Melbourne will be staring at the prospect of equalling their worst AFL season record in more than three decades unless they can beat Gold Coast at the MCG on Sunday.
But first-year coach Mark Neeld maintains the year has still given the 16th-placed Demons hope for a brighter future.
Their clash with the Suns is the first in a three-round mini-series of matches that will most likely decide the wooden spoon.
The Suns and Greater Western Sydney, the only two sides below them, meet at Metricon Stadium next Saturday, with the Demons to face the Giants in Canberra a week later.
With the Demons on two wins – their most recent coming against GWS – their clashes with the bottom two sides offer by far their best chance to double that tally.
They will start rank underdogs in their other three matches, against finals aspirants St Kilda, Adelaide and Fremantle in Perth.
It means if they miss out against the Suns, the Demons are unlikely to manage more than three wins for the season, which would equal their 2008 mark as their worst performance since 1981.
On form, Gold Coast will provide a decent challenge, but Melbourne coach Mark Neeld said at least his young Demons would be facing a side of similar experience, something that has rarely happened this year.
“If we manage to field a side with more experience than the opposition, that’s only going to be for the second time for the year,” Neeld told reporters.
The first came when they beat the Giants.
“In terms of that it should be a really close tussle because in terms of those stats we match up fairly evenly.”
Neeld said the Demons’ side had averaged 65 games of experience per player this season.
He said there had been just three games across the entire competition so far this year in which a club fielding a side with less than 65 games of experience per player won.
“We’ve put a lot of faith in our young players in particular and they’re showing signs of improvement,” Neeld said.
The Suns have had a selection boost, with experienced midfielder Michael Rischitelli back from a knee injury.
Melbourne have lost Stefan Martin (foot), Neville Jetta (suspension) and Daniel Nicholson (jaw).