Collingwood vice-captain Steele Sidebottom has declared the Magpies are a settled club and all but confirmed Scott Pendlebury will remain as skipper.
The Magpies are on the Gold Coast for a pre-season camp, and were put through match simulation and general training on Wednesday, described by assistant coach Robert Harvey as the biggest block of training the squad has done this summer.
There is much for the team and coaches to prove this year, having missed the finals for four-straight seasons. They enter the new campaign on the back of a review of the football department that prompted club chiefs to retain faith in coach Nathan Buckley and award him a contract extension.
Sidebottom said the Magpies should have played finals in recent seasons and their focus was on returning to September action for the first time since 2013.
To do that, they must negotiate a potentially rugged opening eight weeks of the home-and-away season, for they meet Hawthorn, Greater Western Sydney (MCG), Carlton, the Crows in Adelaide, Essendon, Richmond, Brisbane (Gabba) and Geelong.
This will require the team’s leaders and senior players to find form quickly, with Pendlebury, who battled finger problems last year, among that group.
Former Melbourne captain Garry Lyon has suggested it may be time for the Pies to look to a new captain but Sidebottom all but declared that would not be the case.
“I definitely expect Scott to be captain. ‘Pendles’ does a great job. I wouldn’t see any change in our captaincy, not only this year but probably the next couple of years,” he said.
Pendlebury, 30, has been in charge since 2014, claiming three straight best and fairests before Sidebottom won the Copeland Trophy last year.
Sidebottom said he and the leadership group needed to “grow”, and expected this to happen under Nick Maxwell, the former premiership skipper who has returned as leadership and culture manager.
Buckley has two fresh assistants, Justin Longmuir from West Coast and former Geelong great Garry Hocking, with the senior coach understood to be delegating more.
Sidebottom, preparing for his 10th season, said the Magpies were settled but he understands how quickly that can change.
“I definitely expect Scott to be captain. ‘Pendles’ does a great job. I wouldn’t see any change in our captaincy, not only this year but probably the next couple of years.”
– Steele Sidebottom on Scott Pendlebury remaining as skipper“I think at the end of the year we weren’t winning games of footy. There was, obviously, a lot of pressure. (During) the week, we couldn’t control, either – there was a lot of outside noise that we can’t control,” he said.
“I think the club have done their whole club review. I think there has been change not only in the guys at the top but throughout the whole club. No doubt, doing that review has helped. It’s as good a place as I have been for a while.”
The Pies endured a tumultuous 2017 but they did win four of their final seven matches and came away with a draw against Adelaide in round 19. Their victory over Melbourne in round 23 ultimately denied the Demons a spot in the finals.
“We haven’t played finals for four years now so, realistically, we should. I believe we should have played finals and we haven’t. We should be playing finals – that’s my opinion and I am sure that is everyone else’s opinion,” Sidebottom said.
Darcy Moore, set to switch from forward to centre half-back, and Adam Oxley were given the responsibility of kick-ins at the Southport Sharks Football Club while rehearsing set plays from defence. The Pies’ ball movement and ability to hit targets was a major concern last year.
Moore’s move is intriguing, because the Pies have lacked goal-kicking power in recent years, with the athletic youngster struggling under the weight of expectation.
“When he first came to the club, they were weighing up which end of the ground to put him. The way he attacks the footy is as good as anyone I have seen,” Sidebottom said.
“He is not with (the) main training group at the minute so we haven’t seen a lot but we don’t want him smashing into packs and those kinds of things at the minute. It (the move) might free him up.”
Travis Varcoe has declared he will spend more time up forward this year, and he has worked diligently on his goal-kicking.