MELBOURNE will weigh up its "risk appetite" when deciding on Jayden Hunt's availability for Friday night's preliminary final against Geelong, with the running defender on the cusp of making a speedy return from ankle surgery.
Hunt was substituted out of the side's round 21 victory over West Coast with an ankle problem and has subsequently been forced to miss the side's past three matches, including the qualifying final win over Brisbane a fortnight ago.
However, a week's break in between games has enabled Hunt to make a full recovery, with the Demons now forced to decide whether the experienced half-back regains his place for the Optus Stadium showdown.
"We have confidence in our performance staff to get them prepared physically to be able to play, there's no question about that … we've seen that the whole year, they've done a wonderful job in that space," Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said.
"The decision will come down to what our risk appetite is like. We've got a lot of guys pressing for selection and Jayden is one of them. He trained strongly on Tuesday and he's in the mindset of being available and being able to press his case."
A spot is open in Melbourne's backline for the pivotal clash against Geelong, with Joel Smith unfortunately suffering a minor hamstring strain at training on Tuesday that will rule him out of this week's do-or-die final.
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Veteran defender Michael Hibberd appears the more like-for-like replacement for Smith, with Hunt instead expected to vie with first-year youngster Jake Bowey for a spot in the team's defensive unit.
"In terms of risk, we're at the pointy end of the year," Goodwin said.
"You need to make calculated decisions, but there's no coming back. We need to perform strongly and we need to win games of footy. We're at that sudden-death stage of the season.
"We'll make that decision. We'll sit here and be really calculated in that and we'll do what's best for the team."
Despite concerns over whether Smith's season would be prematurely ended by the hamstring injury sustained earlier this week, Goodwin believes the 191cm defender could yet return if the side qualifies for the Grand Final.
"I'm not really into 'ifs'," Goodwin said.
"But he's looking OK. It's pretty minor. He's full steam ahead in his preparation. He'll do everything he can to be ready, if that's the case."
Victory in Friday night's preliminary final would give Melbourne a golden opportunity to break a 57-year premiership drought, dating back to 1964.
However, Goodwin is keen to ensure the chance to create history doesn't represent a burden for his young Demons group and instead insists his side will relish the prospect of progressing to a first Grand Final since 2000.
"There's pressure on everyone and every footy club," Goodwin said.
"If you look at the history and circumstance of every team that is still in the running, there is pressure on every side for a variety of different reasons. Our pressure comes because we haven't won it for such a long period of time.
"But that's a real privilege for us. We've worked our way to create an opportunity to put our best on show and that's the way we're looking at it. We want to embrace our past and make sure we really respect the opportunity that's in front of us and go after it.
"That's what the players have been brilliant at all year. They've been able to reset themselves and understand the importance of staying in the moment. It's no different now. Just because we're getting closer, that doesn't change our thought process."