MELBOURNE will place the bulk of its ruck load on the shoulders of youngster Luke Jackson over the next month, with inspirational skipper Max Gawn set to be sidelined for a crucial period through injury.
The Demons, who favour a two-ruck approach, are also without back-up Majak Daw after he injured his pectoral muscle in the VFL a fortnight ago and are now assessing their options as to how best to support the 20-year-old Jackson.
The athletic 199cm young gun has enjoyed a terrific campaign deputising for Gawn, but will begin a stint as the side's first-choice ruck option in a top-of-the-table clash against Brisbane on Thursday night.
"It's an enormous opportunity for Luke to really step up," coach Simon Goodwin said.
"We've seen what he's capable of in a range of different situations, but to take that mantle as the No.1 ruckman will be really important and we'll see his ability to really step up and do it a different way. Max is a pure tap ruckman, Luke is slightly different and gives us a different look at ground level. We're looking forward to seeing what that looks like.
"Who is going to support him, we're still working through that. Majak won't be available, he's got a partial pec tear that he did a couple of weeks ago. He's probably four weeks away from being back available to play. We'll have to be a little bit adaptive in that space and come up with a clear plan, but it's something we're looking forward to."
Melbourne's 200cm key forward Ben Brown will be one option to potentially support Jackson in the ruck, having snapped a three-match run without a goal by kicking two majors in the side's recent loss to Collingwood.
"I thought his game last weekend was a big step forward," Goodwin said.
"I thought he was really close to being a dominant player in the game. He got his hands to a lot of contests, he kicked two goals and he had a snap at the end where he probably could have kicked his third if he had a bit more time on the clock.
"His form progressed strongly last week and I don't think he's too far away from being in some really good form."
Melbourne will have key defender Steven May available for the clash against the Lions, after serving his club-imposed one-match suspension for an alcohol-fuelled altercation with teammate Jake Melksham earlier this month.
Melksham is also set to return – either at VFL or AFL level – having been forced to undergo surgery on his hand after sustaining the injury during the clash with May at the high-end Melbourne restaurant Entrecote.
"We haven't have much cohesion in the back-half of the ground over the last month. We've had a variety of guys out for a variety of different reasons," Goodwin said.
"To get that back six or seven together consistently, it's going to be something that's really important to us and Steven is a big part of that. He's an outstanding player and he'll come back in.
"He's been outstanding in training as well. He's really keen on building trust back within the playing group and putting his best performances out there on-field and leading like he does on-field to a really high level. It's going to be great to get that group back together."