Stingy Magpies need big lift to cover Howe

Jeremy Howe's absence will leave a massive void in the Collingwood team to play Essendon on Friday.
Jeremy Howe's absence will leave a massive void in the Collingwood team to play Essendon on Friday.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley admits it will be near impossible to replace Jeremy Howe's individual class in Friday night's clash with Essendon.

Howe could miss the rest of the AFL season after tearing his posterior cruciate ligament and suffering damage to his medial ligament in last week's two-point loss to GWS.

The 30-year-old was due to undergo surgery on Thursday.

Howe is a key part of Collingwood's defensive set-up, having led his team in rebound 50s last season and also taking the second most marks.

Buckley said it was impossible for one player to replace the spring-heeled defender, with a team effort now needed to fill the void.

"It's pretty hard to replace what is and has been one of the best defenders of the competition," Buckley said.

"Statistically he is the best with his influence and the way he was playing through this period at AFL the last couple of years. He's really elevated himself into the highest echelon of players full stop.

"In short, no it's not a man-for-man consideration, that's going to be nearly impossible to do.

"But if we get five per cent more from everyone, then maybe we'll be able to cover him."

The Magpies will take on the Bombers without Steele Sidebottom after the star midfielder copped a four-match ban for his COVID-19 protocol breach.

Howe and John Noble (omitted) are the other players to go out.

Adam Treloar, veteran Travis Varcoe, and defender Matt Scharenberg have all been named for their first games of the season.

Essendon (2-1) decided against recalling Conor McKenna following his recent COVID-19 scare.

Star midfielder Zach Merrett (suspended), Tom Bellchambers (rested) and Aaron Francis (back spasms) have been replaced by Mitch Hibberd, Andrew Phillips and Jayden Laverde.

Collingwood have conceded an average of just 43 points per game this season - the second best defensive record in the league.

Buckley says it's up to his players to continue that trend, despite Howe not being there to help.

"We're pretty hard to move the ball against, we're pretty hard to score against, and Howie has been a strong part of that but he hasn't been the only part," Buckley said.

"Our challenge as a coaching group and as a playing squad is to continue to impose our defensive intent, defend really well and then find that ability to work it all back into scoring positions and hopefully hit the scoreboard more."

Australian Associated Press