Well, there is but one goal in 2022 for the Demons. The drought has been broken and it is time to bask in the reign.

Glory is fleeting, however, and Melbourne will be gearing up to become the hunted after capturing the 2021 premiership.

Over the last month, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next 14 are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it is also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

With just 52 days to go until Round One, it is time to look at the current champs and see what we can uncover about them as we head into 2022.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

WHAT DOES THE WEIDEMAN RE-SIGNING SAY ABOUT THIS CLUB AND ABOUT HIM?

It says plenty, on both subjects.

In regard to the player, I am not sure many would have blamed Sam Weideman had he explored options elsewhere following 2021.

Despite being prematurely anointed as the next forward to carry the Melbourne attack, and being expected to do just that with Tom McDonald in 2019, things have not played out as scripted. Weideman has struggled for form and, as a result, has not been a regular fixture in the Melbourne team. After 11 games in 2019, he has managed 18 in the next two seasons and has not looked like a dominant forward presence on even a semi-regular basis.

With the Dees recruiting Ben Brown and the return to form of Tom McDonald, opportunities for Weideman appear limited and at 24 years of age, his star has plummeted significantly. A change of scenery seemed like the ideal way to find game time, form, and consistency.

And yet, his signature hit the paper and a new contract with the Melbourne Football Club was signed in 2021, securing the services of the young forward until at least the end of 2023, when he becomes a restricted free agent.

That Weideman would gamble on breaking into this Melbourne team – no easy task – and turn his back on potential suitors offering him more says one of two things. Either he is of the highest character and believes that he should stick with the club that gave him a shot. He may have a firm belief that he is on the right track to establishing himself as one of the tall marking targets in this team and that 2022 will be the season he does just that.

His form in 2021 would indicate there is still a bit of work to do there. Three goals in his five senior games, and one contested grab per game don’t exactly instil a huge amount of confidence, but maybe he is a late bloomer?

The other option is that he took the safe route? Perhaps Weed is not as confident in his abilities as he once was? Maybe the last couple of seasons have damaged his confidence and willingness to put himself out there as a “main guy” in the forward fifty? Maybe… just maybe, being the third banana at the Demons suits him?

Regardless of where Weideman sits in the balance between the two options outlined above, 2022 will tell a very interesting tale about his football and where it is headed. We have already seen a plethora of young forwards move up to and past him over the last couple of seasons – Harry McKay, Aaron Naughton, the King brothers, Nick Larkey, Oscar Allen… I could go on. How much more of a head start is Weed going to allow them?

At some point, Weideman is going to realise he is not the young forward looking to break into this team. He is a grown man, turning 25 in June and his time should be right now. The physical tools are there – it is a matter of everything else coming together, and unless we see it in 2022, I am a little worried we may never see it at all.

And quickly – what does it say about the club that you have this talented young player with interest coming from elsewhere, and he decides to turn his back on them to re-sign with you despite knowing he faces an uphill battle?

It says that the Dees have built something that players want to be part of. Weideman could very well be in a system where he feels absolutely supported and nurtured and had no issues recommitting to a club that was looking after him so well. That is a great advertisement for what Melbourne are doing at club level.

When you get a raft of players jumping ship, people often question club culture. When you get desirable players opting not to cash in elsewhere, it should have people praising the culture. It doesn’t – it is often forgotten as salacious stories dominate the AFL Media, but there’s only one way to give the club credit for retaining Weed despite circumstances, and I’ll start it here – they have built a culture that players want to be part of, and in a cut-throat sport, that is bloody difficult to do.

 

WHO IS THE NEXT DEMON TO STAND UP?

Is it cheap to say it’s James Jordon? I really want to yap on about him for a while, even if I then segue into another player a little more out of left field.

Jordon played 22 games in his rookie season and slotted in as a peripheral component of the Melbourne midfield with a minimum of fuss. Comparisons to Brisbane champion, Simon Black, had me raising my eyebrows – it is always tough to place a label on an unproven young talent like that. However, there was nothing about the way he played the game that would lead me to think those comparisons were too outlandish. Jordon was composed, balanced, and used the footy well. His vision was excellent and like many young players, he did not seem to lose too much steam throughout the home and away season.

But there should be a fire in his belly heading into the 2022 season.

A regular best-22 player for most of the season, Jordon found himself sitting on the pine, watching on as the medical sub in the last round of the season and during the finals. After being a valuable contributor all season, he picked up a premiership medal that has to feel just a little hollow for him. He watched the whole game from the bench and despite the best efforts of James Harmes to get him on the ground – James probably won’t win an Oscar for his performance in an adaption of the Daniel Day Lewis performance in My Left Foot (left leg, in Harmes’ case) – he was a spectator. A premiership medal-wearing spectator.

And that fire would be burning away inside him.

