23/05/2024

Jack Viney will make his return for Melbourne on Saturday night after a two month absence due to injury. (Picture: @melbournefc/Twitter)

Star Demons midfielder Jack Viney returns this week, as coach Simon Goodwin weighs up how to best counteract a potent Essendon offence.

Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin today confirmed that star ball-winner Jack Viney will make his return against Essendon on Saturday night.

Viney has been sidelined since round six’s win over Richmond with a persistent toe issue. It was initially slated as a two-week issue, but the injury-prone midfielder suffered multiple setbacks.

He’s enjoyed a good run at senior level since 2019, playing 42 of a possible 45 games since the start of that season before being struck down with the injury.

Goodwin believes that the medical and fitness staff have ticked off all the necessary boxes to ensure Viney is as ready as possible for a return.

“We’ve worked really closely with Jack to make sure his body’s in really good shape, we’ve gotten the right amount of load into him,” Goodwin said.

“He trained exceptionally well on Saturday… he brings something to our group and to our team that I think all teams would love to have.

“He brings a spirit and a character through his toughness around the footy. We’re looking forward to getting him back in, we’ve missed him.”

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While he brings leadership and contested ball winning back to the side, Goodwin says Viney’s value in the side is more than that.

He stresses that the toughness and grit that he adds in the middle of the ground is key to helping the forward and backlines structurally.

Going down in an upset victory to Collingwood before the bye, Melbourne lost both the clearance (24-34) and contested possession (125-126) counts. It also gave up 18 marks inside 50 and the second highest opposition score for the season against what is usually an impenetrable back six.

“The things that we really value, Jack brings in spades,” Goodwin explained.

“He brings a real hardness and competitiveness to our playing group, and a toughness around the footy that’s really important to the way we defend.

“If you give teams time and space they can do whatever they want with the ball. Teams are going to look at us differently and try and find ways to play against us, just like we do against every opposition we play.

“Right across the board from the Collingwood game, we just needed to defend to a way higher level, especially in that forward half of the ground and through the middle of the ground.”

Selection pressure and defending Essendon

While it might be easy for a top of the table side to rest on its laurels coming into the second half of the season, Goodwin has used the bye to take the time to reflect on what makes for the most balanced side.

Selection pressure is mounting, he says, with a wide range players putting their hands up at training to fight their way back into the team.

From grizzled veterans to fringe players to exciting rookies, Goodwin is liking what he sees from the boys who don’t play each week.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are actually pressing for selection: [Nathan] Jones, [Aaron] vandenBerg, [Neville] Jetta, [Jake] Melksham, Ben Brown, Mitch Brown,” he said.

“I think that’s healthy that we’ve got a range of guys that we can bring in.

“There’s a real hunger about [the players]. I think they sense the opportunity of what’s in front of them, to continue to build and improve their game.

“We don’t give anyone guarantees to play. What we’ll do is pick the best team available and the best team in form, no matter who the name is.

“You’ve got to fit the team and you’ve got to be in form and you’ve got to be ready to go. I think competition for spots is really healthy, and we’ll continue to find what the best mix is.”

As the Queen’s Birthday match showed, the Demons backline isn’t infallible.

Steven May has been elite as a one-on-one defender, an intercept marker, and sets up play from the back 50. He’s rated as elite for rebound 50s and metres gained, above average for intercept marks and spoils, and only loses 19% of his one-one-one contests.

Jake Lever has been supporting him brilliantly, ranked elite for intercept possessions and intercept marks, while Christian Salem is one of the strongest rebounders in the competition.

They boast the number one defence in the AFL, giving up just 66 points per game. In games they win, this goes down to just 63 points.

However, Essendon is the second best offensive side in the competition, despite sitting outside of the top eight. The Bombers average an impressive 93 points a game, just behind the Bulldogs’ 97 per game.

“They’re [Essendon] in really good form,” Goodwin said.

“They’re playing some really outstanding footy, in a whole range of different areas. Our ability to defend in front of the ball and also through the middle gives our backs a chance to do what they need to do behind the ball.

“It’s going to be a really important part of the game, how we defend.

“They’re a very potent offensive team, and we need to make sure that defensively we’re at our best. It’s one of those games, defence vs offence, and we’ll see who comes out on top.”

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