Two AFL personalities have slammed the decision to allow banned Collingwood star Jaidyn Stephenson to return to the VFL this weekend.
Stephenson will make a surprise appearance in the VFL on Saturday after being cleared to resume from a 10-match gambling ban
It had been expected Stephenson's ban, which also kept him from playing in the VFL, would sideline him until the Pies' first match of the AFL finals series.
But the league has confirmed Stephenson's ban ends with the final siren of Friday night's clash at the MCG, allowing him to get crucial match practice against Box Hill on Saturday afternoon.
"(We) checked that with the AFL, so for Jaidyn to be able to play with our VFL side this weekend is a small win," coach Nathan Buckley told reporters.
"It's not AFL level but it gives him a chance to have a run around in a match scenario and take that next step.
"... It's fortuitous that we have a Friday night game so Jaidyn plays in the VFL, which gives him a run around. That will be another progression for him, which is something that works in our favour and in his."
The 20-year-old was sensationally banned for 22 games, with 12 suspended, and slapped with a $20,000 fine in June for placing three bets on games he was playing in.
Buckley has been thrilled with the way Stephenson applied himself to training during his ban, but his lack of match practice would have been a concern heading into a pressure-packed final.
But the league's ruling alleviates that concern, with Stephenson given the opportunity to play in the VFL side's last game of the season.
Fox Sports' AFL 360 host Gerard Whateley slammed the AFL's decision to allow him to play, insisting the rule needs fixing.
“So as it’s been conveyed, there’s a delineation between a suspension from the integrity department, which equals a number of games, and a suspension from the tribunal which equals a number of rounds,” Whateley said.
“This is intolerable.”
“It undermines the serious message that was sent at the start — it gives Stephenson a huge leg-up to get this game in.
"This is poor governance."
Collingwood within rights to exploit loophole
Whateley's AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson said the loophole Collingwood found for Stephenson should never have been there in the first place.
“I’m not saying they’ve done the wrong thing if the loophole’s there. But the AFL — don’t allow this loophole.
“I mean, I think the VFL’s team’s played eight games … they haven’t played the 10 games and I always thought the AFL and the VFL were the one team and now it’s coming down to the different nights.
“I thought it was the rounds, I really did.
Star Collingwood defender Darcy Moore set to return to the field after missing five games with a hamstring injury.
Coach Nathan Buckley agreed it will be a boost for Moore's confidence to get a game under his belt before the finals given his history of soft-tissue injuries.
"For Darcy I think it's a win-win ... for him to be able to be up and about and have a run around is important," he said.
"He hasn't been preparing just to play, he's been preparing to perform and that's what we expect of him."
Star forward Jordan De Goey (hamstring) won't play against the Bombers but Buckley expects he will be available for the start of the finals campaign.