CARLTON is set to be bolstered by the return of key forward Mitch McGovern for Sunday's clash with Brisbane at Ikon Park, with the club preparing to use its final Marsh Community Series outing as a full dress rehearsal for its round one blockbuster against Richmond.
McGovern trained with the main group on Thursday morning after an extended period on a modified program, with the high-flying target set to lead a host of Carlton inclusions following its disappointing 47-point loss to Fremantle in Mandurah last Saturday night.
The Blues, who are likely to be without fellow gun forwards Charlie Curnow (knee) and Harry McKay (groin) for their season-opener against the Tigers, kicked just five goals against the Dockers and looked lean on marking options with Levi Casboult leading the attack.
However, with McGovern expected to return to action on Sunday evening, the club is confident its developing forward line will function more fluidly against Brisbane.
"At this stage, (McGovern) looks like he'll be available to play," Carlton assistant coach Cameron Bruce said on Thursday.
"The high-performance staff have done an amazing job getting him up and ready. He's been getting a really good block of training in and we're excited about him performing well.
"Levi has been shouldering a fair bit of the responsibility from a key forward role over the pre-season, so to have some backup in a tall forward … we saw what Mitch is capable of when he gets a really good block of training in, as he did at the end of last season.
"He's such a smart player. Our forward line functions a lot better when he's in there. It'll be really important to get him out there and to get him to contribute."
The news is far less optimistic for McKay, who won't feature this weekend and now appears extremely unlikely to be available for the club's round one bout with Richmond.
The Blues will put their leading goalkicker through one final vigorous test a week out from the season-opener, but hopes are fading following a summer plagued by a groin injury.
"He's not right to play just yet," Bruce said.
"He's not far off. He's training with the main group, which is really exciting. He probably just doesn't have the amount required to play this weekend.
"We've still got an opportunity next Thursday for a practice game for any guys who miss this week, before the round one team is finalised.
"It's probably unlikely (that he plays round one). But he could make a remarkable jump."
Co-captain Patrick Cripps and veteran recruit Eddie Betts will feature against Brisbane, having missed the weekend's heavy defeat to Fremantle due to State of Origin duties.
Midfield stalwart Marc Murphy (managed) and defensive duo Caleb Marchbank (neck) and Lachie Plowman (soreness) should also play, with the club hopeful its final pre-season hitout will involve a team more reflective of its round one side than last weekend.
That outfit will also likely include promising defender Sam Petrevski-Seton, who has been sidelined recently due to a quad injury but is expected to return to action on Sunday.
"He's back and available to play this weekend," Bruce said.
"We'll see how he goes today and training, but he's got a really good training block under his belt now so he'll be available for selection.
"We'll weigh up where the team fits, what that looks like and how much game-time he can play as to whether he'll play in the ones or twos this week."