Angus Brayshaw's emergence as an elite defender has given Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin an AFL selection headache as he prepares to reintegrate a key pair next month.
The Demons sit a game clear on top of the ladder despite the ongoing absence of premiership stars Christian Salem (knee) and Michael Hibberd (calf).
And the flag favourites' 9-0 start to 2022 is due in no small part to Brayshaw's move to half-back after last year's outstanding form on a wing.
The versatile team-man also finished third in the 2018 Brownlow Medal as an inside midfielder.
Brayshaw's contributions to the competition's tightest defence, coupled with James Jordon's impressive displays on a wing this year, will create a squeeze when Hibberd and Salem return to the mix next month.
"Any time you've got guys out it gives you opportunities to look at players in different roles and get some more information about your team," Goodwin said.
"The information we've got about Angus Brayshaw in this period is that he's an elite half-back flanker and the way that he can impact the game is significant.
"With these guys coming back in it will tighten up the competition for spots.
"But one thing we know is that Angus is playing some great footy and we're probably going to be hesitant to move him at this point."
Melbourne's VFL affiliate Casey have a bye this week and Salem is at least one week away from returning at any level after undergoing surgery in March to repair chipped cartilage in his knee.
Hibberd is yet to play a game this season but is eyeing a return with Casey next week after multiple calf muscle setbacks.
"Initially it wasn't too (bad) and then he re-strained it for a second time, so we took a longer period to rehabilitate one of his calves," Goodwin said.
"Then right as he was about to return to play VFL footy he got a little slight strain on his other calf.
"It has been a bit of an ongoing thing for the last 10 or 12 weeks, which has been disappointing for Michael because he has been really close a couple of times.
"But it's given us a little bit more time to put some real strength and fitness work into him."
Goodwin said James Harmes will spend two or three weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury sustained during the round-nine thumping of West Coast.
Melbourne, who have rebranded as the Narrm Football Club for Sir Doug Nicholls Round, take on North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Saturday.
Australian Associated Press
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