MITCH Clark needs to be training by the end of this season so he can prepare himself to be ready for Melbourne's pre-season according to coach Neil Craig.
The club ruled Clark out for the rest of the season at the start of this week as he continues his recovery from a foot injury suffered midway through 2012.
He played the first four games of the season but then had an operation to remove the screw from his injured foot. He has not played since. He has played 15 games for the Demons for 36 goals in two seasons and was impressive in 2012 before injury struck.
Craig said the decision to aim for next season would take some pressure off Clark. He said he had a good conversation with the key forward on Thursday to discuss what lay ahead.
"[He] probably needs to be training by the end of this season so that when the club reconvenes for the pre-season he's actually done a fair bit of work over that break. He's looking forward to that," Craig said.
Craig said Clark's inability to regularly train as he would like during his time away from the game would impact Clark more than missing games.
He said Clark had experienced similar ups and downs in his rehabilitation to any AFL player recovering from a long term injury but had good support around him.
"He has got some work ahead of him but the most important thing is to get everything right before we start again," Craig said.
The coach said he expects Mark Jamar to play senior football again before the season finishes. Jamar is likely to return from his footy injury with just three rounds remaining.
Jamar has played just nine games this season (for 133 over 11 seasons) and will be under pressure to retain the number one rucking spot in 2014. He is contracted until the end of 2015.
Melbourne re-signed Gawn for two seasons this week and Jack Fitzpatrick has made the most of the opportunities Craig has presented to him.
Craig said Jamar's history did count for something but having internal competition for spots was healthy.
"I don't mind calling upon [the] previous history of what Mark has been able to do, but there is also internal competition and in the end people get selected by their performance," Craig said.
Cameron Pedersen has earned another opportunity with Colin Garland, one of the team's most consistent players in 2013, out due to a lateral ankle sprain.
Craig said Pedersen would play mainly in defence and needed to take the opportunity as he tries to cement a spot in the team.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him play," Craig said.
Pedersen's former club North Melbourne presents a big challenge for the Demons. The Kangaroos have played well this season without putting wins on the board. A series of close losses mean they are a much better team than their ladder position indicates.
Craig is impressed with North Melbourne and expects the Roos to move the ball at great speed against the Demons.
"I think they are getting close to a tipping point," Craig said. "I think they are nearly ready to go as an outsider looking in. If they keep calm as a footy club, they are not far from ready to really go."