June 19, 2024

Collingwood champion Steele Sidebottom might extend his career with a new role. Amid an injury crisis, coach Craig McRae informed the dual-premiership player mid-last week that he would be playing in the backline against West Coast.

Despite some doubts about his form this season, the 33-year-old Sidebottom accepted the challenge, though he felt nervous driving to Marvel Stadium last Sunday. Now in his 16th season, Sidebottom has achieved a lot, including roles in the 2010 and 2023 premierships, dual Copeland Medals, an All-Australian selection, and a runner-up finish in the 2018 Brownlow Medal. However, Sunday’s game marked a first for him—playing as a defender.

Sidebottom admitted he felt nervous as he lined up in the defensive 50m arc for the first time in his 317-game career. “I have played nearly 320 games and I’d never lined up as a backman,” he told foxsports.com.au. He credited his teammates for making the transition easier and enjoyed the new challenge.

AFL congratulates Steele Sidebottom on 300 games

In the competitive opening term of the match, Sidebottom was heavily involved from the halfback flank, gathering nine disposals (seven kicks) and contributing to Collingwood’s pressure with two tackles. He finished the match with 21 possessions (17 kicks) and played a key role in both defensive and attacking transitions for the Magpies.

Collingwood captain Darcy Moore was a clear leader in the backline, but with Jeremy Howe moving forward before his injury, Steele Sidebottom found support from Oleg Markov and John Noble. Sidebottom explained his role: “It was just to go back there and be part of our defensive system. There were no specific instructions on getting kicks or handballs; it was about being connected with the team.”

Despite Sidebottom’s statistical dip this season, he demonstrated significant effort behind the play. He’s averaging just under 15 disposals per game, well below his career average, and his score involvements have halved. However, coach Craig McRae believes Sidebottom’s performance is improving, highlighting his recent impactful game.

McRae remarked, “A change of role can bring excitement. Sidebottom mentioned he felt excited about the new challenge. This performance might help prolong his career.”

Fox Footy analyst Leigh Montagna praised the move to defense, noting that it allowed Nick Daicos and Jack Crisp more time in the midfield, enhancing the team’s dynamics. Montagna believes this adjustment strengthens Collingwood’s chances of winning another flag.

When asked if he would continue in defense, Sidebottom said he’s flexible and ready to adapt as needed. Montagna expects Collingwood to persist with this role for Sidebottom, citing successful similar moves by other teams with their veteran players.

Sidebottom hopes Collingwood can maintain their momentum as they aim for a ninth consecutive victory against Adelaide. After a slow start, the Magpies have gained traction, sitting just outside the top eight. “We’re finding our form and keeping the momentum going,” he said.

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