REIGNING All-Australian team wingman Dale Thomas has been challenged to recover from a disappointing season in time to revitalise Collingwood's premiership campaign.
Thomas was one of many Magpies midfielders to be subdued in Friday night's qualifying final loss to Hawthorn, collecting only 17 possessions. Thomas's average possession and tackle tallies this year, 21.7 and 3.1 respectively, are well down on what he produced in 2010 and 2011.
Coach Nathan Buckley confirmed Thomas' injury problems this season spread beyond missing a month with a hamstring injury early in the season. He nevertheless said he hoped the 25-year-old would mirror the recent sharp form improvement of key forward Travis Cloke, who has overcome a poor period to be clearly the Magpies' best player in their past two matches.
"Dale has carried a little bit of an ankle [injury] through the middle part of the year and hasn't had a lot of continuity [in training]," Buckley told Channel Seven's Game Day.
"He'd be disappointed with his [season] performance. We want our best players playing their best footy in finals. Trav (Cloke) is up and about, we need some support through the midfield."
Buckley also said he expected Cloke would remain at Collingwood despite the prolonged, unresolved contract negotiations between him and the club.