In one of the games of the season, Melbourne and Fremantle engaged in the tightest of tussles, with the Demons showing amazing toughness and resilience to record a potentially season saving 14-point win. Here are the big questions stemming from Melbourne’s victory over the improving Dockers.
Can Melbourne do a “Richmond”?
Flashback to the 2014 season. After round 14, Richmond were sitting 16th on the ladder at 3-10. What happened next is the stuff of legends. Refusing to lie down, the Tigers won their last nine games to steamroll into the finals. Looking at this season, and we find that Melbourne currently occupying the same 16th position, and have one more victory under their belt.
So can the Demons replicate their Punt Road adversaries and charge towards September? Some would argue that they are too far gone, and wasted the first half of their season. But if we remember the back end of season 2018, when Melbourne made it to the penultimate week of the season, we find that this is team that is far too talented not to be playing finals.
Melbourne’s next three weeks are all against teams that didn’t feature in finals last year, and with victories comes confidence. If the Demons can make it through West Coast in Round 18, they could be well and truly in the in hunt for an unlikely finals berth.
Who is Fremantle’s best player?
At the start of the season, this would’ve been an easy question to answer. Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe’s position at the top of the Purple Tree has been unchallenged for the last 5 years. However, the last 3 months has seen a slight changing of the guard, with “Son Son” Michael Walters taking over the mantle at the Dockers number one man. With both players having outstanding seasons, it is Walters that has emerged as Fremantle’s biggest Brownlow Medal threat.
While today he has unable to produce a performance we have become accustomed to, Walters improvement has been one of the stories of Fremantle’s season, and a key factor in their rise up the ladder.
It is important to remember that skipper Fyfe would still be considered by many as Fremantle’s best and most important player, but Walters and others emergence takes the pressure off Fyfe’s broad shoulders.
How do the Demons fix their forward woes?
It has become an all too familiar tale this season. Melbourne dominates the inside 50 entries, but can’t put it together on the scoreboard. It was another case of déjà vu for the Demons, winning the stat 68-44, but only recording four more scoring shots. Melbourne’s last quarter was far more efficient, and perhaps will be sign of what is to come in the next two months. But it seems when the Demons traded away Jesse Hogan, their forward structure followed him out the door.
Whether it is a drop confidence, a lack of communication between the forwards and midfielders, or simply a changing game plan, Simon Goodwin still has his issues to work on, but he will take a lot of confidence from the Demon’s last quarter.
Can the Dockers do some September damage?
After being bested by a plucky, yet out of form Melbourne side, it becomes obvious that the Dockers aren’t quite ready to lift the Premiership cup just yet. While reaching the summit looks another 1-2 years away, Fremantle is capable of doing some damage come September. If the Dockers can claim a home final, they should have the talent to make it through to the second week. From there, as the Demons showed last season, anything is possible.
Jesse Hogan’s foot injury could prove problematic for a team already missing Pearce, Lobb and Sandilands, but with Cam McCarthy waiting in the wings, the Purple Haze will enjoy putting off their end of season holidays, for a few weeks at the very least.
Who was best and worst on ground for both teams?
Best – Max Gawn
When the Demons were making their move, it was perhaps the best player in the competition leading the way. After his herculean effort on the Queen’s Birthday, Gawn had a day out against young Sean Darcy, finishing with 20 disposals (nine contested), eight marks and, most importantly, 46 hit-outs. Current Mongrel All Australian incumbent Brodie Grundy will now surely be watching over his shoulder as Big Maxy makes his charge.
Stiff: Tom McDonald & Clayton Oliver
What a return to form for the Demons big forward! At the start of the season, I tipped McDonald to win this year’s Coleman Medal. After 14 rounds, it appears I could not be more wrong. Today however, McDonald showed the form his team has so desperately lacked, finishing with 28 disposals and three goals.
Clayton Oliver also deserves a mention for his grunt work in the middle of the ground. Touching the ball 28 times, 16 of Oliver’s possessions were contested, and he also laid six crunching tackles. Benefitting greatly from Max Gawn’s ruck work, Oliver has become the Demon’s most important midfielder.
