MELBOURNE coach Simon Goodwin believes his side is in a "better position and in better form" to have a crack at premiership success in 2021 than its last finals appearance three years ago.
The Demons, fresh off claiming the minor premiership last week, took Brisbane apart in Saturday night's qualifying final with a comfortable 33-point victory that takes them just one win away from an elusive Grand Final berth.
It was the side's first finals outing since its dream 2018 run, when Melbourne defied expectations to upset Geelong and Hawthorn before crashing out in the preliminary final following a heavy defeat to eventual premiers West Coast.
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Goodwin's team has since undergone a mini-overhaul, missing the top-eight in the last two years but replenishing its list through the recruitment of key players like Steven May, Luke Jackson, Ed Langdon, Kysaiah Pickett and Trent Rivers.
It's left a refreshed Melbourne team ready to have its most consistent and sustained crack at breaking a premiership drought that dates back to 1964, with Goodwin bullish about his side's chances.
"We're a completely different side than what we were in 2018," he said after Saturday night's victory over Brisbane.
"We've really established ourselves and the way we defend. We're certainly a lot more consistent in the way that we play and we've put ourselves in a better position and in better form.
"It is a different experience, but we sit here and we've still got work to do. As coaches and as a leadership group we'll go away and find areas of our game that we want to continue improving in.
"That's been the great thing about our team and throughout the whole year, they're never satisfied and they want to find ways to get better. We have to keep looking for ways to get better."
Melbourne will play the winner of next week's semi-final between Geelong and Greater Western Sydney in its preliminary final, though the exact date of that looming fixture remains unknown.
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A potential mid-September bye, which has been slated to fall before the preliminary finals, could leave the Demons facing the prospect of two weeks off before their next game at Optus Stadium.
"We haven't had any final clarity about what that looks like," Goodwin said.
"It's obviously COVID-dependent, other than we're heading to Perth and we'll play our game in Perth. That's what we do know, so we'll get all of that information. But, obviously, things change all the time at the moment.
"We'll train, we'll prepare, we'll have a few days off, reset ourselves again and build up a really good program over the next week and a half to get ready for what might be the game ahead."
Melbourne is set to be bolstered by the return of defensive speedster Jayden Hunt from an ankle injury for its preliminary final, with veteran duo Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham also putting themselves in the frame for a recall.
Another pushing for a place in the side's finals run is 302-game club great Nathan Jones, who Goodwin is adamant remains an outside chance to return this season despite having not featured since May.
"He's been brilliant," Goodwin said.
"Obviously, Nathan has given an enormous amount to our footy club. He's given 16 years of service. He's coming back from a calf injury, but his last five weeks of match simulation and VFL footy has been outstanding.
"He's put himself right in selection calculations through form. That's how we go about picking our team, it's through form.
"You certainly feel for Nathan at the moment, because I know the one thing Nathan would love to be doing is playing in the 22 and being a full part of it. But his contribution around the change room and at training, it's having a big impact on our playing group.
"He's very proud of his footy club. He's going to keep pushing and if the opportunity presents itself, he'll be ready."
This year's NAB AFL Rising Star winner Jackson will also be fit for the preliminary final, having played out Saturday night's victory over Brisbane despite losing one of his front teeth midway through the game.
"He only had one to start with," Goodwin said.
"We'll have to get it assessed. The other one is just hanging a little bit, so the doctor is trying to work out what to do with it. He'll obviously need some treatment.
"The character of the kid was unbelievable. To keep going, keep playing and keep competing the way he did, it speaks volumes for him.
"Obviously, he's got some work to do now to fix up his mouth. But he's a quality kid."
The AFL is pleased to partner with the South Australian Tourism Commission to bring this match to Adelaide and thanks the South Australian Government for their support.