MELBOURNE stalwart Nathan Jones has backed Christian Petracca to take it up to Richmond superstar Dustin Martin ahead of their bumper Anzac Day Eve clash.
Explosive midfielder Petracca has averaged 28.4 disposals, 1.4 goals and a whopping 9.4 score involvements per game in the Demons' first 5-0 start to a season since 1994.
The Demons will face a stern test of their credentials on Saturday night against the reigning premiers, who have a five-game winning streak against Melbourne dating back to 2016.
The game also presents the prospect of a salivating match-up between Petracca and Martin, who'll be playing his 250th match.
"I hope so (they'll go head-to-head) - that's the big ticket to Saturday night, isn't it?" Jones said.
"I think (Petracca will) relish that opportunity - I'm excited for him.
"It's a big game for them, it's (Martin's) 250th and to see him and Trac go head-to-head would be awesome. Absolutely (Petracca will be ready for it)."
Jones, who will play his 300th game against the Tigers, said the unbeaten Demons were a more mature and well-rounded team than the outfit that blitzed their way to a preliminary final appearance in 2018.
"I've never got as excited as everyone else about '18, really - I feel like we just got on a run late in the season," Jones said.
"Ultimately I think the core of the group's pretty similar - what you're seeing now is the reflection of a group that's now more mature and understand what it takes.
"Back in '18 we were being heavily criticised midway through the season that we hadn't really beaten anyone and I think it was a run of six or eight games that got us into finals and then winning finals, but this year's different.
"... There's pressure for selection and there's consistency with form and the longer we do that - that's what breeds a strong culture and a strong team."
Jones will become just the second Melbourne player after David Neitz to reach the 300-game mark.
"I've probably been dreaming of that (a premiership) my whole career really," he said.
"A lot of people say 'why did you stick around through difficult times?'
"That dream was the thing that probably kept me alive (in the AFL) really - it kept driving me towards wanting to stick around."
The darker years at Melbourne weigh heavily on Jones' AFL stats - with 98 wins, three draws and 198 losses.
But he will head into his milestone game with the Demons on a high.
"I never really considered leaving (Melbourne) - but yeah, those years sucked," Jones said.
"I was lucky to play finals in my first year and I was thinking 'how good's this?'
"And I think we finished second bottom the year after and had a handful of wooden spoons after that and not many wins.
"... The dream was always, 'can you imagine what it would be like if we turned it around? Imagine the Melbourne fans, imagine the team.'
While the Demons were far from convincing against Hawthorn until their last-quarter goals avalanche, they are flush with depth and face some big selection calls.
Key forwards Sam Weideman (seven goals) and Ben Brown (three goals) staked their claims for senior recalls earlier on Sunday with strong VFL performances.
But fellow forwards Tom McDonald, Luke Jackson and Mitch Brown all did their jobs in the senior side.
Coach Simon Goodwin said fellow forward Bayley Fritsch and defender Steven May also could return from injury.
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