Clayton Oliver in action during the match simulation between Melbourne and Richmond at Casey Fields on February 18, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

MELBOURNE will select Clayton Oliver to face Sydney in the opening game of the season despite the superstar midfielder's interrupted pre-season. 

Demons coach Simon Goodwin said Oliver was ready to go for the Opening Round clash at the SCG on Thursday night, having built his fitness and form over the past month since returning from personal leave. 

Caleb Windsor, the No.7 pick in last year's AFL Draft and young wingman Blake Howes will make their AFL debuts against the Swans, while former St Kilda forward Jack Billings will play his first game for Melbourne. 

"It's been a pretty long process to first and foremost get Clayton healthy. That has been a process, but it's one that we've taken as a footy club," Goodwin said on Monday.

"We've addressed some things and we've gone about a process to get him to this point. It's not finished but he's healthy, he's happy and he's ready.

"We're united and connected as a footy team and that's been a big part of our summer. He's a big part of that.

"He's done everything we could've asked of him ... to get himself into this position and he's right to go."


Oliver took extended personal leave in January after departing early from the Demons' pre-season training camp in Lorne. He returned to training in late January and played managed minutes during the club's pre-season practice match schedule, including a VFL hitout against Carlton last Wednesday morning. 

The triple All-Australian was restricted to just 15 games last season because of a drawn-out hamstring injury but returned before finals, when the Demons made a second consecutive straight-sets exit.

Oliver was then a trade target for clubs, with Adelaide among the clubs interested, despite being under contract until 2030 after signing a massive seven-year extension. Melbourne ultimately did not put him on the trade table.

Goodwin said in October he had never considered trading Oliver, but he and chief executive Gary Pert both made it clear the midfielder needed to adhere to the Demons' standards.

Oliver said he did not want to leave the club and committed to knuckling down and meeting Melbourne's standards.

Oliver was pulled over by police on November 16 and charged with driving with a suspended licence.

He has been unable to drive on medical grounds since he was hospitalised following a seizure on October 12, which he partially attributed to side effects of his ADHD medication.