COLLINGWOOD came within a whisker of winning the premiership last year despite a crippling casualty list, and it could have been significantly worse given the revelation skipper Scott Pendlebury suffered a severe back injury for the bulk of the season.
The veteran midfielder underwent post-season surgery to repair a nerve issue that had caused his back to seize up and hampered his ability to reach for ground balls.
Pendlebury battled through the pain to play 25 of the Pies' 26 games and still managed to finish third in their best and fairest award and be No.1 at the club for pressure acts.
The surgery has resulted in a full recovery for the 31-year-old, who has also benefited from a new pilates and stretching program.
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The Magpie champion has returned to his best this pre-season and is primed to take on Geelong in the Pies' season-opener at the MCG on Friday.
"I was in a bit of strife most weeks last year. It is not a nice feeling when you come out after half-time and you can barely touch your knees," Pendlebury said on the Jock and Journo podcast.
"I couldn’t believe the difference when I started training again in the summer, just being able to bend over and pick up ground balls easily …
"Towards the back end of games I could feel everything in my body tighten up and brace, just because it was trying to protect itself. I programmed my body to get used to it.
"But we had a lot of injuries last year, and the last thing we needed was me to put my hand up and say I needed a week off. I think the load got to me."
The midfield and leadership load for Pendlebury will be eased somewhat by the return of gun onballer Dayne Beams after four years with Brisbane.