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Melbourne will beat West Coast, and this is why

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Expert
17th September, 2018
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Of all the teams left in the finals, the last one West Coast would like to host is Melbourne, yet that is what they are faced with this weekend.

The Demons have beaten the Eagles the last two times these sides have met in Perth, with the previous occasion a one-goal win to West Coast.

Travelling across the Nullarbor holds no fears for Melbourne under Simon Goodwin.

When these two sides met at Optus Stadium in Round 22, a convincing win to the Dees was the result.

It was significant at the time, because it was the first top-eight side they had beaten all year, which was a monkey off the back that had grown to a gorilla after narrow losses to Geelong in Round 18 and Sydney in Round 21 – both games they should have won comfortably after dominating most facets. Freezing in front of goals was a culprit in both games.

It was the win that sparked the Melbourne surge, leading them all the way to a preliminary final, with the promise of more to come. In fact, they haven’t lost since, and have knocked off Greater Western Sydney, Geelong and Hawthorn in the meantime. It will be happy memories all around when their flight lands in Perth.

The manner of the Demons’ victory in that Round 22 match is even more important that the belief and confidence it inspired. This was a match played on their terms, and they won the way they wanted to.

Melbourne won the contested possession count by 22 that day, and the clearances by 14. This is not new for the Demons because winning the ball at the coalface is what they do.

Ruckmen are, as a rule, overrated, particularly for what they do with hit outs. Even hit-outs to advantage is a misleading stat. There are so many factors at play in winning a clean exit from stoppages, that a palmed hit out onto a teammates chest is arguably the least of them.

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Max Gawn

Max Gawn of the Demons in action. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

But Melbourne are the one team that West Coast will miss Nic Naitanui against. If we’re being truthful, they’re probably the only team. Yet this is the one they’re faced with in a preliminary final.

What the Demons were able to do as a result of winning contested possession and clearances, was convert this into scoring opportunities, which they took.

The Dees marked the ball 19 times inside 50 against West Coast, which is the equal most of any side against them this year. They also had 28 scoring shots, again the equal most against the Eagles in 2018.

They also scored 108 points in that game, one of only two teams to top the 100 mark against West Coast this season. Sydney in Round 1 was the other, when Lance Franklin kicked eight goals.

This tells us that Melbourne’s weight of numbers around the contest, and their multi-faceted forward-line which always has space and many options on the lead, causes West Coast problems. The Eagles defence, like most teams, likes to keep themselves condensed toward the centre, so their elite intercept players can hand off and cover for each other.

Jake Melksham took five marks inside 50 in Round 22, Mitch Hannan took four, Tom McDonald three and Sam Weideman two. Apart from Hannan, all of the other three have been running hot in the finals. Adam Simpson and team will want to have done their homework on how to prevent them running amok again.

Much was made of the absence of Josh Kennedy and (effectively) Jack Darling against Melbourne when they last met, but none of the aforementioned problems will be healed by the return of these two.

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If the Demons win the ball in the contest, as they have done in the finals (average differentials of positive 16.5 contested possessions and positive nine clearances), then they have the ball movement and personnel to break apart and expose the Eagles’ defence.

Melbourne are hard, fit and hungry. They have belief, confidence and a brand of football built for finals. They have the game to breakdown their opposition, and no fear of the venue.

And they’ll make their first grand final since 2000.