Melbourne finished the 2020 season with a nine win and eight loss record – plus a healthy percentage – to fall short of a finals berth in the last round.
This was largely due to the club being unable to beat more than two of the top eight sides and losing games to lesser teams that they ought to have won.
Retirements of former Gold Coast pair, Harley Bennell and Kade Kolodjashnij, plus a handful of delistings and two trades saw the Dees have the smallest player turnover outside of the Grand Finalists and end up with the equal smallest list.
The Demons were very quiet in the first trade period, just doing a pick trade with the Lions that moved them up from 53 to 43 while exchanging a future third for a future fourth.
At the top of the second trade period, they traded their future second and fourth-round picks to Adelaide for picks 33 and 50, to suddenly give the club a presence in the 2020 draft order after having spent much of the capital during the 2019 trade period.
Having traded out three future picks, the club was able to get the Bulldogs’ 2021 third-rounder in exchange for Mitch Hannan, while GWS was willing to give up pick 31 for Braydon Preuss, further setting up the Dees for an assault of the draft.
Melbourne then found a willing partner in Sydney to move up from 31 and 43 for pick 25, which although it was not an even trade in terms of points, it benefitted both clubs by pushing the Demons up into the early second round and gave the Swans valuable Draft Value Index points with which to match their Academy prospects.
All this allowed the club to trade away a pair of second-round picks with a future fourth tied to the Lions for North Melbourne’s Ben Brown plus pick 28 and their future fourth-rounder, which ultimately priced the 2019 Coleman runner-up at around the same value as an early second-round pick.
Melbourne and Brisbane then pulled off the most speculative pick of 2020 with a huge pendulum of potential trade disaster for either club, although if both teams finish around the same mark as this year the trade will have benefitted both. The risk for the Dees is that the Lions finish high while they finish low, while the same applies the other way.
To break the pick down, the Demons parted with picks 25, 68 and 69 (worth 764 DVI points) plus their future first-round pick, while receiving picks 18 and 19 (1923 DVI points) and a future second-round pick.
In short, Melbourne thinks the gamble will pay off because they are betting on themselves finishing in the finals, while Brisbane are confident they can extract value by finishing highly again and hope their trade partners tumble back down the ladder to give them a cheap top 10 pick in the 2021 draft.
Come draft night and Melbourne’s picks blew out three places by early bids on matched players, but as Richmond came on the clock they traded out with Geelong, who wasted little time in getting Max Holmes and frustrating the Dees’ ambitions.
Therefore, Sandringham Dragons firecracker Jake Bowey had to wait until almost two hours had passed before hearing his name called out, and with the very next pick, the Dees picked Oakleigh Charger, Bailey Laurie, with both players projected at around those picks.
Fraser Rosman, who was a teammate of Bowey’s at Sandringham, came up pick 34, which was probably a whole round above where experts predict he would go, finishing the draft altogether for the Demons.
Brown coming into Melbourne’s forward line with games going back to full length and new rules creating more space for midfielders sending the ball inside 50 should be making Dees fans very excited, yet after a year of misfiring tall forwards it is impossible to predict what might happen.
Bowey is a small forward among the smallest players to be drafted in 2020, yet he isn’t even the smallest on Melbourne’s list, so while he may not play from Round 1, he will be earmarked to develop as a player to unleash in order to acclimatise him to the pace of AFL level.
Laurie earned a call-up as 23rd man in the Oakleigh Chargers Grand Final winning side as a bottom-ager, despite competing for inside midfield time with last year’s overall first and second picks as well as this year’s third overall pick, so with some actual playing time he’s an exciting addition to a young midfield that is still establishing itself.
Rosman may consider himself fortunate to have been picked earlier than what was predicted for him, but in terms of athleticism he’s already elite and with some added strength and size could break into the senior team, especially with some existing forwards earmarked for a transition to defence.
While it may seem uncharitable to label Melbourne “draft dodgers” when they have attacked the trade period in order to get into the top half of this year’s draft and pay forward some late picks to 2021 having traded out all of their original future picks, trading future first-rounders in successive years is an aggressive tactic with potential for disaster.
In 2019, Melbourne made a risky trade with North Melbourne for pick 8, which they were able to mitigate by trading back to pick 10 and getting some value back while still drafting the player they’d sacrificed their future first-rounder for in Kysaiah Pickett.
Time will tell if the Demons have gotten fair value out of this trade because three players outside the top 20 when they might have taken five players in the second and third rounds.
Yet the question everyone will be asking about Melbourne’s big trade is whether Ben Brown can kick bags of goals or perhaps the big vegan hope has run out of beans?
But what others are asking is whether the Demons really just four new forwards away from competing in finals.