SUSPENDED Collingwood youngster Jaidyn Stephenson will make an earlier than anticipated return to football on Saturday – in the VFL.
The 20-year-old was banned ahead of round 14 for 22 games, 12 of which were suspended, for placing bets on Collingwood games and most assumed he wouldn't be available until the Magpies' first final.
However, the AFL has ruled that Stephenson's effective 10-game ban will expire after the Magpies face Essendon in their final round clash at the MCG on Friday night, making him eligible to play in the VFL against Box Hill Hawks at Box Hill City Oval the next day.
Collingwood's VFL team cannot qualify for finals, meaning Saturday's game is the final opportunity for Stephenson to play a competitive game ahead of the Magpies' first final.
Pies coach Nathan Buckley, in announcing Stephenson's return at state-league level, described the development as "a small win" and lauded the brilliant forward's commitment to his preparation during his exile.
"His attitude and workrate's been amazing. We couldn't have asked any more of him. The way he's applied himself into his training block ... We had a small win this week," Buckley told reporters.
"(It's) fortuitous that we had a Friday night game so Jaidyn plays in the VFL on Saturday, which gives him a run around.
"That will be another progression for him, which is something that works in our favour and in his, and probably gives him another step up in a match situation before having to come back a couple of weeks later."
The AFL confirmed Stephenson's ban would end on Friday night after Collingwood's match against Essendon.
The reigning NAB AFL Rising Star award winner's absence has hurt the Magpies. Before his suspension, Stephenson hadn't missed a game, making 38 consecutive appearances, kicking 59 goals and having 23 goal assists, creating havoc as a speedy, deep option.
At Collingwood, only matchwinner Jordan De Goey was more productive in that period.
The second-year sensation is understandably excited about the prospect of playing again, his coach said.
"If you've missed as much footy as he has, he's looking forward to be able to get involved in the cut and thrust as soon as possible. He's rapt that the all-clear came through," Buckley said.
Collingwood is in fifth position and, depending on other results, could rise to as high as third if they defeat the Bombers.
In other good news for the Pies, star key defender Darcy Moore emerged unscathed from training and appears likely to face the Dons.
Meanwhile, matchwinner Jordan De Goey (hamstring) and defender James Aish (shoulder) both trained during Wednesday's session but didn't participate in match simulation.
Stephenson is likely to be joined in the VFL by midfielders Brayden Sier (calf) and veteran Daniel Wells (knee).
"(Wells) has got to pull up well. I'm hesitant, but talking to him after training he feels like he's going to be able to stand up on Saturday, which is a remarkable return from that PCL injury," Buckley said.
Daniel Wells at training earlier this month. Picture: AFL Photos
With Collingwood backline and team defence coach Justin Longmuir believed to be a leading candidate to replace the sacked Ross Lyon at Fremantle, Buckley endorsed Longmuir and was confident his bid for a head coaching role wouldn't affect the Pies' finals campaign.
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"Speaking to him briefly this morning, I think he can walk and chew gum at the same time," Buckley said of Longmuir, who is in his second season with the Pies after working with both the Dockers and West Coast.
"He's been so impressive and he's aspired to senior coaching through his journey, and he's continued to school himself up.
"His relationship building with the players has been first-class... (He) has been exceptional. I've got no doubt that he could do the job."