Melbourne v Adelaide – The Mongrel Review

With last year’s victory fresh in their minds and a South Australian footy icon being honoured, the Adelaide supporters came to the match with a song in their heart and a keen desire to give a big scare to a team in premiership contention.

Melbourne, however, saw it as an opportunity to address that loss and show the football world that it can win at home or any ground. Led by Petracca, Oliver and Viney, their work around the ball was just too slick for Adelaide to keep up with over the four quarters, but the pride of South Australia was not dimmed one bit. Fans stayed the whole match, cheering on a team that had a third of the players with less than 25 games to their name, while the Melbourne supporters were gleeful as they whisked themselves away to the Qantas lounge and picked up some quality shiraz on the way.

It was a game that helped both teams learn a bit about themselves. Adelaide learned they could stand with the best when they manage to work hard and play smart, while Melbourne learned that if their midfield is firing, they need not panic regardless of the score line.

 

Lead up

Much of the Adelaide paper inches were given over to pay tribute to SA football legend Neil “Knuckles” Kerley. With just over 900 games as a player and coach in the SANFL, plus his position as the inaugural football manager of the Crows and his contribution to bringing them into the AFL made him an iconic member of the football landscape. He is famously quoted as saying that his only regret was not playing in the VFL and gone to Melbourne for a couple of years, but “The reason I haven’t gone is that I don’t like Melbourne”.

Presumably, he was more put off by the city than the football team, but it seems somehow fitting that the AFL game that honoured him with a minute’s silence was against that team.

Melbourne on the other hand had a mixed week of news. Buoyed by the long-term signing of Clayton Oliver to a seven-year deal while also receiving the news that Luke Jackson was dealing with a knee injury. Jackson is the next target for the Dees to re-sign, and there has been lots of interest from rival teams, with some outlets suggesting he could ask around a million-and-a-half per year from clubs willing to entice him away, Fremantle in particular.

That’s a huge dollar value for a player of his age, and puts Melbourne in a difficult position of trying to get him to stay for less money, else they end up losing a different star.

Another announcement was the retirement of Majak Daw. Few players have had as much written about them or been as polarising as he has been, despite his 10-year career that netted only 54 games. While the stats sheet will reflect his journeyman status, it’s not the entirety of his legacy. He finishes with a highlight reel that we will be able to look back on for many years with awe, and the knowledge that his achievements opened up a whole new section of the community that is looking to be involved in the AFL, along with inspiring many African-born players to take up the code. While much will be made of his personal struggles, the sight of he and Ben Brown embracing after the Melbourne premiership win is one that should stick with fans of footy for some time to come. Even though he never suited up for Melbourne in the top league, the Demons risked nothing to take him in, and the bloke can retire knowing that he’s left a legacy that won’t be forgotten soon.

Plenty may disagree with giving Maj a bit of a pump-up and cite his stats as justification, but honestly, I think we’re only just starting to see his legacy taking shape. Come back to me in five or so years when the African-Australian players really start to hit their straps in the AFL, and I’d be surprised if any of them didn’t at least acknowledge Daw as playing a part in getting them into footy.

 

Ins and Outs

Adelaide lost McHenry, McAdam and Hamill to injury, but welcomed back Sholl, Murphy and Thilthorpe.

Thilthorpe has had to do a lot to get back into the team, and will continue to have a lot asked of him if he’s to take a regular spot away from Walker and Fogarty n the forward line. Sholl and Murphy add flexibility to the team, but the loss of McAdam removes a dangerous x-factor from their forward line.

Melbourne lost Luke Jackson to a knee that hasn’t yet been assessed for severity, and put Jayden Hunt into the medi-sub vest. Mitch Brown comes in to take up some of the ruck duties that Jackson and Gawn would have done, while Tomlinson picks up the medi-sub vest, getting match pay for starting in his trackies.

 

The game

Melbourne were almost relentless in their attack, showing innovative structures that were only possible with the situational awareness of Petracca and Oliver. Players like Langdon were able to keep in space and run seemingly nowhere because they knew that one of the aforementioned two would be able to find a way to get the ball into the path that they were running. At some stages it almost looked like they were imitating an NFL quarterback, with the outside mids running hard to get to where the play said the ball would be, turning slightly to see it right where they wanted it, collecting without breaking stride and pushing forward.

The Crows countered this with the time-honoured tradition of teams a little short on class; sheer, unrelenting pressure. Class and talent can be qualities that are polished by training, but they’re had to create from nothing. Effort and will are entirely up to the individual players, and Adelaide had an enormous amount. In terms of game-day ability, Adelaide should have been blown off the park, but their effort, will and desire to work for each other kept them in the match a lot longer than their relative ladder positions would suggest.

When Melbourne kept a wide structure to vary their methods of attack, Adelaide pushed hard to close down the space of the moving outside players, taking crucial steps away from them.

