Josh Schache and Christian Petracca ahead of Melbourne's clash with North Melbourne in round seven, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

MELBOURNE opens the season against Sydney in a little over two weeks, but the makeup of the Demons' forward line remains concerningly unclear.

The Demons were already somewhat skinny in the tall forwards department, but injury and suspension has hit the entire line hard over summer.

The situation – while not yet a full-blown crisis – could see Melbourne field a forward line of 20-year-old Jacob van Rooyen and the three-club former No.2 pick Josh Schache as the side's key targets for the opening match against the Swans, with veteran Tom McDonald still a chance to feature in attack.

McDonald missed match simulation against Richmond with calf soreness, although the Demons say he is expected to play in the upcoming practice match against Carlton.

The wrinkle in the plan is while McDonald has been a recognised forward for the past few years, he has largely been training in defence this summer, reprising the role he played throughout the first half of his AFL career. 

How has Melbourne landed in this sticky situation?

Ben Brown had knee surgery in late January, while Joel Smith has been provisionally suspended after testing positive for cocaine after the Demons' round 22 clash against Hawthorn late last year.

Kozzy Pickett will also miss the opening round after a one-match suspension for a high bump on Carlton's Patrick Cripps in last year's heartbreaking semi-final loss.


Recruit Shane McAdam is battling a calf issue, with no guidance yet from the Dees around the former Adelaide high flyer's expected return date, while undersized marking target Jake Melksham is rehabbing a torn ACL and won't be available until late in the season.

Harrison Petty is working on overcoming a toe issue, and is less likely than McDonald to face the Blues.

Harrison Petty in action during Melbourne's win over Richmond in round 20, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The lack of talls could herald an unlikely renaissance for Schache, who last year played two of his three games as the sub, including going unused in the semi-final defeat to the Blues.

The potential return of Clayton Oliver (personal reasons) in Opening Round could also allow fellow superstar Christian Petracca to spend more time in attack, which would alleviate many of the Demons' potential forward woes.

Oliver lined up alongside fellow senior player Christian Salem (back) in the VFL hitout against Richmond on Sunday, the latter playing through the midfield despite being more traditionally found at half-back.


But when it comes to smaller forwards, the Dees are set, with Bayley Fritsch, Charlie Spargo, Kade Chandler, Alex Neal-Bullen, Taj Woewodin, recruit Jack Billings and father-son selection Kynan Brown – who showed a clean pair of heels against the Tigers – all available.   

Spargo (Achilles soreness) and Woewodin (concussion) sat out the game against the Tigers, but are expected to face Carlton.

"We got to see some guys up there who haven't played much footy together. Jack Billings played through there, Josh Schache, Kynan Brown played through there too," assistant coach Troy Chaplin said after the scratch match against Richmond.

"We tried some things over summer, and we've had some guys in and out, and we're trying to find the right mix. It was more our method today, it wasn't so much our forward line, it was what we were doing behind the ball. I thought defensively, which we've been really strong the last few years, was a little bit off today."

Jacob van Rooyen in action during Melbourne's match simulation clash with Richmond on February 18, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The ruck situation is also a little dicey.

Recruit Tom Fullarton – brought in after the departure of Brodie Grundy to Sydney – is likely to miss the first month of the season with a hamstring injury, leaving Max Gawn light for support.

Gawn is also an option to rest up forward, where few can match his aerial reach, but he would likely be replacing one of Schache or van Rooyen as they rotate into the ruck, rather than adding a third prong to the forward line.

"We used (in the ruck) Josh Schache today," Chaplin said after Sunday's game. "(Rookie) Will Verrall played some minutes because we were always only going to play Max for a half. (Gawn is) a pretty important player for us, so a half was enough for us. He's done all the loads throughout pre-season, so it was more about looking after him.

"We've got Jacob van Rooyen who played second ruck last year, so we've got a couple of guys who can support him, but we're going to have to find ways to look after Max as well.

"That was an opportunity today, but it's very hard to tell Max he's only playing a half, he's a pretty proud player."