MELBOURNE gun Jack Viney is facing an uphill battle to prove his fitness ahead of the side's round one clash with Fremantle.
Viney has been sidelined since late January after undergoing a procedure to relieve foot soreness in his left plantar fascia, with the midfield general now in doubt to recover in time for the club's season opener in just 18 days.
However, in better news for the Demons, fellow onballer Angus Brayshaw will be given two VFL practice matches to press his claim for a round one return after undergoing his own bout of foot surgery late last year.
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Brayshaw will play a half for Casey this weekend, before being given a full match against Box Hill next week, with the club confident he will line up against the Dockers in less than three weeks' time.
Kysaiah Pickett is also expected to feature in that round one clash against Fremantle, with the exciting small forward to return to Victoria on Sunday having flown to Perth last month for a family bereavement.
"Angus will play a half in the VFL this weekend and will play against Box Hill the week after. That will put him in the calculations for round one," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin told AFL.com.au.
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"Jack is probably a little bit further behind. He's probably a little bit more touch-and-go to play round one. But people get fixated by round one. Jack will certainly be up and running by round two or three and will be raring to go.
"Kysaiah will be back Sunday from Perth. Obviously, it's really tragic circumstances with his mother. He's been doing a lot of training away from the footy club, with some help over there from some people that are specialists. We're really confident that 'Kozzy' will be up and available for round one."
Viney will likely join a Melbourne injury list that also includes key forward duo Ben Brown and Sam Weideman in being unavailable for round one.
Brown underwent knee surgery in February, while Weideman suffered a stress fracture in his right leg, with both expected to miss the first month of the upcoming campaign.
"They're both on track, pretty much in line with each other," Goodwin said.
"We'll have to manage that as a team. They'll both obviously come back through the VFL, so we'll get a good indication as to when they're ready to play AFL footy."
Meanwhile, Goodwin has revealed the heartbreaking chat he had with youngster Aaron Nietschke over the weekend after the rookie sustained a third devastating ACL injury during a practice match last week.
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Goodwin drove to Nietschke's house on Sunday and chatted with the 20-year-old in his backyard about how both he and the club would deal with a third successive season being wiped out by the knee injury.
"It's really tough," Goodwin said.
"It's really an emotional time for Aaron and us as a footy club and his teammates. I've had a few conversations with Aaron. I went and sat with him in his backyard on Sunday.
"He was flying back to Adelaide to see his family at the farm and we just had some conversations about footy and letting the emotions of what has taken place to unfold, then we'll re-engage with what it looks like from there.
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"He's 20. He wants to play sport again. He wants to get the knee surgery done. But what that looks like in his own mind, let's just let the emotion die and we'll pick that up in a few months' time about where that sits.
"It's shattering for him. He's put a lot of time and effort into rehabbing the previous two, so there's a great deal of empathy with him. But I think he feels the support from the footy club and the people around him."