Clayton Oliver during Melbourne's match simulation against Richmond on February 18, 2024. Pictures: AFL Photos

CLAYTON Oliver is on track to play Melbourne's first game of the premiership season after he made a successful return to football on Sunday, playing three terms of a match simulation against Richmond at Casey Fields.

After Melbourne's senior side played four terms against the Tigers, Oliver lined up in a team made up of mainly VFL and fringe AFL players for an extra three periods of play and was at his normal barnstorming best.

The 26-year-old's on-field ability clearly hasn't been diminished by his recent off-field issues, with Oliver winning the opening clearance and racking up the footy at will in the first term.

He also booted a stunning snap from the pocket, with the vast majority of his teammates running over to celebrate.


In a further sign he's nearing match fitness, Oliver did not spend any significant period of time off the ground despite the warm February sun, with his rotations a normal length in the match that consisted of three 20-minute quarters.

While his output slowed somewhat as the game progressed, his class was evident as he found plenty of time and showed creativity with his handballs.

The star midfielder has spent a significant period away from the club this off-season for personal reasons and only returned to Demons training less than three weeks ago.

But after a successful showing on Sunday, he's a live chance to play in Opening Round against Sydney on Thursday, March 7 "if all goes well", according to Demons assistant Troy Chaplin.

"It's great for Clayton. He's been back in the program a couple of weeks now, and he's been through a fair bit over this summer. So I think for him, getting through three quarters – he took a pretty big hit there at one stage – but you could see the class that he does bring," Chaplin said.

"I'd assume he'll probably play some minutes against Carlton (in a practice game on Wednesday, February 28), but that process will be a club process and an AFL one as well. Probably 'Goody' and 'Richo' (coach Simon Goodwin and footy boss Alan Richardson) will work closely with the AFL and what that looks like. But it was just great to see him perform and play well. It doesn't look like he's missed a beat.

"He's training extremely hard when he's been away from the group. He's put himself in a good condition to still be able to perform when the season starts.

Clayton Oliver during Melbourne's match simulation against Richmond on February 18, 2024. Pictures: AFL Photos

"He has missed a little bit, more probably our education and our game style stuff. But he's been working closely with (assistant coach) Andrew McQualter on that.

"We'll bring him up to speed as quickly as possible, but there's some other things he's got to be able to tick off that the club will work really closely with him on."

Oliver sent a scare through the Melbourne camp halfway through the second term on Sunday, winding himself badly after soaring high to take a high handball. The game was held up as he gathered himself and left the field with trainers, but he was back on the park a few minutes later.


He was joined in the VFL match by senior teammate Christian Salem, who has been rehabbing a back issue.

"He's tracking well. He's missed a little bit of footy – he's had a bit of a grumbly back – so he's a little bit similar to Clayton," Chaplin said.

"He'll play some more minutes against Carlton as well and hopefully will be ready for Opening Round. But once again, you saw the class those two guys bring."

Chaplin said the Demons are hoping to regain Lachie Hunter (calf), Angus Brayshaw (illness), Charlie Spargo (Achilles soreness) and Taj Woewodin (concussion) for their practice game against the Blues.