Former Collingwood favourite Dale Thomas has been encouraged to play with freedom when Carlton take on the Magpies in the 254th instalment of the AFL’s most celebrated rivalry.
Blues coach Brendon Bolton made two changes for Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash at the MCG, with Thomas returning after a two-match break and former Adelaide forward Sam Kerridge also included.
Thomas struggled over the first month of the season before missing the Blues’ 90-point mauling by Port Adelaide.
The 29-year-old was ready to resume last week, but is no longer an automatic senior selection.
With question marks over his future, he responded with a commanding 31-possession performance for the Northern Blues at VFL level.
“Dale played a really good game at VFL level and comes in in-form,” Bolton told reporters on Friday.
“We just want to make sure that he plays with the freedom that he played with in the VFL.”
Thomas played 157 games, including the 2010 premiership decider, in eight seasons with the Pies before his high-profile free agency switch to Carlton.
“That’s not a consideration in selection,” Bolton said of Thomas’ return.
“The integrity around our match committee is based on form, but I’m sure he’d be determined to play well against his old team.”
Both teams have been inconsistent on their way to 2-4 records, but head into Saturday’s clash as last-start winners.
Carlton notched a 19-point victory in round six that kept winless Sydney anchored to the bottom of the ladder, while Collingwood stunned previously unbeaten Geelong by 29 points.
“What I did see last week was a Collingwood team that moved the ball a bit more aggressively through the corridor,” Bolton said.
“So we need to be on defensively, there’s no doubt about that, all our layers of defence need to be strong.”
The Blues have proved difficult to score against at times this season, but are yet to break the 100-point barrier in a game after six rounds and have scored the fewest points in the league.
“All supporters love to see scoring … I think it’s important to understand that we’re working really hard in that space,” Bolton said.
“We are young in our front half, by and large, but it’s a process of developing decision-making at the right time and leading patterns.
“That takes time to gel … it’s a work-in-progress for us.”
Young gun Jacob Weitering overcame a thigh issue to take his place.
The former No.1 draft pick struggled with a corked thigh in the Blues’ win over the Swans, finishing the game with his leg heavily strapped, but Bolton declared him a certain starter.
Youngsters Jack Silvagni (shoulder) and Zac Fisher (hamstring) departed the side, with Bolton hopeful the pair will only miss one game.
The Pies will be without injured speedster Travis Varcoe (hamstring) for the match that will also serve as a celebration of the club’s 125th anniversary.
Jordan De Goey will be keen to impress after serving a three-game club-imposed ban, with important defender Ben Reid and Jackson Ramsay also included.