It was, to borrow from Queen Liz, septem horribilis for Melbourne this week, for both the football club and the city. With a return to lockdown, the Demons followed their fans’ well worn path out of the city in July, though at this stage their return date is unknown. What is known is that Simon Goodwin’s football club has been slammed from pillar to post in the media this week.

Footballing television and newspapers are notably fickle, and as much as they need to christen a new flag favourite every week, they need a new whipping boy just as much. This week, it was the Dees, who copped it from all comers, including past players such as David Schwarz calling them ‘irrelevant’. In many ways, getting out of the fishbowl and flying up to Sydney may have been the best thing for Melbourne, who could now focus on footy and footy alone.

Melbourne’s match committee made a couple of statements at selection. The first was dropping Adam Tomlinson, five games in to a four year deal, after an underwhelming start to life as a Demon. Jayden Hunt was also axed, while Harley Bennell returned in a feel good story for a game against his former side.

For the Suns, coming off their first loss since March, this was an interesting litmus test. The story of the year, arguably, had been the form of Matt Rowell, who looked an absolute moral for the Ron Evans Medal before injuring his shoulder against the Cats last week. Without their midfield bull, the Suns turned to the criminally underrated Touk Miller and the bargain pick up Hugh Greenwood to carry their hopes in the centre of the ground.

Remarkably, had the Suns managed a win at Giants Stadium against Melbourne, they would have gone equal top of the ladder. You could have offered me all the money in the world and there’s no way I would have believed I’d be writing that sentence in July. It would, though, have been just reward for Stewie Dew’s men, whose stunning rise up the ladder has been a shining light of a year which has had more downs than ups.

In what was a pretty entertaining contest, replete with both highlights and skill errors, here’s what happened:

 

RANKINE POINTS

 

He wasn’t the best player on the ground. He may just scrape into the top five. But in game number one, 2018’s number three pick was arguably the most electric player in this encounter. Every time the ball went near him in the Suns forward line he looked like making something happen, and just about every time he did. His 12 touches included eight score involvements, but in reality it was his own scoreboard return which was most impressive.

His three goals were each works of art; the first, a Mona Lisa like snap, after spinning out of danger, exquisite; the second more a Picasso, throwing the boot at the ball in abstract fashion but somehow, some way, willing the ball through the big sticks; the third, like one of those magic eye paintings from the 90’s, electrifying to the point where you didn’t even realise what you were looking at until it hit you in the face. He also booted three behinds, each of which may have been gettable, but clearly the reality with Rankine is he, like Steve Johnson, is an artist of a forward, making the easy look impossible and the impossible, relatively straightforward.

The talk of Rankine as the Rising Star favourite now is maybe premature. I, for one, am a big fan of Tom Green at GWS, and Hayden Young looks to be a jet at Fremantle. However, if Rankine can turn in performances like this week in, week out, then plenty of people in the football community may consider the Suns to be even more watchable than they already are.

 

IL TORO IN AVANTI

 

Christian Petracca has always shown significant amounts of talent as a footballer. No doubt, he would have frustrated Melbourne supporters during his career to date though. This year may well be the arrival of Petracca the A+ footballer, though. In five games thus far this season, he’s averaged 23 touches and five score involvements a game, a more than handy return, and though he was good last week in a pretty poor performance by his side, against the Suns he was the matchwinner.

While I’ll get to his work with ball in hand shortly, Petracca’s ability to hit the scoreboard as a half forward is undoubtedly his greatest asset. Having kicked just three goals in the four games leading up to this encounter, his impact was a little down in that area, but he managed to finish off what was an effective, relatively composed, if a little ugly passage of play for Melbourne’s first goal to get them up and firing after the Suns started better. His second goal was more important, though. After the Dees wasted a couple of opportunities trying to hit up short targets with 30 metre passes inside 50, a tactic which helped them and hindered them in roughly equal measure, and with his side leading by just five points, Petracca backed himself and roosted the ball home from 50, to effectively ice the game for his side.

It was a fitting way to finish a game in which Petracca was the best player on the ground. His 25 touches and 15 contested possessions were both the most by any player, while he also racked up six clearances and was involved in five scores. On a night when both sides were wasteful with their forward entries, Petracca was definitely guilty of wasting the ball, but weight of numbers in terms of possessions got him, and his side, over the line in this one.

