21/04/2024

Melbourne players huddle before their game against Fremantle in Round 20 (Photo: Melbourne FC/Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

In the early stages of 2022, Melbourne looked to still be the powerhouse of the competition. While it looked like it was making a beeline for a second consecutive premiership, it didn’t end up panning out this way at all.

The Demons started the season with 10 wins and zero losses, looking as strong as they had left off in the previous year. Things quickly unravelled when the suffered successive losses to the Dockers, Swans, and Magpies, which brought them to 10-3.

While they did rediscover some confidence late in the season, September did not go as they would’ve hoped and the season ended in disappointing fashion with the side being knocked out with two consecutive finals losses.

Finishing position: Second (16 wins, six losses – semi-final)

What worked?

Perhaps the strongest area of the Demons’ game in their 2021 premiership season, their backline was once again very impressive throughout most of 2022. Full-back Steven May was the standout, carrying his 2021 form straight into this season and claiming a second consecutive All-Australian blazer.

As a team, the Demons conceded the lowest total points out of any team in the competition. With an average of just 67.4 points scored against them per game, they were as strong as ever. Much of this was due to the consistency on that line which they carried into 2022 from their Grand Final win.

Jake Lever and Harrison Petty both had strong seasons once again, but they looked to be unsettled by an injury interrupted season from former All-Australian half-back Christian Salem.

However, the early season defensive form of Angus Brayshaw, as well as the efforts of Jayden Hunt and Jake Bowey, allowed the Demons’ backline to remain as competitive as they possibly could.

Obviously, this form did not exactly carry over into their finals games, with the Demons heading out in straight sets.

The evidence we have from the home and away season itself suggests that they still have arguably the strongest backline in the competition, and they would be hoping that their form can return heading into 2023.

What didn’t?

It seems odd considering they were easily the most difficult team to beat last year, but the Demons’ inability to hold leads and close out games by maintaining scoreboard impact cost them in the end. This was particularly notable in those two finals games against the Swans and Lions.

Ultimately, this was their undoing, and they were sent out much quicker than they thought they would have been after finishing second on the ladder.

The situation was similar in both games. The Demons started well and got away to a quick lead, but as the game went on they failed to hold the opposition back, and also struggled to match them at the other end.

The same thing can be said about their losses to the Fremantle, Sydney, the Western Bulldogs, and both of their losses to Collingwood during the year.

In each of these five losses from the home and away season, Melbourne was in the lead at half time before falling away in the second quarter.

The Demons seemed to really struggle to sustain a four quarter attacking effort at many important times this year, and frustratingly so considering how dominant they have been in other games.

Breakout stars:

Given their 2021 premiership success, it was difficult for any players to break into the side and announce themselves for season 2022.

However, premiership youngsters who broke onto the scene last year such as the aforementioned Petty and Bowey, as well as Charlie Spargo, Kysaiah Pickett, Tom Sparrow, and James Jordon either matched their form from last year or improved upon it.

Sparrow in particular spent much more time in the middle, gaining some really solid experience from their star midfielders. Meanwhile Spargo and Pickett were impressive up forward, and will continue to shine in the years to come, provided neither leave the club prematurely.

Harrison Petty has also become the perfect partner for Steven May, allowing Jake Lever to continue playing that loose role that he has become well known for in defence. Bowey and Jordon built on their solid debut seasons at the club by playing consistent football in their second year.

As the top end of their group ages, the Demons would hope that more players can break through and make a name for themselves.

In the meantime though, they have some solid young players in the team that are maintaining their form and building on the experience they gained from the club’s premiership run last season.

More AFL Season Reviews:

AFL 2022 Season Review: Collingwood Magpies

AFL 2022 Season Review: Fremantle Dockers

AFL 2022 Season Review: Brisbane Lions

Highest point:

After a topsy-turvy two months of football which saw them lose multiple games against fellow contenders, the Demons needed to come out and make a statement to put their season back on track.

They travelled to Optus Stadium and faced Fremantle, who had made light work of Melbourne at the MCG just nine rounds earlier, defeating them by 38 points.

Many fans expected a similar result over in the west, however the Dees came out firing and controlled the contest from the very first bounce, and cruised to a 46-point victory.

Clayton Oliver was held well, but this allowed Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, and Angus Brayshaw to run rampant in the midfield. Each player had over 28 disposals and six tackles for the game.

Meanwhile, Pickett and Bayley Fritsch were influential in front of the big sticks, combining to surpass Fremantle’s total for the evening by bagging three goals each.

The win allowed the Demons to regain some confidence after a rough few weeks. The Dockers were a team that many were touting as a potential dark horse in finals, and the Demons strengthened their contender status by dispatching of them in the way they did, especially given it was in Perth.

Lowest point:

Melbourne fans would have entered the 2022 season with high expectations after the team’s triumph in 2021. Much in the same way, the Demons entered finals this year riding high after demolishing the Brisbane Lions by 58 points in Round 23 to foster some hugely important momentum heading into September.

Not all hope was lost after losing to Sydney in the first qualifying final, but it was a sad state of affairs for Demons fans when their team went out in straight sets. They lost by 13 points to the same Lions team that they had absolutely pieced apart three weeks earlier.

Despite starting well and leading by 22 points at the main change, the Demons were badly exposed in the second half, conceded 11 goals and only managing to put five more on the board in response. They couldn’t compete with the Lions and it was evident with how the game panned out.

It was easily the lowest point of 2022 for the club, due to the stark contrast between their best form and the way they played in that final at the MCG, a stadium where the Lions had only won one of their previous 15 encounters.

Where to next?

The Demons should trust that the players at the club still have what it takes to bring home another premiership cup.

The additions of Brodie Grundy, Lachie Hunter, and Josh Schache bring even more finals experience to the side. The aim is that these players will help them perform better as a side in those crunch time moments.

Most of their premiership players are improving well or currently hitting their prime, and Demons fans should expect them to brush off the disappointment of the recent finals series, and give the premiership cup another shot.

Their core group of superstars are still perhaps the best from any team in the competition. Captain Max Gawn, along with Oliver, Petracca, May, Lever, Viney, Brayshaw, and now former All-Australian Grundy and premiership player Hunter as well, are a brilliant group of players.

With a strong supporting cast of premiership players around them, their window should still be well and truly open. As long as they can shore up a few areas of their game that went wayward at the back end of 2022, they will be right in the mix for next season and beyond.

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