Demons in illness scare ahead of AFL final

·3-min read

That recent history is repeating itself might be a good omen for Melbourne in their AFL premiership defence.

Geared up for a "completely different" AFL finals campaign in their home state, the Demons have hit a familiar snag with coach Simon Goodwin and defender Michael Hibberd forced into isolation this week.

Goodwin fell ill a week out from last year's grand final in Perth and was again kept away from his players on the eve of Friday night's qualifying final against Sydney after experiencing gastro-like symptoms.

Hibberd was another notable absentee from Thursday's light training session through illness and went through his preparation by himself.

But both men are expected to take on their usual roles against the Swans at the MCG and Melbourne have otherwise been building momentum on the run to September with three wins in their last four outings.

A 58-point mauling of fellow finalists Brisbane in round 23 put the competition on notice.

"This group's got the belief ... they understand what it takes to perform on the big stage and get the results," Demons assistant coach Troy Chaplin said.

"Clearly we started the year really well and had a little bit of a hiccup (mid-season), but what we've felt over the last six or seven weeks is we've started to build and play some good footy.

"There were some results that didn't go our way and you learn a lot in those games.

"(The players) understand what's required, especially for finals footy, and we're coming up against a team that's in some pretty red-hot form as well, so it's going to be a challenge."

Hibberd was named in Melbourne's team along with Christian Salem, who returns from a groin injury in place of Jake Bowey.

Luke Jackson (knee) was cleared to play after being substituted out of the last-start thumping of Brisbane, while Chaplin declared Christian Petracca "100 per cent fit" to play despite the star midfielder battling soreness in recent weeks.

Sydney are riding a seven-match winning streak and will go in unchanged, meaning superstar forward Lance Franklin will go toe-to-toe with All-Australian full-back Steven May.

The pair were absent when the Swans beat the Demons by 12 points in their most recent meeting, back in round 12.

Melbourne have been driven all season by the prospect of repeating last year's premiership success at home, having snared the title that ended a 57-year drought through finals wins on neutral turf in Perth and Adelaide.

Friday night's qualifying final marks the return of finals football to Victoria for the first time in three years after pandemic-related interruptions, with about 80,000 fans expected at the MCG.

"We can draw on the experiences of last year and playing finals football but it's completely different in Melbourne," Chaplin said.

"It's going to be a completely different feeling for our players and one that we spoke about in the off-season of putting ourselves in this position because our fans deserve it.

"They've been on this unbelievable journey with us and we want to repay the faith with them."

Field umpire Matt Stevic will become the first whistleblower to officiate 50 AFL finals when he takes charge of the Melbourne-Sydney clash.

Stevic has umpired 447 AFL games - the fourth most behind Shane McInerney (502), Hayden Kennedy (495) and Brett Rosebury (480).