 

CLARRY-TY OF VISION

 

No idea why I keep getting a gig writing these articles, with puns like these, but here I am, and here Clayton Oliver came. Though he isn’t the only Dee to have copped criticism, fairly, for his disposal going forward, he’s arguably the most talented player to have been slammed for it, and against the Suns, he looked quite determined to put his doubters to bed. Well held by Hugh Greenwood in the first half, restricted to 10 disposals, Oliver turned it on when he needed to, racking up 14 touches in the second half when the Dees really needed it.

In round two, on this site, Oliver received a big wrap, as it was suggested he’s a better mid than Patrick Cripps and Marcus Bontempelli. That may well be true, though for work around the ground I’d still be taking the latter two ahead of the Demon. He did demonstrate his true value against the Suns though, with 24 touches, 14 of which were contested. Though the ruck battle wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be, with Gawn taking the chocolates over Witts, Oliver was the key beneficiary of his skipper’s ascendancy, with a game high eight clearances and, while I did write in my notes that he shouldn’t be allowed to send the Dees inside forward 50, he did so on a game high six occasions. It was the last of them which was most decisive, with Oliver’s pass to Petracca leading into the space a pretty good one. The bull finished the job, and the Dees managed to enter hub life with a good win over a handy side.

 

KEEP ROWELL-ING ON

 

Arguably the most notable absentee in this game, Rowell’s season is over, but for a pair of Suns, that may well provide them with their opportunity to shine. Touk Miller has flown massively under the radar for, well, his entire career, but his season thus far has rivalled Rowell for statistical output at the very least. Averaging 21 touches a game, it’s the hard edge that the vice-captain brings to the midfield which has made a sizeable difference to the Suns’ on field performances in 2020.

Against the Dees, in their first full game without Rowell, Miller stepped up to the plate. At his best in the first half, he was solid throughout the game and will probably feature in the votes for the fourth time this season. His 23 touches and 11 contested possessions were the most for his team, and only Rankine had more than his seven score involvements for the game. Perhaps most impressively, he ran at 91% efficiency and intercepted five times in the middle of the ground, indicating both a new found cleanliness with ball in hand as well as an ever present hard edge to his game which has proved integral to the Suns’ successes so far. The one criticism of his game is his kicking for goal, and he really needed to convert his opportunity in the last to keep the Suns in the game, a task he failed to achieve. It is, of course, far too early to be talking about end of season awards, but Miller has to be close to the All Australian side at this point, such has been his value to Gold Coast.

In tandem with Miller, Hugh Greenwood continues to make many at Adelaide, including Mark Ricciuto, look silly for letting him leave so cheaply. Never a star at the Crows, Greenwood’s ability to do the little things well would no doubt benefit Matthew Nicks’ side as it currently stands. You do have to ask whether Adelaide may have been better off letting Brad Crouch go up north, given the disparity between his impact at Adelaide and Greenwood’s at Gold Coast.

But I digress. The former Crow was magnificent in the first half, restricting Clayton Oliver at stoppages while having 13 touches of his own. He faded big time in the second half of the game, having just five touches, but probably most importantly, he had a clear game high in 12 tackles. In fact, he leads the league in tackles after six games, averaging 8.3 per game. In a spectacle that is still as congested as it has ever been, Greenwood’s ability to crack in has, with Miller, made the Gold Coast a much, much better side this year.

 

HEARD IT ON THE GRAPE-VINEY

 

In fairness, you didn’t have to be listening too hard to hear the criticism of Viney this week. After a very good performance in round 1 against the Eagles, the former skipper had gone a little backwards, and against Richmond made a few decisions perhaps best described as ill-composed. The Dees really needed a big game from Viney here. With Jones out, Melbourne look a fairly young side, and while no one is doubting Max Gawn’s talent, as a new captain he definitely needs the support of his senior players.

Viney was pretty good in the first quarter, with his pass to Petracca for the Dees’ opener demonstrating a new level-headedness. With no touches in the second, though, alarm bells may have been starting to ring, despite Melbourne’s ascendancy in that particular quarter. After half time, he was one of the big lifters. He finished the game with 21 touches, including 12 contested possessions, and while it was Petracca and Oliver racking up the big clearance numbers, it was Viney who managed to restrict the opposition, with a team high eight tackles. It certainly wasn’t his best game, going at just 52%, but for sheer will and determination, it was hard to beat the former captain on the day.

