AFL fans have thrown their support behind Melbourne's Adam Tomlinson after the Demons star was left shattered from a potentially season-ending injury against North Melbourne on Sunday.
The Demons triumphed 16.7 (103) to 11.7 (73) in Hobart, busting the game open with five consecutive third-quarter goals to ensure they remain the only undefeated side after seven rounds.
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But the club's depth will be tested after Tomlinson's setback, suffered innocuously as he corralled Tom Campbell early in the first quarter.
A tearful Tomlinson was quickly substituted off then consoled by teammates on the bench, with scans expected to confirm a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.
Confronting scenes picked up by cameras at the ground showed a distraught Tomlinson struggling to come to terms with the gravity of the injury.
Commentators were also discussing the impact the crushing blow the setback had on his teammates, who did their best to console the 27-year-old.
“You can see the impact it’s having on his teammates,” Jason Dunstall told Fox Footy.
“He’s putting on the brave face, out there encouraging at the (quarter-time) huddle, which is a brilliant thing to do ... they are all making a point of going over to him.”
However, it was the sight of the player reduced to tears on the Melbourne bench that viewers found particularly difficult to watch.
Scans are expected to confirm a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.
Harrison Petty and Tom McDonald loom as Melbourne's leading candidates to cover the void left by Tomlinson, whose suspected season-ending injury marred the 30-point win.
Injury forces Demons reshuffle
Demons coach Simon Goodwin is adamant the ladder leaders will adjust without the much-loved and much-improved defender, who has manned Tom Hawkins and Jack Riewoldt this season.
"He's shattered," Goodwin told reporters.
"It's really disappointing.
"He's done an incredible job to enable us to do the things we want to do.
"We'll have to restructure a bit ... Harrison Petty, who played a few weeks ago, is ready to play some really good AFL footy.
"Tom McDonald, we pushed him back (on Sunday) and he performed really strongly. We've got a couple of options."
Goodwin's team flirted with disaster against the winless, bottom-placed Kangaroos, trailing for the vast majority of a sluggish opening half after starting $1.01 favourites.
But Ben Brown booted two goals against his former team during a steady club debut for Melbourne, while Bayley Fritsch kicked a career-best six goals.
The Demons haven't started a season with so much promise since going 8-0 in 1965, leaving them perfectly placed to return to finals after last year's ninth-placed finish.
Former captain Jack Viney (toe) was a late scratching and will spend at least two weeks on the sidelines, while Fritsch's errant elbow to Tom Powell's head is likely to be scrutinised by the match review officer.
Brown and North defender Josh Walker finished the game with bloodied heads after a fourth-quarter collision, while Aiden Bonar (corked thigh) was substituted off in the second term.
The Kangaroos kicked the game's opening two goals then grabbed a 19-point lead at halftime before momentum shifted.
"That's AFL footy, you're not going to be at your best every week," Goodwin said.
"Every game is tough.
"I've got unwavering belief in our ability as a club and playing group to get better."
North only trailed by six points early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a goal from Ben Cunnington, but Melbourne's polish and pressure came to the fore.
The Kangaroos' search for their first win of the year continues against Collingwood in round eight, when the Demons host Sydney at the MCG.
"We play to win, that's the bottom line," North coach David Noble said.
"We are building consistency.
"We kicked the first goal of the last quarter ... we were right in the game."
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