COLLINGWOOD fears Ruby Schleicher could miss the rest of this season as well as the entirety of the 2024 campaign after suffering a serious knee injury late in Sunday's costly loss to Sydney.
Schleicher had to be helped to the bench late in the final term as the Magpies suffered a 19-point loss to the Swans that put a huge dent in their own finals hopes.
Coach Stephen Symonds said the Pies "suspect it's a serious one" for Schleicher, who only overcame an ankle issue last week to play her first game of the season.
"We think there's a serious knee injury there, so she'll get a scan," Symonds said.
"We don't know what it looks like at the moment, so fingers crossed it's not the worst one and that she's OK. But we suspect it's a serious one."
Symonds conceded Schleicher could well miss all of next season as well if the injury rules her out for 12 months.
"We hope it's not too bad and it's not the worst, and hopefully we can get some good news out of the scan," he said.
"The span of someone coming back, if it is the worst, takes you into the whole of next season as well."
Schleicher was looking much better for the run in her second match of the season, gathering 11 disposals against the Swans at Henson Park.
The defender had been a presence across the field until hitting the ground heavily and quickly grabbing at her knee late in the game when the four points were already out of reach for the Pies.
"It's just the unknown, really. Until she gets scans, we can't really confirm anything," Symonds said.
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"From an injury point of view, it has just been one of those years for us. We've had a horror run."
The Magpies will enter the final round of the season sitting in 10th place after the Swans secured the win and percentage boost to take their place in the top eight.
A win over Richmond at Victoria Park on Sunday could be enough for Collingwood to clinch a fifth consecutive finals campaign, but Symonds was all but resigned to taking on the challenge without one of his most pivotal players.
"Ruby, and a couple of others, are really special players and you can't afford to lose any of those types of players," Symonds said.