HOW DO you fit nine into six?
It's a question that Melbourne's array of attacking options will present coach Simon Goodwin this week, as he ponders how to further strengthen a 5-0 side for its Saturday night blockbuster against reigning premiers Richmond.
The Demons have unearthed a host of forward line stars on their way to the club's best start to a season since 1994. Now, the wealth of possibilities in terms of improving that attacking unit is set to grow again.
Its budding young key-position prospect, Sam Weideman, continued his return from a fractured leg with seven goals from 16 disposals and seven marks in Casey's VFL victory over Box Hill on Sunday.
Its high-profile Trade Period recruit, Ben Brown, finished that same game with three goals from 18 disposals and six grabs as he marked his return from surgery on a lingering knee issue in February.
A fortnight ago, Goodwin had said neither would simply slot back into the team upon proving their fitness. Instead, they must bang down the door for selection. Their 10-goal haul in the 51-point victory at Box Hill City Oval was exactly that.
Then there's Bayley Fritsch. Having missed Sunday's 50-point win over Hawthorn at the MCG with a fractured hand, the marking forward is expected to return this week. His last outing, a four-goal haul against Geelong, should guarantee his spot in the side.
But if that's the case, then who misses?
Before a ball had been kicked in anger this season, when news of Weideman and Brown's delayed starts to the campaign had been confirmed, the logical answer to this question appeared to be Tom McDonald.
However, having been told to seek a fresh start elsewhere during last year's Trade Period, only to find suitors hard to come by, McDonald has made the most of his reprieve through the season's first five games.
His performance on Sunday, which yielded 22 disposals, 10 marks, two goals and three goal assists, was an indication of his worth to the side. It was a highlights tape of his best qualities and how he has re-found them in 2021.
Of course, a three-pronged tall forward line featuring Weideman, Brown and McDonald can work. Fritsch, at 188cm, plays tall but can also fit into this system. But where does it leave Luke Jackson and Mitch Brown?
The latter came into the side for Sunday's victory over Hawthorn, earning his place on the back of a three-goal performance with Casey in a VFL practice match the week before. He was handy against the Hawks, kicking two goals from 10 disposals and six marks.
The former has played 74 percent game time as a forward this season, also rucking well in tandem with Max Gawn. Even the captain himself has swung into attacking and defensive roles when required throughout the year.
There's also Jake Melksham, who at 186cm can't be described as a key-position player but has been deployed as the side's deepest attacking option in the past. Having returned from a hamstring problem on the fringes of the best 22, his three-goal haul on Sunday should see him retain his place in the team.
Charlie Spargo and Kysaiah Pickett look assured of spots as the smaller options, but finding the mix in terms of the taller talent will be much harder for Goodwin to do.
Speaking to AFL.com.au in pre-season, the Melbourne coach revealed he was keen to see a combination of Brown, Weideman, McDonald, Gawn and Jackson in the same team. That could create a 'land of the giants' in the Demons forward line.
But under that proposal, Goodwin suggested McDonald would be shifted to a wing. Has the form of Ed Langdon and Angus Brayshaw in classic, traditional wing roles this season put a stop to that idea?
Goodwin has categorically rejected the idea of McDonald being moved into the backline, with Steven May's impending return from an eye injury and the form of Jake Lever and Adam Tomlinson reaffirming belief in his solid defensive system.
So, who lines up forward?
McDonald, Fritsch and Melksham have proved they merit spots through their senior form, Weideman and Ben Brown have done likewise returning from injury in the VFL, the partnership of Gawn and Jackson shouldn't be broken, Mitch Brown has and is performing strongly, while Spargo and Pickett have been electric.
McDonald, Weideman, Ben Brown, Jackson and Mitch Brown would be considered the key-position talent within that mix. Three, perhaps four at a stretch, will likely be selected against the Tigers.
Fritsch and Melksham are the tweeners. They can play tall and small, deep and high, can mark and win the ball on ground level. Both will likely be picked. But one, if unlucky, could miss out.
Then there's Spargo and Pickett. Expect both of the small forwards to play in the Anzac Day Eve clash, given the pressure they create and the constant threat they carry whenever they're close to goal.
The conundrum is a good one for Goodwin, but one that nevertheless will need a solution. The last thing he would want is to hurt the continuity and team balance that has brought five consecutive victories to open the year.
Finding that perfect mix against a side of Richmond's quality, though, will make the "fantastic problem" he spoke about on Sunday all the more thought-provoking at the selection table this week.
"No idea," was Goodwin's joking response when asked how he would shuffle his deck in the forward line a fortnight ago. By Saturday night, the Demons will undoubtedly have a clearer picture.
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