Melbourne can seal their first AFL finals berth since 2006 with a win over Collingwood, but the Demons dare not look beyond Saturday’s clash with the Pies.
Melbourne, who enter round 23 in seventh spot, can still lose to Collingwood and make the top eight, but it would make for a nervous Sunday for Simon Goodwin’s men.
Essendon (eighth) host Fremantle and ninth-placed West Coast take on ladder-leaders Adelaide and could knock the Demons out of the eight if they both win and overtake them on percentage.
Goodwin has steadfastly refused to discuss his side’s finals destiny, perhaps partly out of fear a lack of focus against Collingwood will help that doomsday scenario unfold.
“It’s always hard to know exactly what’s going through the players’ heads in relation to (thoughts of the finals),” assistant coach Jade Rawlings told AAP.
“But I think our coach has done a great job of being able to keep the direction to our players pretty strong that it matters where we are after round 23.
“It’s been the same line internally, we’d be foolish not to know what’s on the line for us if we can get the job done, but we do have a pretty narrow focus.”
Rawlings said the Demons are wary of the 13th-placed Pies, who have played excellent footy at times this season and will be looking to finish strongly in what could be embattled coach Nathan Buckley’s last game in charge.
Jack Watts and Christian Salem returned to the side for the MCG clash after spells in the VFL.
Co-captain Jack Viney missed last weekend’s tight win over Brisbane and won’t feature against Collingwood as he continues to battle a foot injury.
“Jack is irreplaceable but we keep asking more of the players in that part of the ground,” Rawlings said.
“There have been various times when we haven’t had leaders or influential players available, but we’ve found ways to combat that.
“We lose a bit out of Jack not being there but it’s been pleasing that others have been able to fill the void.”
Collingwood were strengthened with the return of Brodie Grundy from a two-week suspension and also regained Tyson Goldsack after he missed last week’s loss to Geelong.
But the Pies suffered a blow on Friday when important swing man Ben Reid withdrew with soreness.
However his departure allowed exciting forward Kayle Kirby to make his AFL debut.