Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin has conceded the Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn experiment "hasn't quite been the success that we were hoping for" as questions linger in regard to Grundy's future midway through his first season as a Demon.
Grundy joined Melbourne via an eyebrow-raising trade call that saw the final five years of a seven-year deal signed at Collingwood handed over to the Demons as the two-time Copelan Trophy winner, and the Magpies went their separate ways.
The All-Australian would partner arguably the only other ruckman that has better his efforts over the past decade in Gawn, with onlookers keen to see how the duo would combine under Goodwin.
After 13 games together, the Demons pulled the pin on the duo, stating they weren't getting the benefit they thought they would've in the forward third of the field from both Grundy and Gawn.
Grundy has spent a majority of the past six weeks out of the senior side, earning a recall in Round 22 against Carlton before being dropped to the VFL last week.
Speaking to media on Thursday morning, Goodwin admitted the initial plan to deploy both ruckmen successfully hasn't paid off, but not all of the blame can be placed on Grundy's shoulders.
"In terms of the way (Grundy and Gawn) function in the team together from a forward half perspective, I think it's pretty clear that we acknowledge that it hasn't quite been the success that we were hoping for," the recently re-signed Goodwin said.
"That certainly hasn't been all on Brodie. We were hoping for Max to play a big time forward as well. Between the two of them we haven't quite had the impact that we would have liked throughout the year and we've had to look down a different path to how we structure the forward half of the ground.
"At this point that's impacted Brodie's ability to play on the team in the last five or six weeks. So I think from that perspective, we acknowledge that that part of it hasn't worked. There's certainly areas of the combination that has worked, and there's certainly areas of having them both on our list that has worked as well.
"We certainly haven't had a close book to what it might look like and potentially what the opportunities are moving forward."
Grundy has been flagged as a potential trade target for rival clubs to consider, given his place on the periphery of senior selection, with several clubs in need of a new ruckman likely tempted to open trade discussions with the Demons.
Goodwin said he sees Grundy as a Melbourne player for the next four years, however list calls "will be discussed at the end of the year".
"That's just not the space I'm in right now. I'm in the space of winning games of footy and building the best footy team possible," Goodwin said when asked if the club would be open to trading the 29-year-old.
"Those things will be discussed at the end of the year. Brodie, from my end, is a Melbourne player. We need him up and running and going well, and that's my total focus at the moment.
"I understand the exterior talk and the noise about it, but he's got four years to go as a Melbourne Football player and we certainly love having him at our footy club."
While unlikely to earn a reprieve, Grundy is in consideration to face Sydney on Sunday at the SCG as Melbourne look to potentially move as high as second on the ladder ahead of finals.
Goodwin's premiership pursuit will be buoyed by the return of electric forward Bayley Fritsch, who will play his first game this weekend since Round 16 after overcoming a foot injury.
The Demons will also have senior forward Tom McDonald in the mix after he made a return through the VFL in recent weeks, with the premiership tall booting three goals last weekend against Brisbane's reserves.
Goodwin said it was important the club has options to pick from heading in the business end of the year.
"He'll play. He's done a power work," Goodwin said of Fritsch. "He's gotta get through training today, but we're really confident that (he'll play).
"We feel like he's ready to go and he's an important player for us, so we'll get him in the team this week and look forward to seeing him at his best. He's a high-quality player that's really important for us.
"We've got some options now. It was great to see Tom McDonald playing some really strong footy last week. He's moving better than he's moved throughout the whole of the season.
"So that gives us a lot to think about in terms of how we're going to structure our forward end and also how it impacts the back half of the ground. We've got some decisions to make in that space.
"The pleasing thing at this part of the season is that you start to develop some options and that's something that we want. Obviously, without Harrison Petty being available, we need options at both ends of the ground."
Melbourne isn't concerned players will miss Round 24 due to illness despite a handful of players battling with a bug during the week.
The Demons will travel to the SCG on Sunday to face the Swans, who have also locked in their finals spot for 2023.