JACK Watts deserves his place back in the Melbourne team after turning around his sub-par pre-season form, according to co-captain Nathan Jones.
Watts was overlooked for selection for the Demons' two JLT Community Series wins against the Western Bulldogs and Carlton after not meeting the training standards expected by coach Simon Goodwin.
The important forward will play his first game of the season against West Coast at Domain Stadium on Thursday night.
The teams for Thursday's JLT games
"He's earned the right to get back in the side," Jones said as the Demons flew out from Melbourne Airport on Wednesday.
"He was under no illusions about what we expected from him.
"He's gone about his business in the fashion that we'd expect of an experienced player, and he'll come in and perform the role that he's in the team for and be a very important player for us."
Jones said Watts would be desperate to atone and establish himself in the club's best 22 ahead of a round one clash with St Kilda.
"We're a better team with 'Wattsy' in our team and playing at his best, and I expect him to put in a strong performance," Jones said.
"There would be a fair fire in his belly and from our perspective it's about him playing his role."
Jones explained part of the rationale behind Watts' demotion.
"From my point of view, Wattsy's had his career-best season last year," Jones said.
"The role of our coaches is to make sure we continue to strive and push our playing group to get better, both individually and as a team.
"Wattsy was encouraged to take another step. Being in the system as long as he had and performing as strongly as he did last year, the coaching group can still see there being a lot of potential in Wattsy and making him even better as a player."
Jack Trengove, Dom Tyson - returning from a dislocated knee - and Colin Garland have all been named to play their first games of the pre-season series against the Eagles.
Trengove and Garland played just nine games between them in 2016 and Jones said the duo were well aware of the challenge they face in breaking into a side on the rise.
No longer are mainstay players guaranteed a spot in the Melbourne team.
"The expectation has risen with them," Jones said.
"We've got a lot of young players that are driven and they're really starting to learn the behaviours we want, which is pushing the entire group.
"Guys who have been around a while are expected to improve… we're constantly striving to get better individually and as a group."
Jones said Trengove, who has overcome a career-threatening foot injury, would continue to put himself in the frame for senior selection.
"From my perspective [Jack] couldn't have done much more right," Jones said.
"He's been unbelievable with his persistence and courage to get over his injury.
"His leadership is terrific, he's got some great attributes with his running ability and decision making.
"I think he's right in the mix.
"I definitely don't think the game has passed him and I think he can be a really strong contributor for us (in 2017)."