FLEXIBLE Collingwood big man Jordan Roughead looms as the centerpiece in the Magpies' selection puzzle for its home preliminary final.
The Magpies earned a week off after their 10-point win over Geelong in the qualifying final on Friday night and will host a preliminary final against the winner of the sudden death semi-final between Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney.
The Pies copped two significant injuries against the Cats – another hamstring problem for game-breaking forward/midfielder Jordan De Goey and a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament rupture to veteran backman Levi Greenwood.
De Goey and Greenwood will be two big outs for the Pies. Picture: Getty Images
Defender James Aish appears the favourite to replace Greenwood despite the fact he won't have played for seven weeks since suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Much intrigue surrounds the second inclusion, and it could depend upon where Roughead is deployed, given he spent the bulk of the season at full-back before being swung forward to fill the void left by the injured Mason Cox, only to return to defence against the Cats.
Among the contenders for a preliminary final berth are veteran speedster Travis Varcoe and backman Matt Scharenberg, both of whom were dropped for the qualifying final, while injury-prone swingman Ben Reid could also come into calculations if Roughead remains back.
Defender Jeremy Howe, a member of the Pies' leadership group, said it was too difficult to forecast team changes given the Woods' opponent was still to be determined but he expected much agonising at the selection table.
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"I know it's going to be a hard decision. 'Roughy' has a big impact whether it's forward (or) back, so it's a good problem to have," Howe told reporters after a light skills session on Tuesday.
The high-flying defender, one of the best players afield against Geelong, was thankful to have a week to recover from "a pretty physical game".
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The 2018 runner-up enjoyed a light skills session on Tuesday morning and plans to have a big session on Friday before having the weekend off.
Howe said there hasn't been any talk in the inner sanctum about gaining redemption for their loss to West Coast in last year's Grand Final, seeing the road ahead as "another opportunity" as they tried to keep the focus as "narrow" as possible.
Howe celebrates his goal against the Cats. Picture: Getty Images
"We don't want to get too ahead of ourselves. We've got plenty of footy to go," Howe said.
However, he said last year's finals campaign had reinforced the old adage, "Near enough's not good enough."
"We don't really talk about last year a lot but we just feel like our footy stacks up and we just need to play it more consistently. And I feel like our last five weeks have been pretty positive," Howe said, alluding to the Pies' five successive wins.
"We're confident (that) what we do works. Clearly we were unfortunate last year to miss out by a kick but, in saying that, we're still as driven and as hungry as ever. We've got ourselves in a good position at the moment but we're going to have to play better to keep getting it done."
Howe said De Goey would remain in Germany until Friday, as he is assessed by world-renowned hamstring expert Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt.
"Losing Jordy is unfortunate but he'll do his best to try and get back if the result (in the preliminary final) goes our way, but we need to take care of the prelim first," Howe said.
The loss of Greenwood had put "a dampener" on the victory because he is a highly valued member of the playing group, he said.
"He's a heart-and-soul type player and it's really unfortunate this time of year to lose him… We're not going to leave him behind – he'll still play a heavy role with engagement with the group because he's a much-loved character," Howe said.
Before training on Tuesday the Magpies players huddled together and Howe revealed it was a mark of respect to popular football identity Danny Frawley, who was killed in a car crash on Monday afternoon.
"Everybody's been touching on it that it's a sad day in footy for 'Spud' Frawley, and we just discussed the contribution that Danny's made, not only at the Collingwood footy club from '96 to '99 (when) he was a coach in the VFL system and also a senior assistant in the AFL system," he said.
"We briefly touched on him and the impact he's had, not only in the footy aspect but a great family man and a great contributor in the whole footy department."