New Collingwood key forward Nathan Kreuger. Picture: Collingwood Football Club

After years of looking for a key forward, Collingwood is hoping that Geelong's Nathan Kreuger can help solve its issues inside 50.

Collingwood has pulled off the first player trade of the off-season, securing versatile key position player Nathan Kreuger from Geelong.

The Magpies traded pick 41, which was recently acquired in a pick swap with Gold Coast, for the 22-year-old and pick 55.

While Kreuger has only played two games at AFL level across his three seasons in the league, due to a mix of injuries and the wealth of talent Geelong possesses, the 196cm athletic tall represents untapped potential for a young Collingwood side.

He’s a free hit for a club that’s looking for more size in its front half and a fresh identity under new coach Craig McRae.

Is Kreuger the answer up forward?

Collingwood will certainly be hoping so after it ranked fourth last for goals per game this season.

General Manager of Football Graham Wright already indicated on AFL Trade Radio that the club sees Kreuger as more of a forward than a defender.

While he trained and played his only two senior games down back this year, he was recruited by the Cats as a key forward.

He arrived at Geelong in 2018 via a pre-draft selection but struggled for opportunities with Tom Hawkins, Jeremey Cameron, and Esava Ratugolea all in front of him.

But he’s now at a club that has been begging for options and depth at the position for years.

A lack of key forwards was an issue even when the Magpies were contending, and now that the team is rebuilding, solidifying a potent attack for the future is a must.

Collingwood targeted Kreuger last year, but was unable to get him across to the Holden Centre.

Given the Pies current forward stocks, it’s easy to see why it wanted him, as there are only two consistent key forwards on the list.

Brody Mihocek’s form and accuracy were slightly down on recent seasons, but he still won the club’s goalkicking for the third year in a row with 34 majors.

While ruck-forward Darcy Cameron showed promising signs in his first consistent crack at senior level, ranking top 10 in the AFL for contested marks and going at over a goal a game.

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Beyond those two, Mason Cox only played seven games this year and looks certain to be on the move.

At the level below, Collingwood has a mix of potential key forwards with a similar amount of experience as Kreuger.

Will Kelly has been limited by a bad run with injuries three years into his career, while Liam McMahon, Ash Johnston and Aiden Begg are yet to debut.

Kreuger is largely unsighted at AFL level as a key forward, but showed promising signs in his first two years at the Cattery, while battling injuries.

He kicked 18 goals in the VFL in 2019, including a bag of six against Coburg.

Could Kreuger play down back?

While Collingwood has already earmarked Kreuger for a role up forward, he said he’s not afraid to be swung down back if he needs to.

One factor omnipresent in the mind of all supporters is that Jordan Roughead, who recently finished eighth in the Pies’ best and fairest, is closer to the end than the start of his career.

Roughead has been a rock at full-back ever since crossing over from the Bulldogs, but he’ll be 31 by the start of next season, and there’s no obvious replacement once he retires.

Kreuger trained as a key defender this year in a bid to make his debut, which paid dividends when he played his first two games towards the end of the season.

Getting to learn under a Hall of Fame defender like his backline coach Matthew Scarlett would only improve his knowledge and skill at playing the position as well.

Collingwood’s back six is currently in good shape, with the likes of Roughead, Brayden Maynard, and Isaac Quaynor looking to back up strong campaigns, while Darcy Moore and Jeremy Howe will be hoping to get a clean run with injuries.

But if no player puts their hand up to take over for Roughead in a few years time, Kreuger could find his place in the team in defence.

Where does Kreuger fit into Collingwood’s side?

Kreuger’s immediate challenge will be proving that he, Brody Mihocek, and Darcy Cameron can coexist in the same forward line.

Graham Wright said Kreuger can complement them, but whether that trio will work remains to be seen.

Given Mihocek and Cameron’s runs on the board, they’ll likely be ahead in the pecking order.

One factor working in Kreuger’s favour is the current trend of teams playing with some extra height inside 50, with all four Preliminary finalists rotating three talls through their forward lines.

Others vying for the same spot are Will Kelly, Liam McMahon, and Ash Johnston, but the latter two have less experience, while Kelly has also been played down back and needs to have an injury-free year.

Still in his early 20s and approaching his fourth season in the AFL system, Kreuger is ready to prove himself.

He suits Collingwood’s needs and list profile, with the hope being that he can develop with the team as it attempts to climb back up the ladder.

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