Soaring Demons face AFL moment of truth

·3-min read

To be the AFL's best, you have to beat its best - and Melbourne's hour of reckoning has come.

One of only two remaining unbeaten teams this season, along with the ladder-leading Western Bulldogs, the Demons have risen to every challenge through five rounds.

But they face by far the sternest test of their credentials to date when they take on reigning premiers Richmond in the Anzac Day eve blockbuster at the MCG.

History beckons for Melbourne, who have not won their opening six games of a season since an 8-0 start as the unrivalled VFL power club way back in 1965.

That run came just weeks before the sensational sacking of legendary coach Norm Smith - a move that was the genesis of a so-called "curse" on the club that is yet to be lifted.

The Demons have offered false hope under Simon Goodwin in recent seasons and questions remain over the legitimacy of their latest bid to end a 57-year flag drought.

However, three-time Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick has no doubts about Melbourne's status as serious challengers to his side's crown.

"We're playing a very, very good opponent this week," Hardwick said of a Demons outfit that ranks second for fewest points conceded this season.

"We're playing against a really good side who have improved in a lot of areas of their game, so it's going to be a challenge for us.

"There's a reason they're five and zip; they're playing an outstanding brand of footy that's really hard to beat.

"It's important, every game is important ... we'd love to have a win, there's no doubt about that."

Like his Melbourne side, explosive midfielder-forward Christian Petracca also faces a litmus test in a showdown with superstar Dustin Martin.

The pair won't directly cross paths too often, but are crucial to their respective teams' chances.

Petracca, who is widely regarded as one of the most likely heirs to AFL king Martin's throne, averages 28.4 disposals, 1.4 goals and 9.4 score involvements per game this season.

But the 25-year-old still lives in the shadow of Richmond's triple-premiership hero and renowned big-game player.

Planning for Martin has been a major focus for Melbourne during the build-up to Saturday night's contest, with Michael Hibberd a likely match-up when the Tiger's chief match-winner drifts forward.

"We'll have multiple plans for him in different areas of the ground depending on how we want to structure up," Dees coach Goodwin said.

"But certainly he's a player that will be highly respected. He's a class act and one that can win games of footy."

Martin reaches the 250-game milestone on Saturday night, while Melbourne veteran Nathan Jones becomes just the second player in his club's history to play 300 games, behind fellow former captain David Neitz.

The Demons have been bolstered by the return of Steven May (eye) and Bailey Fritsch (hand) from injury, but have opted against calling on key forwards Sam Weideman and Ben Brown after their impressive VFL performances.

Weideman was named as an emergency, while Richmond will go in unchanged.