Tom Fullarton in action at a Melbourne training session on January 24, 2024. Picture: Melbourne FC

MELBOURNE recruit Tom Fullarton is facing a delayed start to the season after suffering a potential hamstring tendon injury during Friday morning’s match simulation session at Casey Fields, but swingman Harry Petty is on the cusp of returning to full training. 

The Demons signed the 24-year-old from Brisbane during the trade period in exchange for pick No. 47 to provide greater ruck coverage after dual All-Australian Brodie Grundy moved to Sydney following a season at Melbourne. 

Fullarton went down near the end of the 60-minute match simulation block following a marking contest with key defender Jake Lever, leaving the track with two trainers for further assessment inside. 

Tom Fullarton in action during the VFL preliminary final between Brisbane and Werribee at Avalon Airport Oval on September 16, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The 200cm ruck-forward will undergo scans on Friday afternoon but the Demons are bracing for Fullarton to have suffered a decent hamstring strain at best and potential tendon damage at worst in what would be a blow to ruck depth beyond captain Max Gawn. Untried pair Will Verrall and Kyah Farris-White are the only other pure ruckmen on the list. 

Petty was forced to watch on last September when the Demons bowed out of the finals race in straight sets for the second consecutive year, after the defender-turned-forward sustained a Lisfranc injury during the round 21 win over North Melbourne. 

The 24-year-old, who was held to his contract by Melbourne amid serious interest from Adelaide last October, has transitioned back into the main group this month, completing drills at the start and end of the session around running. Petty is scheduled to return to full training late next week. 

With the immediate playing future of four-time best and fairest winner Clayton Oliver clouded, Trent Rivers and Bailey Laurie have been exposed to more midfield time across the pre-season.

Bailey Laurie in action during VFL round two, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After playing in a premiership in his second season in 2021, Rivers collected the coaches award last year and finished 10th in the 'Bluey' Truscott Trophy, but the half-back has transitioned into a midfielder across the past couple of months and was a clear standout across the 4x15-minute match simulation to start the public holiday in Cranbourne. 

Playing alongside Rivers opposed to a first-choice midfield unit that contained Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Gawn, Laurie also continued his impressive pre-season on Friday by accumulating plenty of clever touches in wet and windy conditions at Casey Fields. 

The 2020 first-round pick earned a debut in round one last year and played five senior games across 2023 but looms as one unestablished player who could become a permanent fixture this year after an eye-catching summer on the track to date. 

Christian Salem is also expected to spend more time in the midfield in 2024 but the rebounding defender was on a modified program on Friday while he recovers from a hamstring niggle that has hampered him in recent weeks. 

The 28-year-old has endured a challenging run since he polled in the 2021 Norm Smith Medal after being included in the All-Australian squad in a year where he finished fourth in the best and fairest. Salem had two knee operations in 2022 and then had his pre-season derailed last year by a thyroid problem and never returned to his peak level. 

Salem is expected to return to the main group next week, along with Lachie Hunter, who was a notable absentee on Friday due to a lingering calf issue that has curtailed a strong start to his second pre-season at the club.

Christian Salem after the first semi final between Melbourne and Carlton at the MCG, September 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Angus Brayshaw has returned to full contact training since the Demons reported back for pre-season earlier this month and played across half-back as he builds towards a return in Opening Round, after missing the semi-final loss to Carlton due to the concussion he copped in the qualifying final loss to Collingwood.

Melbourne is spoilt for choice behind the ball with Adam Tomlinson, Tom McDonald and Marty Hore all competing for a spot alongside star key defenders Steven May and Lever. 

McDonald has returned down back across the pre-season, while Hore has made a seamless transition back to the club he spent three years at before being delisted at the end of 2021.

Tom McDonald is tackled by Scott Pendlebury during the qualifying final between Collingwood and Melbourne at the MCG on September 7, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The mobile defender earned another chance when the pre-season supplemental selection period opened in late November and will add to Melbourne's imposing depth in defence, following a standout season for Williamstown in the VFL.

The Demons are set to meet Richmond at Casey Fields in a match simulation session late next month.

Melbourne will then face Carlton in a practice match at Ikon Park on February 28 ahead of the season opener against Sydney at the SCG on Thursday March 7.