Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has subtly turned up the pressure on Dale Thomas, saying Friday night’s blockbuster against Carlton was a marquee event for the former Pies star.
With Thomas already expecting some Collingwood supporters to “hold grudges”, Buckley said the Pies would not be targeting the 2010 premiership hero in his first match against his old club since walking out last season.
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But Buckley did say he expected Thomas would be hoping to make a statement.
"There's no doubt that if you're in Dale's shoes, it's a marquee event," Buckley said on Wednesday.
"He represented this club for a long period of time, he's taken the opportunity to move on to a new club and that test happens for any player who moves clubs.
"I can't speak for him, but he'd be keen to play well.''
Buckley said it was hard to know how Collingwood fans would treat Thomas, although he pointed out that the same free agency rules that enabled the 26-year-old's departure had also allowed Collingwood to bring players such as Clinton Young and Quinten Lynch to the club.
"[Free agency] is a reality, and we've got to understand that. But the other fact is, as soon as you are on the other side of the fence, you're the enemy,” Buckley said.
Thomas said on Sunday there was no doubt he would be taunted by some Pies supporters after taking a lucrative four-year deal to re-unite with former coach Mick Malthouse at Carlton.
A few days later, former premiership teammate Luke Ball said there could be some good-natured sledging between Thomas and his old teammates.
"I'm sure his bank balance will certainly be mentioned at some stage,” Ball said.
“We used to have lunch a day before the game, but I'm not sure that will happen this week.”
Byplay aside, Buckley knows the key issue is how Thomas rises to the occasion and his potential to ignite a Carlton upset.
After a slow start to the season, the exciting midfielder has shown signs of the line-breaking run and plucky ball-winning skills that made him a Magpie favourite, and his 22 disposals and a desperate smother in the dying seconds were pivotal in the Blues’ stunning comeback win over West Coast last Saturday.
Buckley admitted the Pies had been watching Thomas closely this season and had developed a detailed dossier on his role at the Blues.
"In our opposition reviews, his run is increasing ... he's been playing around 80 per cent game time, rotating a lot. He's one of many we'll have to keep our eye on," Buckley said.
The Pies have shutdown specialist Brent Macaffer at their disposal should they need to send him to Thomas, but Carlton captain Marc Murphy has been instrumental in the club’s past two wins and seems the most likely opponent for the Pies tagger.
While Thomas may not be targeted by Collingwood on Friday, Buckley revealed that Pies defender Marley Willaims was physically targeted by Essendon’s VFL team in his return match on Saturday – just days after receiving a one-year suspended sentence for causing grievous bodily harm.
Buckley said Williams has shown he is capable of standing up to any physical or verbal targeting he may receive from opposition teams and could be ready to resume his AFL career against the Blues, perhaps as a replacement for injured defender Alex Fasolo.
''He was impressive on the weekend,'' Buckley said of Williams. ''He was targeted by the Essendon VFL side as well, and handled it really well. Physically, the Essendon side came after him ... that’s the game."
Buckley admitted he was not close enough to hear whether Williams had also been targeted verbally by Essendon players, but said he was confident the 20-year-old would be strong enough to handle that type of attention in future.
''It’s early days, he has got to expect that,'' Buckley said. ''He is a physical player, so he maintained his physicality without taking a backward step, but maintained his focus on the game,'' he said.
Buckley said Fasolo, battling toe and foot soreness, was unlikely to play against the Blues, but fellow runner Clinton Young remains on track to recover from a minor leg injury he suffered in the Anzac Day match.
The coach also said key backman Nathan Brown, on the comeback trail from a dislocated shoulder, was also in the frame with the Pies looking at their best mix to stop Carlton's tall forward trio of Jarrad Waite, Lachie Henderson and Levi Casboult.
''Carlton have got three tall forwards who took 28 marks between them last week.” Buckley said. "Nathan Brown has missed a couple of games ... but he has come back through the VFL for two games and we’ll weigh up whether we need him in that role as well."