MELBOURNE coach Simon Goodwin has confirmed premiership captain Max Gawn will return for Thursday's blockbuster with Geelong at GMHBA Stadium after an ankle injury.
Gawn had missed the Demons' past two games due to syndesmosis sustained in the Queen's Birthday loss to Collingwood but has made quick progress to recover after originally being slated for a three-to-five-week absence.
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The return of the Therabody AFL All-Australian ruckman is a major boost for the Demons, who moved a game and percentage clear at the top of the ladder with Saturday's 29-point win over Adelaide, ahead of their trip to face the second-placed Cats, who have won six in a row.
"He trained today at Adelaide Uni," Goodwin told reporters. "He did a match load and moved really well. He'll be right for Thursday night."
Goodwin added: "He's our captain. He's our leader. He's a really important player to us. To not have him for the last couple of weeks and still get the results is really pleasing for our group.
"It's a credit to the rest of the leaders, Viney again tonight, Steven May, Jake Lever, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Alex Neal-Bullen, guys who are leaders within our footy club stood up again tonight."
Petracca, in particular, played a key role in Melbourne's win over the Crows with three first-half goals, finishing with 33 disposals with a game-high 20 contested possessions and six tackles.
Goodwin said that marked a return to form after a "little flat spot", including only 10 touches in the round 11 loss to Fremantle after illness.
"The last two weeks the way he's played around contest areas is pretty dynamic," Goodwin said. "When he's in that frame in that space, the rest of his game seems to flow.
"He obviously hit the scoreboard tonight. It was stuff in and around contest area that I was most pleased with. He got the ball out into space and was really pivotal in the game.
"He is progressing his game forward after having a little flat spot three weeks earlier. He's gaining some good shape again."
Goodwin said his side's method proved the difference in a tight affair where the Crows closed within five points in the final term, after the Demons failed to capitalise on their dominance, kicking 3.6 in the third.
The Dees coach was full of praise for his back seven, while he was also delighted that they found a way to victory without ruck duo Gawn and Luke Jackson, who missed with a knee concern.
"Tonight we had to find a different way with our rucks," he said.
"We lost hitouts by 40 (13-57), won clearance by five (39-34). That's a different way for us. Normally we're spoilt with Max Gawn and Luke Jackson. We didn’t have that tonight so we had to do that slightly differently.
"We're continuing to find ways to get better but if we're strong around contest and strong defensively, it gives us every opportunity."
Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks said his side's ball movement cost them the game. Melbourne had 30 intercept marks, which came close to West Coast's AFL record of 34 from two decades ago, with Jake Lever (14 intercepts) and Steven May (12 intercepts) repelling attacks.
"Thirty intercept marks, we knew that was going to be a challenge," Nicks said.
"They've done it in Grand Finals and some of the biggest games that you face, that's why they're top of the table and one of the best teams in the competition. We had a lot of plans in place to combat that but we weren't able to execute those plans.
"Whilst failing in that area I thought we were very strong in others but unfortunately against the best teams in the competition you can't fail to that level. It's going to make it hard to score.
"It's an area we must get right because tonight that cost us the game in the end."
Nicks was full of praise for Jordan Dawson, who starred with 30 disposals including seven inside 50s and a game-high 649 metres gained.
"He's a great footballer, he's a very smart footballer, great awareness, he understands the game and sees it really well," he said. "He's been fantastic for our group."