Jordon hits 2022 with something to prove. Sure, the organic improvement would see him become a better player in season two even if he meandered through the preseason at three-quarter pace, but if Jordon is not the hardest working bloke at every training session this preseason, I will eat my hat, buy another hat and eat that, too.

Jordan’s average of 14.5 disposals per game was reduced by his last month of medi-sub football. If we strike those games off the list, up until Round 19, he was averaging a very healthy 17.7 disposals. His first 11 games yielded an impressive 72 tackles, indicating he was ready, willing, and able to mix it up, and he seemed content to play forward, in the middle, or behind the footy. Whatever Simon Goodwin needed, Jordon was happy to oblige.

However, I feel we are about to see a little more mongrel in the game of Jordon. In your first season in the league, you feel your way. You adapt and acclimatise to the environment around you. Jordon settled in brilliantly, and knowing he belongs at this level, I expect him to start taking the game on more, and forcing Goodwin not to play him here, there, and everywhere, but start to see the oak tree in the acorn and move him into the middle more often.

If James Jordon is Simon Black reincarnated, his football will demand respect. I can see him easily averaging over 20 touches per game in 2022 and making it close to impossible to have him sitting on the bench. With pressure for spots in the Demons’ midfield, Jordon could be the breakout player of the 2022 season – not just at Melbourne, but across the whole competition.

The other player I’d be keeping an eye on is Tom Sparrow.

Stuck rotating through a forward role before he gets a run in the middle due to the talent crammed into the Melbourne midfield, Sparrow is not your traditional goalsneak. Watching him play, you get the feeling that he would feel just as, if not more at home playing in the guts full time than running around forward 50.

At 21, he has time on his side, but oftentimes, many players who are on the periphery of the midfield require one or two things to go their way. Another kid breaks in, or a teammate goes to another level, and suddenly they’re a rung or two down the ladder in terms of picking up time in the middle.

Sparrow played 16 games in 2021, so Simon Goodwin obviously sees value in him, but as he is out of contract following the season, he would be looking for a breakout year both to establish himself as a go-to player in this Demons side, and to secure his future with the club.

 

HAVE WE SEEN THE BEST OF MAX GAWN IN THE RUCK?

Oh, I can feel your anger brewing… how dare I disparage the premiership captain so soon after his ultimate triumph.

Settle yourself down… this topic is as much about the ascension of Luke Jackson as it is about Max not having to do as much.

Feel a little better?

Good.

When we talk form, creativity and just damn hard work, no big man in the league can hold a candle to Max Gawn over the past half a dozen seasons. His five All-Australian selections speak volumes about his consistency and ability to influence games. Rivalled only by Nic Naitanui in terms of quality ruck craft, Gawn has been able to do it longer in games, and longer overall at a high level, which makes him the number one big man in the competition. He turned back challenges from Brodie Grundy in recent years and enters the 2022 season as the best ruckman in the competition.

To speculate that Gawn will not be as good in 2022 would be foolish – I was watching what he did in that Preliminary Final win over the Cats… it was a demolition, and perhaps the greatest game of his career to date, but the emergence of Luke Jackson has given the Dees options and they’re not one of those “oh, he can hold the fort” type of options. Not at all – Jackson can be dominant, with his athleticism seeing him soar over the top of established rucks in the latter half of the 2021 season.

And it is with that mind that we start exploring just how good Max can be in his other roles.

Gawn has always been a wonderful kick behind the play option. His ability to sense the moment and drop back to fill the hole across half-back eased the pressure on the defence – and the defence was pretty damn good to begin with! Throw Gawn in there, floating across the front of a pack as Steven May, Jake Lever, and Harrison Petty engage their forwards in a tussle, and you get Gawn interrupting the progress of the opposition and infuriating their supporters at the same time.

But we saw more from Gawn in the forward line in 2021, including that stunning five-goal barrage against the Cats. His 16 goals in 2021 matched his career-high, but it is worth noting that he notched a high for behinds as well, so he was generating a lot more offence overall – it wasn’t just him getting lucky with a bag of five that led us to believe his forward skills were improving.

Gawn managed around 32 hit outs per game last season – a far cry from his numbers in the forties in years gone by, but with the rise of Luke Jackson, and his incredible developing skill set, it is apparent that Max doesn’t have to do all that he once did. He could… and am guessing there will be games where he does, but in the grand scheme of it, the Dees have made a ruck succession plan that makes succession plans at Melbourne 2-0 in the last while.

Gawn will remain dominant, but can now also be used as a weapon all over the ground. Often you hear people lament that they wish they had two of a type of player – the Dees now have it. They don’t have to wish for two dominant rucks so that one can be used to cut the opposition to shreds elsewhere. They have the Gawn/Jackson combination…

… and they’re in the mood to do some shredding.

 

HOW GOOD CAN KYSAIAH PICKETT BE?

