Scott Pendlebury celebrates Collingwood's win in the 2023 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

PLAYING-coaches were thought to have been extinct in the VFL/AFL for 42 years.

Malcolm Blight and Alex Jesaulenko were officially the last two. And even with their status as all-time greats, their respective clubs - North Melbourne and St Kilda - within weeks of each other in the 1981 season, removed from their portfolios the coaching requirements.

Fast forward to 2023. There is evidence the playing-coach gene has been cloned, and it comes in the form of Scott Pendlebury.

Pendlebury, in game No.383, was among the very best players for Collingwood in its 2023 Grand Final four-point win against Brisbane at the MCG on Saturday. He usually is in a Magpies win. But as has become normal in the past two seasons, his 17th and 18th of one of the grandest careers ever compiled, Pendlebury's effect on the outcome came more from his unofficial role as on-field coach.

Scott Pendlebury celebrates Collingwood's win in the 2023 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Craig McRae calls all shots and plays for Collingwood from outside the boundary. But without Pendlebury calling the same shots and plays from inside the white paint, McRae's messaging wouldn't have had the same telling effect on the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
It is extraordinary to watch Pendlebury's mastery of this sport, with the on-field coaching phase of it being added to his status as being captain for nine seasons, a Norm Smith medallist in Collingwood's previous premiership (2010), a six-time All-Australian, five-time best-and-fairest winner and games record holder at the Magpies.

Pendlebury deservedly earned official Norm Smith Medal votes in Saturday's Grand Final win. His last quarter was exquisite. Using a body which was 99 days shy of turning 36 and in energy-sapping 29-degree conditions, he was the most agile player in this period, amassing 11 disposals, four of them contested. He has played blinders dozens of times before, but it is not a stretch to say his last quarter of the '23 Grand Final was his finest performance.

Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury celebrate a goal during Collingwood's win over Brisbane in the 2023 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Cleanness of disposal has always been his greatest weapon but in latter years it has been his cleanness of thought which sets him apart from all other players.

When others on the field would have been experiencing a whirr of stress, self-doubt and fear when Lion Joe Daniher kicked a goal to bring his team to within four points, with 93 seconds remaining, Pendlebury went into coach mode.

Immediately after that goal and as the ball was being returned to the centre, Pendlebury raced to his forward line players, calmly telling them what they needed to do in order to protect a history-shaping lead. He was pointing here and there to his fellow midfielders, but not frantically. The best leaders are the ones who remain reassuringly calm.


We got to learn part of what Pendlebury said after the ball was bounced, when Brody Mihocek ran to the backline.

A quarter earlier in the game, Pendlebury kicked a crucial goal, after a pass from Bobby Hill. It wasn't the toughest of kicks, but set shots in Grand Finals that are ultimately decided by a kick are never easy. On-field coaching by example, not mere words, is the best type of coaching.

Scott Pendlebury celebrates a goal during the Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG, September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

In the past 12 months, Pendlebury has formed a special relationship with Essendon great Matthew Lloyd. In the mayhem of the Collingwood rooms post-match, the two embraced.

In Pendlebury's capacity as midfield coach beneath Lloyd in Haileybury's APS premiership in 2023, they developed layers of football learning and respect.

"I honestly don't think there has ever been a player influence an AFL game, with regards to organising players around him, and telling players where to position themselves in key moments, than Scott Pendlebury," Lloyd told

"Finger pointing, hand signals. He's the traffic cop in dead-ball plays. Watch him. He tells people where to stand, tells them what to do in certain situations, then sure enough, the next play plays out the way he has envisaged.


"After that Joe Daniher goal, he raced to his forwards to tell them what to do. He raced back to the midfielders, told them what to do. But most importantly, and this is why I say no-one has been able to influence games like he does, he was able to touch the football in key moments, like no one else could, in those remaining seconds.

"When (Jack) Crisp could have taken a shot toward goal, Pendles went up alongside him and obviously told him not (to), because Crisp kicked it short to a teammate.

"These are all things that set him apart from everyone playing the game. I reckon (Luke) Hodge was a bit like this, but Pendles is next level."

In coaching teenagers in elite school football, Lloyd said he often wondered how best to relay information to mind-wandering teenagers.

Scott Pendlebury celebrates Collingwood's win in the 2023 Toyota AFL Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

"But things I thought would take weeks or even months for 16- and 17-year-old boys to listen to and embrace, well, Pendles has helped them fully understand in five minutes. He explains it clearly, they listen, they ask questions, he answers calmly, and confidently," Lloyd said.

"I've never seen a person teach things that are complicated in such an uncomplicated way. He has a way in providing detail with very few words.

"I couldn't believe how committed he was to this year, with what we did. But the way he does everything, I am assuming he sees it as an investment in himself, too.

"He was on a training camp with the Pies at one stage this year, and I saw it on Fox Sports News that he was away with his teammates at that camp. On this particular day we had training at 4pm, and I just assumed he wouldn't make it. But sure enough, he was there.

"I raised it with him when he got there, and he just said, 'I was always coming, I'd planned it that way'. And off he went in relaying to our players what he had cut up on video, and explaining why certain plays in the previous game worked, and didn't work.

"I've been out of the game more than 10 years, but I have learnt more in 12 months working with Pendles than at any stage of those previous 10 years.

"There are probably many people who could lay claim to being a once in a generation type of player, and Pendles is one of those. But very, very few could be called generational leaders. And he is definitely in that category."

In another era, Pendlebury would've been like Blight, Jesaulenko, Ron Barassi. Officially coaching while still playing. But it's 2023, and the game has well and truly moved on. He's merely the unofficial Collingwood playing-coach.

Maybe there's a Tasmanian Tiger out there, somewhere, too.