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'Big Sav' one of three debutants for Cats

JLT: No doubting Ratugolea's power Geelong forward prospect Esava Ratugolea backs himself from distance and rightfully so after this strike
This is not about planning for the future this is about our best team for Sunday
Chris Scott

GEELONG'S decision to blood three debutants is a matter of now rather than the future, coach Chris Scott says. 
Mature-age midfielder Tim Kelly, draftee Lachlan Fogarty and power forward Esava Ratugolea will make their debuts against Melbourne on Sunday at the MCG.

Scott says they forced their way in off strong pre-seasons and were picked on "merit" ahead of a number of more experienced teammates.

"This is not about planning for the future this is about our best team for Sunday," Scott said on Friday.

"They're in based on merit, we highly rate the opposition and we know we need to play at our absolute best.

"There's no room for us to take liberties with our selection or the way we play. It's not like we're short of options."

Kelly, 23, an apprentice electrician who has turned heads since joining from South Fremantle joins pressure forward Fogarty on debut after their first pre-seasons at the club.

Ratugolea, of Fijian heritage, enters his second year at Geelong after 10 VFL games in 2017. 

Scott stopped short of confirming the final bench spot between Jordan Cunico, Mark O'Connor, Zach Guthrie, Jordan Murdoch and a potential fourth debutant Charlie Constable. 

It means there will be at least eight changes from the team that lost to Adelaide in last year's preliminary final.

Rhys Stanley, who played that night against the Crows, looks set to play on Sunday provided he gets through training.

"We were under the impression that injury (calf he suffered Essendon in the second pre-season match) was going to keep him out of the selection mix," he said.

"It looks like he's going to be available. We need to have a look at training today."

After a hamstring setback this pre-season, dual premiership hero Gary Ablett won't be held back in his return for Geelong.

"There's no specific plan to protect him," Scott said. 

"If he's forward, it'll be more with a view to him being a weapon there rather than limiting his midfield minutes."

Small forward Cory Gregson has been named for his first game since round 14 2016 after a long battle in the rehab group with a foot injury.

"I know Cory would've been questioning whether he could get back at all," Scott said.

"To have such a good preparation and force his way into our best team of 22 speaks to his work rate and his resilience but also his talent and what he can bring."

Despite a dazzling display in last week's VFL practice match the Cats will take a conservative approach with Nakia Cockatoo's calf after three separate soft-tissue injuries last year.

"It was a really in-depth discussion, there was a very strong case for him to play," Scott said.

"We would like Nakia to come in off a flawless preparation in good form. He's got the form part covered, he just hasn't had the body of work for us to be absolutely sure."

Scott said Mark Blicavs' flexibility would be key against the Demons with a view to settling down back.

He added Scott Selwood has "surprised" in his return to the VFL this week after ankle surgery and would need a body of work to be considered for AFL selection.