CLAYTON Oliver won't make his long-awaited return from a hamstring injury this weekend, but Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin thinks his star man is closing in his long-awaited return as the Demons ramp things up ahead of finals.
The Demons are confident their gun midfielder will face Carlton in round 22, six days after they take on North Melbourne in Hobart on Sunday.
They'd previously been reluctant to put a timeline on Oliver's return to action for the first time since round 10, but Goodwin is backing him in to complete his recovery and face the Blues.
"Clayton's progressing really well, we're really hopeful he'll be back next week," he said.
"He won't play this week, he's more than likely to be ready to go next week.
"He will train fully (on Thursday) and we think with everything being right he'll be ready to go next week, which is exciting for our footy club."
It would be a huge boost to a Melbourne side that's won four straight games and kicked 50 goals in the past three weeks, still a chance to earn a top-two finish with Port Adelaide and Brisbane faltering in recent times.
The Demons will again play without Brodie Grundy, backing in a forward-line mix and Max Gawn's solo rucking that's been clicking beautifully in their recent wins.
Makeshift forward Harrison Petty slotted six goals against Richmond last time out and Goodwin praised his combination with 20-year-old Jacob van Rooyen, suggesting they'd head further down that path before recalling Grundy.
"We liked how (the forward line) looked, and we've still got some training to get through this week, but at this stage (Grundy) won't be playing but anything's still possible," he said.
"We're one week into a different looking forward line, but we are liking how Brodie's progressing.
"The way Harrison played last week was outstanding and the combination of Jacob and Harrison together looked quite dynamic for us ahead of the ball."
Goodwin didn't think Gawn would require a rest in the lead-up to finals due to his extra ruck workload, suggesting his captain looked "bubbly" and "fresh".
Midfielder Tom Sparrow is also likely to return to the team this weekend, after missing time with a calf complaint.