MELBOURNE midfielder Angus Brayshaw has declared himself on track to play in round one after emerging unscathed from Friday's practice game against North Melbourne.
Brayshaw started up forward but was more prominent once he moved into a more suited midfield role in the second half, eventually playing 76 per cent game time.
He also believes the Demons are fitter than this time last year, off the back of a dedicated program from new fitness guru Darren Burgess.
Melbourne won the low-key practice match at Arden Street, 7.13 (55) to 5.3 (33) – keeping the Roos scoreless in the third term – with neither club fielding many of their top-liners.
Toby Bedford was the sole multiple goalkicker with two, including a nice finish on the run in the fourth quarter that involved some neat work from Brayshaw in the build-up.
Demons pair Jake Melksham and Adam Tomlinson called it a day at half-time, while North's Jed Anderson and Tom Campbell made way in the second half for Ben McKay and Matt McGuinness.
Kangaroos defender Robbie Tarrant started on the bench in his return from foot surgery and played until three-quarter time but recruit Aiden Bonar left the game with hamstring tightness.
Brayshaw strained a ligament in his left elbow while trying to smother a teammate's kick at training in late January but was encouraged with his playing return.
"(My elbow) felt really good coming into the game," Brayshaw told reporters post-match.
"It's probably not 100 per cent but it's just at the point of the year where I felt I needed to get some game time in, and the physios and the docs felt like it wouldn't get any worse.
"It was a really physical game – North had a crack, and so did we – so it got plenty of chances to get tested out and it felt really good.
"I'll just build on this, and I'm out of rehab now, so a bit more contact in training and I should be right for round one."
Brayshaw hopes to play a full game against Hawthorn in Melbourne's second Marsh Community Series match at Launceston next Friday night.
Christian Petracca's likely increased time in the centre this season leaves some uncertainty with how the Demons will divvy up their midfield minutes.
Brayshaw will be among that mix but said the club's strength was its versatility.
"I've been training as an inside midfielder," he said.
"I think that's a strength of our team. 'Track' (Petracca) can play forward, 'Harmesy' (James Harmes) can play mid (and at half-back), Clayton (Oliver) can float forward.
"I think we've got a really diverse group – we can have multiple looks at it. I'm happy to play wherever, as long as I'm out there."
The scrappy and physical nature of the contest, on top of the missing talent, meant there weren't too many senior selection ramifications.
Ex-Bomber Mitch Brown had several chances to stamp himself on the match but finished with four behinds – most in the first half – but there was again plenty to like about Kozzy Pickett.
First-round draft pick Pickett (one goal) continues to firm for a round one debut, with his combination of goal sense and toughness already endearing him to teammates and coaches.
At one stage, after a late Tarrant spoil on Bayley Fritsch – another standout in his first pre-season hitout – Pickett physically remonstrated with the North Melbourne backman.
Melksham was a strong performer in the opening half, highlighted by a wonderful long-range goal after weaving through traffic, while James Jordon, Jay Lockhart and Oscar McDonald were solid.
Lachie Hosie kicked a goal for the Kangaroos as he eyes injured small forward Kayne Turner's spot for round one.
Like Tarrant, Aaron Hall and Dom Tyson returned to action and each had some decent moments, including the latter's classy pass to Hosie for his major.
Tristan Xerri performed well in the ruck and joined Curtis Taylor, draftee Charlie Comben, Paul Ahern and Hosie in kicking a goal.