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Jones backs Salem to go to next level

Marc McGowan  November 9, 2017 9:46 AM

It's terrific to see a player of his skill and ability take control of their career and really drive themselves to make themselves better

MELBOURNE captain Nathan Jones is tipping skilful defender Christian Salem to be the still-hurting Demons' breakout star next season as they bid to end a 12-year finals drought.

Salem, 22, was part of the much-debated 2013 trade that saw Melbourne offload picks two (Josh Kelly), 20 and 72 to Greater Western Sydney for Dom Tyson and picks nine (Salem) and 53 (Jayden Hunt).

The Giants also effectively ended up with giant forward-ruck Rory Lobb in the deal.

Kelly's outstanding 2017 season, which was rewarded with All Australian selection, ensured the spotlight was shone back on the trade.

Making the swap more fascinating was the fact Kelly, Salem and Hunt were Brighton Grammar schoolmates.

Salem has dealt with constant injuries – ranging from troublesome hamstrings to a thyroid issue and even a brick landing on his head to inflict his latest concussion – and has not played more than 16 games in a season.

That match tally came this year, when the left-footer also amassed career highs in disposals (21.4), score involvements (4.5) and rebound 50s (3.8).

But Jones is confident Salem has even more to give after putting in "a mountain of work away from the footy club" since the season finished.

"He got some advice from dieticians and spent a lot of time one-on-one with a personal trainer, as well as completing the program set out by our fitness department, so he's in terrific shape," Jones told RSN927.

"It's terrific to see a player of his skill and ability take control of their career and really drive themselves to make themselves better."

Jones was also impressed to see young footballers such as Oscar McDonald, Mitch King and Josh Wagner return in "really elite condition" as pre-season officially began this week.

The Demons made significant strides this year, but an all-too-familiar defeat in round 23 to Collingwood ultimately resulted in them missing the finals by 0.5 per cent.

They have since traded in Adelaide intercept specialist Jake Lever and young midfielder Harley Balic from Fremantle, as well as sending Jack Watts to Port Adelaide.

"I've reflected on (that Magpies loss) now and I see it as a great opportunity for us to continue to grow as a group, and hopefully it's something that inspires our players," Jones said.

"I know the drive amongst the players in reflection of that is showing in the early signs of pre-season and the preparation in terms of the work some of the guys have put in away from the footy club.

"Now they've come back and hopefully that continues with the older group as they filter back in and we can put together a really strong pre-season and that drives us for season 2018."