 

DEE-COMPOSING

 

As is probably evident throughout this article, as it was throughout the media this week, the key word for Goody’s charges this week was composure. Melbourne’s inside 50 differentials this year, in order, have been +10, -8, +8, and +4, with the one game where they finished behind their opposition incidentally being their only win for the year. They finished up by 13 against the Suns in that particular metric, but their efficiency going forward is questionable, to say the least.

There are players at Melbourne who are good kicks. Christian Salem, for example, getting more forward is probably a good move, and it was something Simon Goodwin tried at times, and it paid off in some small way, Salem finishing with 18 touches and a goal. Ed Langdon was a player Melbourne recruited specifically for his disposal, and in spite of a recent form drop over the last fortnight, he was solid in this encounter, finishing with 19 touches at 79%.

Interestingly, coming out of the back half, the Demons often turned to Steven May, who finished the game as the leading metre… gainer? I think you know what I mean. With Jake Lever having one of his better games in red and blue, finishing with nine intercepts, it allowed May to be the reliever out of defence in a role similar to that which Robbie Tarrant has played with aplomb in 2020. His 18 touches came at 83%, and he rebounded from defence eight times, as the designated kicker.

The player who may well be the answer to Melbourne’s issue in this regard, Harley Bennell, was solid if not spectacular against his former club. He certainly isn’t the player he once was, but he was very stiff to be dropped after the Carlton game in my opinion. While he may have just had 13 touches, no Demon had more than his six score involvements, and it was his goal after the siren which was maybe the best moment of the night. His first goal as a Demon, in his second game since 2017, it would be hard to begrudge the former Sun for shedding a tear, and footy is all the better for having him back.

 

AND ANOTHER THING…

 

  • Really loved the games of Ballard and Collins down back for Gold Coast. Melbourne can, as mentioned above, make it easy for opposition defenders when they go inside 50, but these two stood tall when they needed to. The former was a game leader in intercepts, with 12, and only Max Gawn took more than his three contested marks and seven for the game. Collins also managed double digit intercepts, with 10. As the Suns continue to build, look for these two, with Bowes and Lukosius around them, as the heart of a pretty handy backline.
  • Kysaiah Pickett may end up rivalling Rankine for highlights by career’s end. Just the eight touches, but three of them were direct goal assists. He may well provide some of the X Factor Melbourne need inside forward 50.
  • As mentioned above, I thought this was going to be one of the most enthralling ruck battles of the season. Jarrod Witts has led his team with aplomb thus far, and is rivalling Todd Goldstein for the prestigious mantle of “best of the rest”. Gawn didn’t exactly give him a bath in the ruck, although Melbourne’s 31-21 edge in the clearances was pretty vital to their win. It was the Melbourne captain’s work around the ground, though, which gave him the win over his opponent.
  • Angus Brayshaw could have won Melbourne the game against Geelong, had he played more minutes. Was okay but not spectacular against the Tigers last week, but pretty poor against the Suns in 85 minutes. Just 12 touches at 42%. Need more from him to contend.
  • To this day (probably a poor choice of phrasing) I have no idea how either of Brandon Ellis’ goals went through the middle, but both of them were absolute beauties. Ellis hasn’t really fired yet as a Sun, but Stewie Dew would absolutely take two goals and 16 touches every week from the former Tiger.
  • Good to see Sam Weideman back in the senior side, and though he may not have developed as much as Melbourne may have hoped, they’d be happy with two goals out of him, especially given Tom McDonald went down early with a nasty eye injury. Crashed a few packs and showed some signs.

 

That’ll probably do me. For Melbourne, this was a pretty impressive win, even if it wasn’t pretty. Losing Tom McDonald early hurt them, but they continued to weather the Suns’ pressure, and ultimately it was their top end talent which got them over the line. They take on a Hawthorn side who have been up and down this season in what shapes as an interesting game, and a must win for both sides.

For the Suns, that will be a loss that stings. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone with a passing interest in footy who doesn’t have a lot of good will for the Gold Coast, but they really needed to win this one to prove that they’re the real deal. The time for honourable losses is probably over. Next week they get the Swans, who have been okay without being spectacular this season, in a game they will start favourites in.

 

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get more.