Melbourne are backing star ruckman Max Gawn to adapt and thrive no matter what Geelong throw at him at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Cats coach Chris Scott has tried a few different tactics as he looks to improve in the key area.
His side has been smashed in ruck contests over the first two rounds and are ranked 18th in the competition for hitouts.
Geelong didn’t bother to nominate a ruckman at times during their thrilling one-point win over North Melbourne, with Scott reacting by dropping Rhys Stanley in favour of former Gold Coast player Zac Smith.
Gawn, who has 77 hitouts on his own compared to the Cats’ 39 over the opening two games, looms as a key figure in the clash of undefeated sides.
“Maxy has worked really hard on his game … he wasn’t happy to just rest on his laurels,” Demons assistant coach Ben Mathews said of the 2016 All-Australian ruckman.
“He’s added some voice to his game and leads out on the park, which has become really significant for our group.
“It’s not by fluke that he keeps elevating his game.”
After wins against St Kilda and Carlton, Melbourne will face their biggest test of the season to date without banned pair Jesse Hogan and Jordan Lewis but regain Bernie Vince from suspension.
Key forward Tim Smith will play his first AFL game and Dean Kent is in for his first game of the season.
Melbourne will need to find a way to effectively counter the vaunted midfield double act of Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood if they’re to get off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2005.
“I think they complement each other very well and if you focus on one the other gets away,” Mathews said.
“So we’ll take a team approach on both of them.
“We’ve added some more midfield depth this year … and it’s going to be a big challenge for our whole midfield rather than just specific players who might line up on them at a stoppage.”
Geelong midfielders Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie come in for their first games of the season, while elevated rookie James Parsons will debut.