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Opinion

Will the Swans be Melbourne’s greatest test this season?

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Roar Rookie
4th May, 2021
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They’ve proven themselves against Geelong and quite convincingly dismantled a battered Richmond side, but is Melbourne’s greatest test this season going to come against a limber Swans side?

Sitting nice and comfortably atop the AFL ladder, Melbourne are 7–0, playing some of their best competitive football in years and are showing signs of a young side that has matured and is ready to go deep into finals.

The Swans are not too dissimilar to the same Melbourne side that made their way into the preliminary final back in 2018, only to have their hopes cut short thanks to the eventual premiers in West Coast.

Sydney’s squad runs quite parallel to that Melbourne side, with a strong bunch of young and inexperienced players who are ready to compete at the highest level, genuine stars in their prime with Tom Papley and Isaac Heeney, and of course, a handful of veterans who bolster the attack in Franklin and Kennedy.

This Melbourne side has been on quite a journey since that prelim, being unable to replicate the form that that side had in the 2019 and 2020 seasons, almost bottoming out in the former and narrowly missing finals in the latter.

The Demons’ bounce back has been exceptional, though, making a strong statement in the opening rounds and following on with big wins at the G.

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This is a team that isn’t far off the side that lost to the Eagles back in 2018, with 11 of the 22 that lost against the Eagles playing against North Melbourne over the weekend — and a handful more still on the Melbourne list.

Melbourne have once again been able to show signs of a top-four contender with a brilliant and exciting attacking playing style that embraces the run and carry in Christian Petracca off exceptional ruck work from Max Gawn.

Max Gawn of the Demons celebrates a goal

Max Gawn (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

It’s inspiring to see a side re-engage like they have after a rough couple of years.

And it’s expected; this is a team that has needed time to nurture and grow their younger stars, while also adapting to the ever-changing nature of AFL.

It’s no lie that after their huge win against Richmond, the Dees became a serious contender, and while Richmond was never going to be an easy hurdle to overcome, this weekend’s match-up against Sydney may prove to be the tougher contest.

Sydney has ground out tough battles against Essendon, Brisbane and most recently, Geelong. And like Melbourne, they became a real talking point when they managed to defeat the benchmark of the competition back in Round 3.

Errol Gulden of the Swans celebrates after kicking a goal

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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That game will be one of the most important points of reference for the Swans leading into Saturday night’s clash at the G and should propel their confidence in being able to play a possession heavy game at the home of football.

Melbourne will be looking into this and will take note of Sydney’s favour for kicking and keeping a much more stop-start run of play than the usual AFL side.

Sydney will be looking to use the space at the MCG, similar to what they did to Richmond and control the play with a tactical build rather than burst plays.

Sydney registered almost 70 more kicks than the Tigers and 46 more marks, showing that they’re not afraid to back their skills in disposing the ball into marking territory.

For Melbourne, this game will be about the rebound and applying pressure on the ground at the right time.

Sydney are a skilled side, especially with a returning Buddy Franklin, but Melbourne’s focus will be around their inside 50 pressure.

Putting the heat on in the Swans back half will be necessary to allow the ball to spill over.

Gold Coast did this brilliantly in their win over the Swans, registering 21 tackles inside 50 and applying a load of pressure from the front.

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With players like Bayley Fritsch, Kysaiah Pickett and Jayden Hunt in great form, you can see the Dees being able to apply some serious squeeze defensively.

On the attack, the Demons are ranked number one for inside 50s, so there shouldn’t be an entry issue – it’ll be locking the ball in that’s the challenge.

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It’s the great test for Melbourne at the moment to continue their momentum against a side that is not too dissimilar to them on paper and has the same level of energy and youthful exuberance to take the game head-on with anyone.

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Sydney will be looking for another scalp, and what better one to take than that of the only undefeated side in the competition?

Both sides have star power, as well as a new generation of exciting young talent, and it sets itself up for the match of the round.

If Melbourne are to set themselves up for the next few weeks, it starts with a firm win over a team that shares a similar list and looks to be a side overflowing with promise in the next year or so.

Melbourne have made a strong claim as real premiership contenders over the past month, with Sportsbet even paying out those who placed their bets on them at the beginning of the season.

But Saturday night will be a real opportunity for this exciting football side to elevate and stamp their authority on a team that isn’t too far off the mark either.