On the counter, Adelaide’s forward movement was stifled by frequent interceptions as Melbourne accurately predicted the avenues the Crows would use, which forced Tex Walker to play much higher up the ground for the first half.

 

The turning point

Adelaide took the lead twice in the match, countering Melbourne’s quick three-goal start with four straight of their own in the first quarter, and again a burst each side of half time gave them a narrow lead. It wasn’t until mid-way through the third that Melbourne managed to shake off Adelaide and get out to a lead, mostly through their tall timber and Adelaide having problems keeping up with the intensity of the match while having to constantly react to Melbourne’s playmaking.

Adelaide did push back hard through sustained effort, but it took a lot out of their legs to get within a goal, and with Melbourne rotating their players to stay a little fresh, they had plenty left in the tank to push to the final siren, and run out deserving winners.

While I don’t think a single choice or move won it for the Demons, it was telling that while Walker dominated May early, Goodwin decided to keep the match up for most of the game, with May claiming back Walker’s influence during the second half. While Walker didn’t have to be the focal point with Rachele, Thilthorpe and Fogarty in the side, his field kicking and on-field leadership are instrumental to the side. By reducing his influence and providing no small amount of distraction with typical backman fashion, the Dees went a long way to securing the win.

 

Ruck Battle

As anyone who has read a few of my articles will know, I’m a big fan of a good ruck battle. Reilly O’Brien has been flying under the radar a bit for the quality of his ability, and while some others like Gawn, Naitanui and Witts have been spoken of very highly, and emerging rucks like Draper, De Koning and English get plenty of coverage, I think R’OB deserves a little more attention for his ability.

That’s not taking away from the other rucks at all, but what ROB has been able to do with a midfield that—if we’re being honest—isn’t currently a top 8 standard should show just how good he has been, especially as he starts to enter the 26-30 age bracket that is often the peak for big rucks.

It’s disappointing then to miss out on seeing him take on either Gawn or Jackson. While Weideman is no slouch, he’s also unlikely to have taken many taps if Gawn and/or Jackson were fit.

Matching them up, they attended a similar number of ruck contests, but that’s where the comparison stops. ROB got 48 hit outs from his 70 contests, 16 to advantage while Weideman’s 73 contests netted only 11 hit outs with four to the advantage of his own team.

The story is the same for practically all key stats, with O’Brien pantsing Weideman in clearances, tackles, marks, disposals, metres gained, intercepts and even free kicks.

Having said all that, Weideman would have known that he was probably not going to win the taps going into the match, so it looked like he intentionally put his body into spaces that O’Brien was looking to use to tap to his mids, while the Melbourne midfield looked to steal the ball as it was tapped down, which they did so very effectively.

So while I’m giving O’Brien the nod as a pure ruckman, the way Weideman was able to work with his midfield was everything that Melbourne could have wanted from him in terms of outcome. He still needs to watch some undisciplined play that gave away free kicks, but as a role player, he did very well and will likely be congratulated in the Monday game review.

 

Fritch v Keays

As one of our fellow Mongrels pointed out, Keays and Fritch have a lot in common. They both act as a barometer for their teams, with their mercurial ability coming to the fore when the team is firing, while still being able to turn the momentum of games off their own boot on occasion.

They both have a strong game sense, a willingness to run hard to become an option, and a knack for finding space where none should be.

Perhaps their most strikingly similar feature though, is their haircuts, which I have been assured bear a striking resemblance to the Pidgeot Pokemon.

Looking at the picture, I think there’s something there. I think an argument could be made that there’s a few more players who seem to be infringing on pokemon copyright, such as Steven May looking like Weezing, and Max Gawn as Exeggutor. Lachlan Murphy also looks like the bloke that the Easter Island heads were modelled off. I know that’s not a pokemon, but I can’t unsee it now that I’ve noticed it.

 

Walker V May

How good is it to see an old-school battle between a key forward and back? It’s a match up that I wish we had a mic on, because I have no doubt both players would have been pretty keen to give each other a bit of lip. May and Walker have both had off-field incidents they’d rather forget, yet I’d be shocked into a coma if they didn’t bring up the other’s tribulations as a way to get a bit of banter going.

Early on in the game, Walker seemed to have May’s number. He had two goals in the first quarter, was getting the ball up the ground and delivering well, all to go with out-muscling May around the ball.

As the game wore on though, May started to get into it a bit more. Walker stayed at home for longer periods, allowing Fogarty, Thilthorpe and Rachele to move up the ground. It might have been an attempt to bring those players into the game, but instead, it allowed May time to read the ball and set himself, which is exactly how he loves to play. In the end, May finished with 11 marks, 12 intercepts, 18 touches and over 500 metres gained.

