LOSING a superstar player in the lead-up to a crunch match against a bitter rival isn't a dream scenario for any club.
But that's exactly the spot Collingwood finds itself in as it gears up to battle Essendon on Friday night.
Magpies vice-captain Steele Sidebottom will begin an immediate four-match suspension for breaching the AFL's COVID-19 protocols.
The ban considered the 29-year-old's weekend conduct. Sidebottom was driven home by police in the early hours on Sunday morning in a heavy intoxicated state.
Fellow Pie Lynden Dunn, who was also involved, copped a one-match suspension.
The breaches were self-reported to the club and AFL on Sunday. The players were interviewed by the AFL on Monday.
Collingwood said in a statement both the club and player felt the ban was excessive but general manager of football Geoff Walsh confirmed they would not challenge the ban.
"To his credit, Steele considered what was in the best interests of the code and Collingwood," he said.
"Firstly, he accepts that he made some poor decisions but he also feels it is the right thing to accept the punishment, a greater punishment than most believe is fair, to avoid a distraction that could create difficulties for the competition and his team-mates. That's the sort of person Steele is.
"As a club, we considered all options but our disappointment over Steele's suspension is no greater than it is over the fact that two senior players breached the return to play protocols.
"Everyone knows Steele and Lynden started out with the best of intentions, to console an injured team-mate, but our players and staff have been well educated on the protocols and we take our social responsibilities seriously.
"We respect the privilege we have to play and the conditions under which we must live in order to play."
Collingwood has netted two wins, one loss and one draw so far this season and is placed fifth on the ladder.
A win could lift the Magpies into the top-four.
In the not-so-distant future, two of the league's up-and-comers will battle for bragging rights tonight.
Carlton, under the direction of new coach David Teague, will face off against a high-flying St Kilda. Are the Saints the real deal after two wins and two losses?
Elsewhere, struggling West Coast can take a step towards ending its dreadful form when it battles Sydney at Metricon Stadium on Saturday.
It will be one of the competition's oldest lists in Geelong challenging one of its youngest in Gold Coast straight after at GMHBA Stadium. It'll be the Suns' first real test away from home - at fortress Kardinia Park - and fans will get a genuine feel for how talented Stuart Dew's side really is.
The injury-hit Bulldogs and Kangaroos are scheduled to lock horns on Saturday night, while Brisbane and Port Adelaide will play out a top-four fixture at the Gabba.
Can the Dockers finally net their first victory of the season against a hapless Adelaide on Sunday? Justin Longmuir's men have looked competitive but have lacked a winning touch so far in 2020.
Sunday's clash between Melbourne and Richmond is fascinating. Richmond, the reigning premier, is challenged after several lacklustre efforts and finds itself languishing in 14th.
The high-flying Hawks - who strangled North Melbourne for the first three quarters before fading out and almost suffering defeat last Sunday - will also be determined to bounce back against GWS Giants.
Another exciting round is looming. Buckle in and happy watching!
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