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Rucks and midfield the keys for Magpies

By Adam Cooper 16/08/2007 06:56:31 PM Comments (0)

Two unproven ruckmen and a rejigged midfield hold the key to Collingwood booking an AFL finals place against resurgent Melbourne at the MCG on Friday night.

Josh Fraser will not play because of ankle and back problems, which means Chris Bryan and Guy Richards must shoulder the key task of giving the Magpies first use of the ball.

Collingwood are also conscious of rejuvenating the on-ball brigade after being badly beaten in the stoppages in recent weeks, most notably in last week's loss to Richmond which left the Magpies still to qualify for the finals.

If that's not a big enough challenge against Melbourne, who will be pumped up for David Neitz's 300th game and riding high after thrashing the Western Bulldogs, Collingwood will also be without captain Nathan Buckley and possibly coach Mick Malthouse.

Buckley will make his return through the VFL on Saturday despite training well, but Malthouse is in some doubt to take the reins after the death of his father this week.

Assistant coach Guy McKenna, who will assume the hot seat if his boss decides not to coach, said Fraser was sore after being kneed in the back and hip last week.

Richards has failed to seize his chances through form and injury despite 33 games in seven seasons on Collingwood's list, while ex-Blue Bryan has played seven games this season but disappointed against Richmond.

McKenna admitted both big men had to focus on becoming the club's No.1 ruck to take the next step.

"We want them to come in and be our No.1 ruckman so we can actually use Josh in other areas of the ground," he said.

"But until they do that we can't.

"So if Josh doesn't play it's a great opportunity for both those boys to work in tandem."

Collingwood made five changes, but only Fraser's was forced.

Backmen Simon Prestigiacomo and Tyson Goldsack and midfielders Paul Licuria and Alan Toovey got the axe.

Small forward Alan Didak returns from a hip injury, Shane Wakelin was recalled to face Neitz and young forward Sean Rusling will play his first game of the season after a shoulder injury delayed his start.

Scott Pendlebury, fit again after a knee problem, should also add some class to a midfield badly beaten last start.

McKenna said although Collingwood's effort against Richmond was disappointing, there were signs some of the younger Magpies were close to getting out of the "muck" they had been in for a month.

The emphasis on Friday night, he said, would be picking midfielders who could keep the intensity high and run the game out strongly.

"The theory for this week is playing the fittest, not so much the fastest, blokes we've got on our list, in form and who can run from first bell to last bell. Simple as that," he said.

McKenna said Collingwood knew what to expect from the Demons, who will be out to celebrate successive wins for Neitz, the first Melbourne player to reach the 300-game milestone.

"Hopefully we do that better than we did nullify the emotion of Richmond last Friday night," he said.

"We speak about, brace the players about it.

"The best way of nullifying it is getting your hand on the ball, simple as that."

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