Could a return to September action finally be happening for the Dees after a decade in the wilderness? Max Gawn hadn’t even started shaving the last time Melbourne played finals. Yes, it’s been a long time.
Dean Bailey worked okay for a while, then Geelong happened. Mark Neeld didn’t work out, because Mark Neeld happened. Paul ‘Never Say Never Again’ Roos cleverly sailed in to rescue the day and right the ship, which he appears to have done.
Roos brought in Simon Goodwin to enjoy the fruits of his labour, and Goodwin’s time starts now.
Roos is the godfather of any success Melbourne has. If they fail, Goodwin will take the fall. Well played, Roosy.
Last year, Melbourne occupied one of spots nine, ten or 11 after every round. They had their ups and downs, as developing sides are supposed to, but were in the main competitive. Their last two games, a very poor loss to Carlton and a 111-point thumping at Geelong, left a sour taste at the time but have been forgotten amid the optimism a new season brings.
Rest assured, these losses will be brought up again should the Dees falter out of the gates.
|B||Jayden Hunt||Oscar McDonald||Neville Jetta|
|HB||Bernie Vince||Tom McDonald||Michael Hibberd|
|C||Angus Brayshaw||Jack Viney||Jordan Lewis|
|HF||Christian Petracca||Jesse Hogan||Jack Watts|
|F||Dean Kent||Sam Weideman||Jeff Garlett|
|Foll||Max Gawn||Dom Tyson||Nathan Jones|
|Int||Clayton Oliver||Christian Salem||James Harmes||Cam Pederson|
Emergencies: Tom Bugg, Jake Melksham, Sam Frost
First thing to note is that Melbourne are starting to develop some decent depth.
Players not in the best 22 like Tom Bugg, Sam Frost, Billy Stretch, Ben Kennedy, Josh Wagner and Aaron Vandenberg all played between 14-18 games at senior level in 2016. All are handy types who would be in the starting line-ups of lesser sides. You need these sort of players missing out when you’re looking to rise up the ladder.
The midfield is where Melbourne looks strongest, with Max Gawn the dominant ruckman in the competition. It’s not just his ruckwork, which can be beautiful to watch, but he enjoys being a presence at ground level and in the air, laying a crunching tackle or taking a strong grab.
Nathan Jones and Jack Viney are both cut from the same cloth, and bleed red and blue. Making them co-captains seemed unnecessary, and a little slap in the face to Jones, but titles are just words. Both will ensure their actions continue to brook no question.
Jordan Lewis has joined the club on a three-year deal, no doubt seduced by the manhandling his Hawks received at the hands of the Demons in Round 20 last year. I wonder if he spies a sneaky chance at flag number five for his personal collection.
Should Lewis have been given a three-year deal at this stage of his career? Purely as a player, probably not. But as a player and pseudo assistant coach, then it feels more justified.
Dom Tyson has found his level in a strong supporting role. He does everything well but nothing exceptionally. Clayton Oliver thrives on the contest, backing his sure hands and sharp vision to get the job done. He’s from the ‘take the hit first, ask the questions later’ school.
Angus Brayshaw had the second year blues piled on him through concussion and injury. Hopefully his confidence hasn’t been dented because he brings something different and a bit special to the table. He looked a rolled gold 200 gamer from early on in 2015, and hopefully we see him get a crack at it.
Christian Petracca has the Melbourne fan-base frothing, which wasn’t diminished when he peeled off four goals among 19 touches against Carlton in week two of the JLT Series. It’s been a long time since the Dees had such a primal talent ready to explode.
He plays with an arrogance that sometimes blows up in his face, but you love seeing a youngster with that sort of confidence, and for a club that has been downtrodden for so long, he brings a welcome dose of attitude.
Jesse Hogan will lead the forward-line once more, and should do for a long time to come. He set such a high base for himself in 2015, his debut season, that he was almost seen as slightly disappointing last year, even though his numbers and impact improved across the board. He may not have exponential growth in him, but he will still get better.
Sam Weideman should be given more opportunities than the few he received last year, when he looked the part in patches. Consistency can’t be expected of him just yet, and he will spend some time in the VFL to further his game.
Jack Watts is never far away from the news, and has had an indifferent pre-season, but is surely required as a supporting forward tall. His 2016 breakout had been a long time coming, so it would be disappointing to see him regress.
Jeff Garlett has gone one up, one down, across the years, so is due for a good season nipping at heels in his forward pocket after not being as effective in 2016. Dean Kent has pace and skill, but also what appears to be degenerative back issues. Ben Kennedy is waiting in the wings as a handy replacement.
Christian Salem will be used wherever he might be needed. That might be covering for an injury at half-back, or with freedom through the middle pushing forward. He’s one of the best kicks on the list, which gives him a point of difference in a midfield this is still more high on grunt than class. We haven’t seen the best of him yet either.
The McDonald brothers, Tom and Oscar, will hold down the key posts. Tom still frustrates with the odd shank, but is hard to beat and provides great run. Oscar came on in leaps and bounds late last season. He has the height and mobility, and the size he needs is coming.
Jayden Hunt catches the eye whenever he takes off from the back half, which is often. He uses his pace first, and makes decisions on the run; usually good ones at that. Neville Jetta is the lock-down pocket. Michael Hibberd will be required to chop off opposition forays and rebound with authority. He’s a good player but not a great one.
Bernie Vince is sort of player where the things he does well are taken for granted, but is prone to errors that are a player of his experience shouldn’t be making. Those moments are what stick with and frustrate Melbourne fans. He’ll provide surety across half-back for the most part.
Melbourne has a question mark over their ruck support. Does Jake Spencer play, as he has been doing across pre-season, with Gawn spending more time forward? Cam Pederson is the most flexible of the back-up talls, and should have the front-running in some minds. Sam Frost is more limited but also capable and improving.
A horses-for-courses policy may be adopted across this trio, with the form of Weideman and Watts thrown into the mix too. We should see several combinations involving these five players, depending on opposition make-up and team balance.
Game-plans are one of the most overrated facets of modern football. Like most teams, the Demons have been at their best in recent seasons when delivering intensity and run, with the rest flowing from there, but, also like most teams, the gap between their best and worst efforts is far too great.
If Melbourne can deliver on the simple intangibles, they have the talent and style to get back on the finals stage. In two years, preliminary finals should be aimed at and reached, but they need to walk before they can run.
Get the basis right. The rest will follow. This group is too good for it not too.
Predicted ladder spread: 5th-8th
Predicted finish: 6th
Best and fairest: Max Gawn
Leading goalkicker: Jesse Hogan
All-Australian potential: Max Gawn, Tom McDonald, Jack Viney
Rising Star candidates: Sam Weideman
6th – Melbourne
7th – Adelaide
8th – St Kilda
9th – Hawthorn
10th – Richmond
11th – Collingwood
12th – Gold Coast
13th – Port Adelaide
14th – Fremantle
15th – Essendon
16th – North Melbourne
17th – Carlton
18th – Brisbane