If the Demons are to make a run for the finals, all of Gawn, McDonald and Oliver will need to have career best ends to their respective seasons for there to be any chance of a Red and Blue brigade in September.
Worst – Mitch Hannan
It would be considered by some as unfair to label Hannan as today’s worst for the Demons. Hannan collected seven disposals, and was largely ineffective on the contest. With Melbourne recording a famous victory, Hannan’s teammates picked up the void left by the emerging Demon, but Hannan will also know that should the wheels start to wobble, he will likely be the first one dropped to make way for reinforcements.
Lucky: Sam Weideman
With Tom McDonald having a day out, it seems young Weideman was unable to replicate the same upturn in output. Collecting just six disposals, Weideman’s best work was when he was without the ball, as his defensive pressure inside the Demon’s forward 50 helped Melbourne’s forwards put pressure on Fremantle’s intercept defenders. Seen by many as Jesse Hogan’s replacement, Weideman will need to improve his output if he is to become the player his future contract demands.
Best – Brandon Matera
Perhaps Fremantle’s most improved player, Matera was everywhere when his team needed him, his three goals proving very important with Hogan off the ground injured. Showing an array of tricks not seen at the MCG since Eddie Betts donned a navy blue jumper, Matera’s forward pressure was also telling, with Melbourne’s defenders unable to exit defensive 50 with any ease. With Hogan looking like missing a significant portion of the second half of the year, Matera will need to keep putting forward efforts of this magnitude to ensure Fremantle maintains its position.
Stiff: Bradley Hill
A key member of Fremantle’s army of indigenous superstars, Bradley Hill is quickly pushing himself into All Australian contention. Collecting 31 disposals dashing up and down the vast acres of the MCG, Hill was Fremantle’s most influential attacking threat, using his pace to put distance between his opponent and thrust his team forward. Hill, and to a lesser extent today Walters, are a pair of players that cause coaches headaches, and Ross Lyon will be keen to retain Hill’s services, with rumours emerging that Hill will seek a trade back to Victoria at season’s end.
Worst – Brennan Cox
When Jesse Hogan went off injured, the Dockers needed a key forward to step up and take control of Fremantle’s forward setup. Gathering 10 disposals and kicking the solitary goal, young tall Brennan Cox was unable to provide the target Fremantle’s midfielders needed. With Rory Lobb also out of Fremantle’s side, Cox has a big opportunity to cement his place inside the Dockers forward 50. His partnership with a soon-to-be returning Cam McCarthy could prove crucial to Fremantle’s fortunes.
Lucky: Nathan Wilson
Running machine Wilson was the biggest victim of Sam Weideman’s forward pressure, with the former Giant having virtually no impact from defensive 50, finishing with just 10 marks, and a single mark and tackle. Wilson’s 2019 season has been as up and down as a yo-yo, and with Ross the Boss always preferring a defence first game plan, Wilson will need to vastly improve his consistency to fully cement his place in Fremantle’s defence.
– Michael Walters could rue his ill-fated head-butt on Jay Lockhart. While there didn’t seem to be too much in it, and Lockhart played out the game, the AFL has always wanted to completely eliminate contact to the head, and an incident like this could be looked at harshly by the MRO, and could cost Walters a well-deserved Charlie.
– Nathan Jones would be breathing huge sighs of relief that his team was able to get across the line. In the dying stages of the third quarter, and with Melbourne just 1 point down, Michael Walters gave away free kick inside the Demons forward 50. Jones then stupidly decided to retaliate, which then cost Melbourne a 50-metre penalty in the ensuing brawl. Fremantle use their fast ball movement, and 20 seconds later, had moved to a seven-point lead. For a player of Nathan Jones’ stature in the game, this was an extraordinary brain fade that could’ve cost his team the season.
– Joel Hamling is quickly becoming the most underrated defender in the AFL. With Griffin Logue playing as the defensive stopper, Hamling was left to control the back half as he pleased, collecting 16 disposals and seven marks. When partnered with Alex Pearce, it was Pearce that drew all the praise, but Hamling was just as important, now even more so, to Fremantle’s finals charge.
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