the field but still not ideal, Elliott was arrested after he relieved himself in a street-side bin in November and Jordan De Goey was exiled in February after he had his driver's licence suspended for drink driving.

Then Greater Western Sydney dealt them a 60-point thrashing in their first pre-season outing in Canberra.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Those injured stars are slowly returning to competitive work - most are on track for round one - and with a bit of luck the summer woes will soon be forgotten.

"Our program has given each and every one of our players the opportunity to be at or somewhere near their best," Collingwood football chief Geoff Walsh said.

"That's all we can hope for because I think at or near our best we'll acquit ourselves well."

The Magpies were a competitive side in 2017 - their highest losing margin was 37 points (against Essendon) - and their average losing margin was three goals.

Still, a 13th-placed finish with nine wins, 12 losses and a draw and a fourth season without finals didn't sit well with the black-and-white faithful.

"Like all clubs we want to keep our best players on the park because they largely decide your destiny," Walsh replied when asked where the team's improvement will come from.

"If we can manage to do that then I think we'll be a competitive side.

"It's folly to say that we think we're going to 'top X' or 'top Y' because so many things can change.

"But we've got enough flexibility throughout our list, enough talent, that we can be a really competitive side whoever the opposition."

Fielding his best side - or close to it - would be a rare luxury for Buckley, who has been handicapped by lengthy injury lists over the past few seasons.

But even with the enforced absences of the likes of Scott Pendlebury, Daniel Wells, Travis Varcoe and Levi Greenwood last year, Collingwood's midfield remained a strength.

That should continue to be the case in 2018, making improvement at either end of the ground the key.

Giant American Mason Cox looks set for more game time in attack after signing a three-year deal in the off-season.

He has worked extensively on building his chemistry with first-choice ruckman Brodie Grundy and Buckley sees the tandem as a potentially potent weapon.

In an intriguing change-up, Ben Reid and Darcy Moore have switched positions, with Reid taking up a key forward post and Moore moving down back.

"Certainly it's been a focus this summer, particularly with Coxy and Grundy working together," Walsh said of the new look inside attacking 50.

"Reidy's had a good summer as well, so we think that those boys can provide us with some really strong aerial strike power.

"I'm sure Moore will play forward and back, as will Reidy, but he's certainly spent the summer training months as a defender."

The Pies were uncharacteristically quiet during the last trade period, but there is considerable excitement about No.6 draft pick Jaidyn Stephenson.

A heart condition that scared some clubs off hasn't affected the line-breaking midfielder-forward's pre-season, which Walsh said had put him the frame for an early-season AFL debut.

COLLINGWOOD

Coach: Nathan Buckley

Captain: Scott Pendlebury

Last five years: 8-11-12-12-13

Premierships: 15 (1902, 1903, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1935, 1936, 1953, 1958, 1990, 2010).

Key five: Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jamie Elliott, Adam Treloar, Jeremy Howe.

One to watch: Jamie Elliott. After missing the 2016 season with a chronic back injury, the star forward kicked 34 goals in 17 games in a promising return last year. With his side struggling to convert forward 50 entries last season, Nathan Buckley desperately needs Elliott to reclaim his pre-injury form. How well he recovers from pre-season ankle surgery will be key.

Ins: Flynn Appleby (Greater Western Victoria U18), Tyler Brown (Eastern Ranges U18, father-son), Brody Mihocek (Port Melbourne, VFL), Nathan Murphy (Sandringham U18), Sam Murray(Sydney), Jaidyn Stephenson (Eastern Ranges U18).

Outs: Lachlan Keeffe (GWS), Liam Mackie (delisted), Mitch McCarthy (delisted), Jackson Ramsay (delisted), Henry Schade (delisted), Ben Sinclair (retired), Jesse White (retired).

Best line-up:

B: Brayden Maynard, Lynden Dunn, Tom Langdon

HB: Jeremy Howe, Darcy Moore, Tom Phillips

C: Steele Sidebottom, Taylor Adams, Will Hoskin-Elliott

HF: Jordan De Goey, Ben Reid, Travis Varcoe

F: Jamie Elliott, Mason Cox, Alex Fasolo

R: Brodie Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar

I: Jack Crisp, Tyson Goldsack, Levi Greenwood, Daniel Wells

Predicted finish: 13th

Betting (William Hill)

To win the flag: $26

To make the top eight: $1.95