IT WILL become the selection question of preliminary final week should Chris Dawes lose his battle of wounded knee: Who replaces him and supports Darren Jolly?
Few of the past and present coaches The Age canvassed on this thorny question last night thought there was an easy solution for Collingwood if Dawes didn't get up for Friday. It was a case of choosing between lesser problems, if not evils.
Former Collingwood coach Tony Shaw thought Nathan Buckley should deploy Tyson Goldsack as the relief ruckman, while bringing in nippy small Ben Sinclair rather than a tall such as forward Jackson Paine.
A seasoned assistant coach from a rival club said he would go with Goldsack too, but would promote Paine. The problem was that Goldsack was a ''tackling machine'' in the front half and removing him from the forward line would deprive the Pies of some of that ''frontal pressure'' that they rediscovered last Saturday against West Coast.
Only a minority of those surveyed liked the notion of Cameron Wood, a specialist ruckman, returning as a second ruck.
While Dawes has struggled this season, his role as the back-up ruck and big-forward foil for Travis Cloke isn't easily filled by the Magpies, who have a clear preference for playing one specialist ruck.
Buckley, as the coaches acknowledged, would appear to have three options for filling the Dawes' role:
1. Recall specialist ruckman Wood, who hasn't played at senior level - or at all - since he played in place of Jolly for the round 22 game in Perth against West Coast's Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox; in rucking terms, this was like being promoted to open the batting against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Wood - and the Woods - floundered. Jolly's presence was critical to Collingwood's reversal of that result at the weekend.
The advantage of bringing in Wood is that a) Jolly's banged-up body would receive respite, b) that the Swans play two rucks in Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke, the latter isn't Cox or Naitanui and the opposition doesn't gain rotational advantages, and c) there's genuine insurance if Jolly is hurt.
The last point is the most compelling argument for Wood. In the 2002 grand final, the Brisbane Lions lost Beau McDonald in the first quarter. Had they not played Clark Keating and McDonald, what would have happened?
The downside is that Wood hasn't played since August 25, isn't versatile and offers little besides ruck relief. On the basis of Buckley's form thus far, it doesn't shape as likely - the Pies were sufficiently horrified by round 22 to play Nick Maxwell, jockey-sized relative to Essendon's David Hille, as the second ruck.
2. Promote Paine, a first-year tall forward, in lieu of Dawes - the same structure the Pies used in the round 23 game against Essendon. Since Maxwell isn't available this week, the obvious candidates for the relieving role are Goldsack, who is 193 centimetres, with what an assistant coach deemed ''a really good spring'', or the stronger-bodied Nathan Brown. In this scenario, Jolly would take every centre bounce, as he did in the Essendon game.
3. Bring in a smaller player, rather than a tall forward, bearing in mind that fresh legs might be paramount. Paul Seedsman, Ben Sinclair and Marty Clarke were the emergencies last Saturday; presumably, the inclusion would be one of the first two, Seedsman having performed well against the Swans at the same venue in round 19.
To compensate for the loss of Dawes in attack, Chris Tarrant would likely be pushed forward - at least at the outset, with Goldsack and/or Brown filling in as the relief ruckman.
This third option is Shaw's preference. ''I'd ruck Goldsack,'' said the ex-coach and club great. ''He's a good runner, he can jump … I'd bring in Sinclair as another small.'' Shaw didn't believe another tall target was needed in attack.
One slow on Goldsack as second ruck would be his slight frame, with one former coach noting he was 13 kilograms lighter than Dawes.
In days of yore, Collingwood was wont to throw debutants to the wolves in finals. But the notion that the Pies would promote leviathan youngster Jarrod Witts (208 centimetre) or skinny Jonathon Ceglar (198) for their first game against the Swans can be dismissed. Clubs are far less adventurous in these measured times.
If Dawes doesn't play, any option taken will be a departure from the norm. None is without risk.