MELBOURNE midfielder Lachie Hunter is in a race against the clock to be fit for Opening Round after struggling with a persistent calf issue across the pre-season.
The Demons face Sydney in the very first match of the season on Thursday, March 7, and Hunter is no guarantee to be fit in time.
The former Bulldog has struggled with an increased training load as he recovers.
"It's disappointing for Lach. He's had a calf that's nagged him a little bit," Dees performance boss Alan Richardson said.
"As we've upped the load, he's just struggled to be able to cope. Clearly then you've got to back off and that's where it's at right at the minute.
"He’d need a little bit of luck now (to play Opening Round), but the guys are pretty confident they're on top of what the issue is."
The 29-year-old played every game bar one in 2023 after crossing over from the Western Bulldogs in the off-season.
Defender Christian Salem has recovered from a hamstring tweak he suffered at training last week.
"At training a couple of weeks ago (it was) one of those typical overstretch incidents where as he was kicking the ball, he got some contact from behind," Richardson said.
"It’s very minor. He was back in training yesterday, so he'll just about be in full training from this point forward."
Winger Angus Brayshaw has integrated back into contact training after suffering a concussion in the Dees' qualifying final loss last year.
"The last week or so he’s been in everything, and he's performed strongly," Richardson said.
"He's feeling pretty comfortable, so we'll continue to monitor that as we go through."
Goalsneak Bayley Fritsch has returned to full fitness following foot surgery over the off-season.
"'Fritta’s' done a good job, obviously he had some surgery on a foot in the off-season," Richardson said.
"As we've stepped up the load, he's responded really well. He's been in full training and match sim the last couple of weeks."
Defender-turned-forward Harrison Petty is slowly increasing his training loads as he returns from a Lisfranc injury.
"He's sort of in and out of training - that's the plan as we up the loads (and see) how he responds," Richardson said.
"This week he's going to have a bit of a down week just to make sure that he can then bounce back strongly.
"In the limited match sim that he has been in, he's looked really impressive. We're excited by what 'Petts' can do for us in front of the ball."
Jake Melksham's recovery from an ACL injury is tracking well, with the veteran closing in on a return on ball work.
"He's ahead of schedule, 'Melky'. He's a real pro, so it doesn't surprise us," Richardson said.
"He's at a stage now where he's not too far off doing a bit of ball work. This week we've just backed him off a little bit, just to make sure that he continues to advance."
Tall duo Ben Brown and Tom Fullarton are also unlikely to be ready for the first few rounds of the season, with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.
Midfielder Clayton Oliver trained with the team for the first time this year on Wednesday after taking extended leave from the club earlier this month.