ASSISTANT coach Craig Jennings says “about 28” players are in contention to play in Melbourne’s season-opener against Geelong Cats at the MCG on Sunday.

Jennings, the club’s strategy and education coordinator, said the red and blue’s round one squad, which will be named on Thursday night and finalised on Friday night, would be challenging to select for the match committee.   

“It’s going to be one of the hardest match committees in memory – and certainly the hardest one I’ve been involved with at Melbourne. I can’t even remember that happening in the 20 years I’ve been coaching at AFL level, so it’s pretty exciting,” he told Melbourne Media.

“That’s a really great reflection that players are buying in to what’s required and the training standards. There are a lot of players in really good form. The players that miss out, I hope they’re disappointed and they’ll put some good form in the VFL, and keep the AFL boys on their toes to hold their spot – that’s what you need to be a good team: pressure on selection. We’ve already got that at round one, so it’s a good sign early.

“We’ll wait on reports from the medical team and the high-performance team, but there will be about 28 names on the board, at this stage. There are about half-a-dozen players who are genuinely in the hunt for a game this week that will miss out.”

Jennings said the Demons had produced a strong summer and they were ready to get the season cracking. 

“We feel like we’ve had a great pre-season, a really good camp at Maroochydore, then we had the AFLX series and then the JLT Community Series. We’re really pleased with how the boys applied themselves in those series, and we had two wins in the JLT Series,” he said.

“We didn’t do a lot strategy wise in JLT, because what you want to see is conditioning out of the players. You want to see them attack the ball and build their form across the eight quarters of footy you play – and we saw that. In the second game, it was great that we got tested. They responded well and kicked away to win the game, and that gives us a lot of confidence going into round one.

“We feel like we’ve ticked all the boxes along the way – and it’s been a long and gruelling pre-season, it’s been well thought through and well-planned. A lot of strategy has gone into updating our game style, and now we want the affirmation, which is how we roll out on Sunday and put it into practice.”

With much talk centred around the midfield battle, Jennings said the Demons would use a host of options through the middle against the Cats.

“Everyone’s interested in [Geelong trio] Gary Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood in the midfield, and for us, we’ve got about 10 to 12 players that we’ll rotate through there,” he said.

“They’ll all have responsibility, because in the past [Jack] Viney has done some good jobs on Selwood, and he won’t be there this time. Our expectation is that our 10 or 12 players are highly accountable. But more importantly, we want to play footy our way and on our terms. We’ll be really proactive, in terms of what we do in the midfield, and we’ll let them worry about us as well.

“I want to put our best midfield up against their best midfield, so we really want Ablett, Dangerfield and Selwood to play. But the reality of footy is that every team has injuries and the best 22 is the best 22 you put out there.”

Now in his third season at the club, Jennings said he had relished the opportunity to be part of the Demons. 

“I just feel really grateful for the opportunity that the footy club has given me, especially Goody (Simon Goodwin), as he got me across from Bulldogs, where I was feeling pretty settled – I haven’t looked back once,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve had a really strong 12 months in terms of my professional development. I had a great study tour to the United States, starting in LA and finishing in New York, and I spent some time with the Navy Seals, which was amazing. I had that phenomenal opportunity to coach the team in my own right in AFLX. What the boys put out there – I thought was fantastic. And along with Matthew Whelan and Nev Jetta, we’ve been involved in mentoring Indigenous coaches across the country, so they are three things that I can apply to the role that I’ve got, every minute of every day.

“It’s about being as creative as possible during the week, but as highly-detailed and strategic in the box on game day, supporting and sitting next to Goody.”