Collingwood recruited Jeremy Howe looking to bolster their forward line but his successful switch to defence has been a key factor in the Pies’ return to form.
Howe, a somewhat reluctant backman at Melbourne last year, spoke of filling a Jack Gunston-style roaming forward role when he joined the Magpies.
But the 25-year-old endured an indifferent start to his career in black and white before the Pies’ shocking run of injuries forced a return to a defensive post – a role Collingwood’s coaching panel knew he could play from painful experience.
“We knew that he had played quite well there for Melbourne last year because one of his best games was against us,” assistant coach Scott Burns told AAP.
“He took about seven marks from the opposition (in the Pies’ round 18 loss to the Demons) … but he’s added a lot for us.
“He’s been in terrific form over the last three weeks. We may move him forward when we get a few blokes back but he gives us options.”
Howe took 11 marks in Collingwood’s upset win over Geelong and looms as a key figure against the Western Bulldogs at the MCG on Sunday.
The fifth-placed Dogs are licking their wounds after suffering a 25-point loss to Greater Western Sydney last week, while the Pies – 11th with a 4-5 record – are trying to build momentum after wins against Brisbane and the Cats.
“They like to take the game on and they’ve got a fair bit of speed,” Burns said of Luke Beveridge’s side.
“But one of their biggest strengths has been their contested ball, whether that’s at the stoppage or in general play.
“They tick a lot of boxes at the moment so we’ve got to be on our game.”
Travis Cloke remains banished to the VFL after Nathan Buckley went with the same 22 that defeated Geelong by 24 points, while Beveridge made five changes.
Former Hawk Matt Suckling makes a welcome return to an undermanned half-back line after overcoming an ankle injury, with Matthew Boyd, Marcus Adams, Jack Redpath and Josh Dunkley also into the team.