AFL Mid-Season Review: Melbourne

Max Gawn leads his side out in 2021. Photo: Melbourne Demons FC

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, Melbourne.

Snapshot:

The Dees have gone from strength to strength so far in 2021, surprising many by shooting to the top of the ladder at the halfway mark of the year. Opening wins against Fremantle, St Kilda, and GWS set the tone for the first few months of footy, while a landmark win against Geelong in round four established their finals credentials.

Many have been waiting for Melbourne’s young list to reach its potential and make for another finals tilt after their 2018 run, which was cut short by West Coast in a one-sided preliminary final. With 2019 and 2020 being disappointments, the Demons used their next month of football to show they were the real deal for a premiership run.

The highlight came on Anzac Day Eve, where Melbourne upset the AFL world with a stunning 34-point win over Richmond. Quickly followed up by another three wins on the trot, the Demons finally dropped their first game for the year when they surrendered to Adelaide by a point in dramatic circumstances. With Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver both in Brownlow Medal contention through the midfield, further wins against the Bulldogs and Brisbane proved their worth going into the bye, despite a late loss to the emotion-filled Pies on Queens’ Birthday.

Clayton Oliver has been in great touch for the Dees (Photo – AFL)

What’s Worked:

A better question may be what hasn’t?

An obvious candidate for a part of Melbourne’s game that has come alive is their forward-line dynamic, which has been motivated by insane forward pressure. Young livewire Kysaiah Pickett has emerged as both an elite small forward and a superb pressure player, his pace lighting up Melbourne’s forward line and creating handfuls of goals.

Tom McDonald’s renaissance up forward has provided plenty of depth in their tall stocks, as either Sam Weideman or Ben Brown have battled for the second tall forward spot in the side. With Bayley Fritsch also pulling out tricks often up forward, Melbourne has finally been able to pile on more scoreboard pressure.

Another big plus has been their defence, which is one of the more settled units in the competition. Seeing Jake Lever and Steven May working in tandem has resulted in the Dees intercepting at will – Lever is leading the league in intercept marks to date, while May sits at tenth. With Christian Salem and Michael Hibberd remaining solid, a variety of younger players have been able to fill out a nearly complete defence.

What Hasn’t:

There’s been no one part that has consistently failed Melbourne so far in 2021 – only little trends that have stuck out in their two losses.

With Ben Brown and Tom McDonald partnering up forward for the first few months of the season, Melbourne’s forward line was consistently punching out over 100 points per game in big wins. As the latter experienced a career turnaround, Brown was finding freedom at his new club.

But the swap of Brown for the in-form Sam Weideman may have looked good originally for the squad’s depth, yet only turned out to stall the forward line’s production. Weideman has had his good moments with little hauls of goals but has been well held in many of Melbourne’s quiet patches.

MORE AFL NEWS:

AFL Mid-Season Review: Fremantle

AFL Mid-Season Review: Brisbane Lions

AFL Mid-Season Review: Collingwood

The only issue that looks to have plagued Melbourne going forward is their stamina. They’ve had a breakneck start to the year, yet looked tired in their Queens’ Birthday clash against Collingwood. The bye may have come at the perfect time for one of the league’s biggest premiership fancies.

Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Trophy contenders:

Christian Petracca isn’t just at the forefront of minds for Melbourne’s best and fairest award – he’s also right up there in Brownlow Medal contention again.

The forward-come-midfielder has been superb this year, looking strong and dynamic throughout the midfield while still kicking important, match-turning goals. With 14 goals already and an average of over 28 touches per game, he has been one of Melbourne’s biggest producers in the midfield and will be a major chance of taking home the gong.

But with him is his red-haired partner in crime in Clayton Oliver. Oliver has always had a happy knack of amassing plenty of possessions, and this season has only seen it increase, with an average of just under 31 touches per game highlighting his contested ball-winning ability.

Yet he has come into his own all over the ground, winning more uncontested footy than ever and hitting the scoreboard more often. Although Oliver’s evolution has been great for Melbourne’s fortunes, it will also cancel out plenty of Petracca votes when it comes to Brownlow Medal night, making for a tight vote count between the pair.

Jake Lever and Steven May have been great for the Dees in 2021 (Photo – Melbourne FC)

Who needs to lift?

One of the glories of Melbourne’s resurgence is that their success is based on an even spread of improving contributors. With many young players coming in and immediately having an impact, there aren’t many players who are lacking in form for the ladder-leading Dees.

Going forward, either Sam Weideman or Ben Brown will need to have an impact if Melbourne are to be a massive factor in finals footy, as they can’t leave the tall forward marking duties to only Tom McDonald or a resting Luke Jackson.

Nathan Jones featured early in the season, only to fall out of favour and miss the last month of footy. Despite his veteran status, he is still a valuable member of Melbourne’s midfield and can make a difference with his experience come September.

Expectations of 2nd half:

After such a surprising first half of the year, it’s onwards and upwards for the Dees. Although they can’t get much higher, Melbourne will be expected to continue to build their good form on the run home and book a good finals spot. Melbourne will do well to book a top-four spot, but at their position at the halfway point, they really would be eyeing a top-two finish to ensure they get a home qualifying final and set up a dream September run.

Although they will once again come up against some strong contenders, they have proven already they have the game plan to beat the teams around them. This means there are no excuses for Melbourne, who have a golden chance to prove their premiership credentials and establish themselves as a great chance of breaking their flag drought.

Prediction:

2nd

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