I’ve written a bit about this before, so apologies if it comes across as repetitive. I mean, I don’t want to say the same thing, over and over. You’d get annoyed at me repeating myself.

Like you are right now…

I read with interest and bemusement after the Grand Final that Kysaiah Pickett didn’t do much. I think the Herald Sun gave him a low rating in their horrible player ratings that are entirely based on statistics. Whoever gave those ratings was a dick. Plain and simple.

It was a joy to watch Pickett using his body in the Grand Final. Blocks for opponents, bumps, shepherds… he was doing the things footballers do! The newspaper bloke may have been looking for certain things to check his boxes, but he missed so much in doing that – he missed a young player doing the little things that make a team great!

Kysaiah Pickett is a footballer. Not an athlete – a footy player. He understands the game, sees the game unfolding around him, and adjusts what he is doing for the betterment of his team. It doesn’t matter to him if he gets five touches or 15. It doesn’t matter if he kicks three goals or none. As long as he is contributing and his team is winning, Pickett is smiling.

Players who use their body well, particularly at his size, are rare in the modern game. It has been coached out of them and only those with an innate ability to know how and when to lay a body on an opponent do it now. Zak Butters does it at Port Adelaide, learning from the great Robbie Gray, I’m guessing. And Kysaiah Pickett does it at Melbourne.

The Dees are already potent up forward. Adding to that, Kysaiah Pickett slotted 40 goals and a heap of the little things people don’t bother to acknowledge. We see you, Kozzie… and we love what you were able to do.

Could he be the next 50-goal small forward?

The opportunities will present themselves and at just 20, we have only scratched the surface of what Picket is capable of. I’ve avoided saying it, but he is Cyril Rioli in Melbourne colours – get ready for an exciting next six or so years, Dees fans – this is going to be great fun.

 

WHAT IS THE EXPECTATION OF BEN BROWN IN 2022?

With 12 months under his belt in Melbourne colours, a flag under his wing, and a position in the team his to lose, Ben Brown has to be walking a little taller at the moment.

He wasn’t walking so tall when he was jettisoned by North Melbourne after one poor season, but they say the best revenge is living well – Ben Brown is living very well at the moment.

There were points during the 2021 season where it looked as though the gamble on Ben Brown was not going to pay off, but to his credit, Simon Goodwin never once fell into the trap of speaking negatively about his form or his place at the club. He knew what they were buying into. He knew that it would be a process to get Brown up to the level required and aid him in recovering from the knee injury that ruined his 2020.

Like Kysaiah Pickett above, Ben Brown should be judged on stats alone. He added so much more late in the season. Whilst 1.9 goals per game is a good number (there are a few key forwards who would like that average), it was his ability to contest and bring the ball to ground from positions he should not have been able to impact the contest that stood out to me. It was always an area of Brown’s game I found a little suspect – his pack marking and efforts to prevent the opposition from intercepting were always a little below par, but he turned that around in a big way in late 2021.

Watching Brown deliberately – and don’t try to convince me that it wasn’t – bring the ball to ground with one hand whilst fending off a defender with the other demonstrated that he had completely bought into the Melbourne style of doing things. In the same position two years earlier, I would have bet Brown would have been outmarked pretty easily, giving up on the contest once he realised he wasn’t going to mark it, himself.

So, what changed? What occurred that flipped the switch for Brown, enabling him to play a team-first game?

Melbourne happened, and it happened at the right time in his career for Brown to fully embrace what was more than just a rich vein of form – it was a movement, and he embraced it with open arms.

From Round 19 onwards, Brown was held to less than two goals just once. In that game against the Lions, he sacrificed his own game to become a hit-up target, taking nine marks, with most coming further afield as he gave his defenders a marking option – a “get out of jail” kick on the wing. This is evidenced by his six inside 50 deliveries. A career-high six inside 50s.

Melbourne opened up a whole new world for Brown. He became more than just the lead, chest mark, take a shot for goal player he was at North. He became a larger part of the offence than just playing the role of finisher. It was great to see him find his love of footy again. The Dees gave him that opportunity, and so much more.

Heading into 2022, the recruitment of Ben Brown has already paid dividends. We’re now entering the bonus stage, and with two years to run on his deal, it could end up being quite a significant bonus.

Two goals per game should be a given for Brown this season. Having spent a year with his new teammates, absorbing the way they play and how they prefer to deliver the footy, he will be a more potent weapon inside 50, but knowing that he does not live and die by how many goals he kicks should give him the freedom to be so much more. When Round One rolls around and the Dees front up against the Dogs, I will be paying particular attention to how Ben Brown is deployed and what he does – not for himself, but for his team. A little tap on, some heavy bodywork, a get out of jail mark on the wing – there is so much this bloke can add to the Demons.

2021 was just scratching the surface.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 11 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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