Demons move past young gun's AFL tribunal distraction
Melbourne teammates have urged Jacob van Rooyen to continue to attack marking contests despite the AFL tribunal saga that has dominated the build-up to their clash with Hawthorn.
Van Rooyen was charged with striking over a mistimed spoiling attempt on Gold Coast's Charlie Ballard in a case that Demons coach Simon Goodwin warned threatened to change the fabric of the game.
The 20-year-old key forward ultimately had his two-match suspension thrown out on appeal - much to his club's relief - and will line up in Saturday's encounter with the Hawks at the MCG.
"I don't want him to change because he's such a great player for us," Melbourne defender Jake Lever said.
"His ability to jump at the ball and mark the ball - like you've seen in his first five or six games - is pretty special.
"I love Jacob for who he is and the way that he plays."
Speaking before Thursday's appeal was won, Lever said van Rooyen had felt pressure from the drawn-out saga.
But the 2021 first-round draft pick also impressed teammates with his approach to work behind the scenes.
"To his credit, he absolutely trained the house down (on Wednesday)," Lever said.
"I walked off the field and thought we had Wayne Carey out there at one stage. He was phenomenal."
Lever said van Rooyen would be "ready to play" against Hawthorn.
"It is a lot of pressure for a 20-year-old kid but we'll help him because that's what good clubs do," Lever said.
"They stand around their people and we'll support him as best we can."
Melbourne and Hawthorn could hardly be further apart on the AFL spectrum as they enter Saturday's clash.
The Demons (6-2) sat second heading into round nine, boasting the league's second-best attack and fourth-best defence.
In stark contrast the last-placed Hawks (1-7) rank 18th in attack and 17th in defence.
But Sam Mitchell's side had shown some better signs before coughing up a league-high 117 points away to Fremantle last round.
"They've really improved the defensive side of their game and they've been able to win stoppage and clearance," Demons coach Goodwin said.
"If you take away their first four weeks, their last month has been pretty strong.
"They're a side that's developing, they're on the improve, they've tightened things up defensively and they (present) some challenges that we've got to work through."
Both sides will celebrate the careers of key defenders with Melbourne's Steven May (200 games) and Hawthorn's Sam Frost (150) reaching milestones.
Hawthorn have been bolstered by the return of veteran forward Luke Breust and dashing defender Changkuoth Jiath, but have lost Josh Ward (foot) and Tyler Brockman (suspension) amid five changes.
Premiership players Michael Hibberd (soreness) and Charlie Spargo (concussion) have been recalled by the Demons.