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Demons relishing tough run to finals as stars return

Buoyed by the quick return of star onballer Clayton Oliver, Melbourne are licking their lips as they navigate a tough run to the AFL finals.

The Demons look like they have put their mid-season stutter behind them with three wins from the past four games.

But after Saturday night’s grand final rematch against the Western Bulldogs, their next four opponents before September are all in the top eight – Fremantle (away), Collingwood, Carlton and Brisbane.

The Bulldogs are also outside the eight on percentage only and are coming off a thumping win over St Kilda.

It means a searching test of the reigning premier’s bona fides heading into the finals and coach Simon Goodwin is relishing the challenge.

“The challenge is right before us as a footy club and we spoke about that last week,” he said.

“It’s now time to start putting our best footy out on the park consistently.

“They’re going to tease the best out of our footy and we’ll learn a lot about our group on that path.

‘It’s a perfect preparation for us.”

Oliver missed last week’s win over Port Adelaide in Alice Springs because of surgery to fix a fractured thumb but will return on Saturday night at Marvel Stadium.

“He’s done an incredible job to get himself right. He’s been in my office a fair bit in the last four or five days, telling me how he was going to be ready to go,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said Oliver’s week off had given them the opportunity to experiment in the midfield.

“We’re confident … that (his thumb) will stand up for the rest of the season. He’s done an incredible job with his rehab, he was really diligent,” Goodwin said.

“In the end, the freshen up last week is going to do him well.

“It gives us a chance to manage our team, have a look at some different things through the middle of the ground.

“Now we get a chance to get a fresh Clayton Oliver back in our team, ready to go.”

Defender Jake Lever hurt his shoulder against Port but Goodwin is talking up his availability for the Bulldogs clash.

“He’s been cleared of any significant damage, which is fantastic,” he said.

“We’ll just ease him through the week and he’ll train on Friday … we’ll see where he sits at that point.

“But we’re confident that he’ll get up and play some good footy for us.”

Goodwin added Ben Brown (knee) also should play against the Bulldogs.


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