If not for the first quarter it’d be easy to say he had the best of the match up, but as it is I still have to give him the nod based on keeping Walker’s influence to a minimum as the game wore on. It is definitely close though, and as a big Tex fan I’d love to give him the chocolates on the back of seven score involvements, but he had a little less of the ball than his team needed.

If I could have gotten the recordings of their banter, maybe I’d give it to him in the end though. I have no doubt there’d be a few players in the area listening in to see who got the better of that duel.

 

Nicks v Goodwin

Goodwin returning to Adelaide as the reigning premier is as good a homecoming as you could expect (and definitely much friendlier than Jake Lever received).

I’ve been a big fan of Nicks as a gameday coach, but his choice to stick Walker up forward is a bit confusing (if I haven’t made that clear already). Also, the reluctance of ROB to hit the ball long for his mids to run on to is a missed opportunity. He managed it a few times, but his dominance should have made it a regular occurrence.

Goodwin was cool under pressure as his team was challenged, but you’d expect him to be. He knew he could stick to his guns and just let the quality he had at his disposal do their thing. Sometimes, not making changes can be the difficult thing, and Goodwin was smart enough to understand this.

 

Having faith in your teammates

So many times, Adelaide either had multiple players trying to win a contested ball while Melbourne only needed one or two, yet the ones Melbourne didn’t win at the coalface, they sharked as the Crows attempted to get the ball into space.

Of course, it helps when you have a Norm Smith-winning mid in Petracca, and one who is likely to get his own come season end in Oliver, but belief has to come first to drive the results.

It’s a situation replayed every week, in that the team that can trust their teammates to win their own ball can then stick to a wider structure, allowing them to have more options to shut down passing lanes or create space to quickly move the ball forward.

But the faith has to be there. Staying wide and watching your opponent get an intercept mark is one of the hardest things for a player to do, but sometimes it’s a necessary pain to keep options open in attack.

Adelaide still have some belief, and they need to keep that. When belief in each other is gone, the whole team falls apart, and if you want an example of that you can check out the Geelong v North Melbourne replay.

 

What was Jake Lever so happy about?

All through the game, the crowd was giving it to Jake Lever. He famously walked out on the Crows, which prompted then-Captain Walker to note he’d chosen money over success, which may explain why Tex seemed so keen to stay away from Lever, lest he be reminded of said quote.

However, Lever seemed very keen to celebrate every play he was involved in. Mid-way through the third quarter, he spoiled a mark and the ball went out. He high fived six players, got a bum tap from Petracca and signalled the box with a point and a thumbs-up.

Now, I’m all for players showing personality, and the fact that his teammates were keen to congratulate him at a time when the crowd was particularly displeased with his presence is great, but… I mean… really?

That’d be like the in-laws coming over for dinner, I was the dishes and do a lap of honour around the loungeroom, high-fiving the neighbours and then calling up Today Tonight to ask where my nomination for Husband of the year should be sent.

Still, it was entertaining for a bit.

 

The stats that matter

There were a few notable stats, the biggest one being efficiency inside 50. Adelaide were running at 37% as the Dees pressured the midfield forward 50 entries into turnovers that they then turned into play launches from half back. By comparison, the Demons managed to hit 57% efficiency in their forward line, showing just how clean their forward 50 entries have been.

Ruck stats heavily favoured Adelaide, as mentioned above, but in an encouraging achievement, most other key stats were pretty close between the two sides. Disposals, marks, contested possession and clearances were all around the mark, with the exception of marks inside 50, which is really an extension of efficiency anyway.

It’s worth noting that Adelaide had a big lead in free kicks, with 23 to the Dees’ nine. While notable, I think quite a few were from ruck infringements and professional free kicks in the Melbourne back line that held up play. None were especially egregious in my book, and it just happens that way sometimes. Dees fans may disagree, but I’m yet to meet any footy fan that thought the umps were fair towards their team in every decision.

 

Next up

Melbourne have a five-day turnaround to take on Geelong at GMHBA. Geelong are coming off a training run against kangaroo-shaped traffic cones, and will want to turn their home ground into a sea of blue and white to make a hostile reception for any Demon fan willing to forgo the comfort of their lounge room and make the journey down the highway, without stopping in to their holiday home.

While it’s a winnable game for Geleong, I think Melbourne will just have a little too much power in the middle, which is a big call considering the talent Geelong have in that area. Duncan, Selwood and Dangerfield have had exceptional careers, and will keep setting a high standard for some time yet, but if given the chance would you prefer them or Petracca, Oliver and Viney? I have to go with the latter because of just how well they integrate and bring other players into the match.

Dees by 13.

Adelaide get an eight day break to head over to Marvel stadium and take on the Hawks in what could be a brilliant match to showcase emerging talent. Seeing a direct comparison between Koschitzke and Rachele will be enjoyable, and watching Newcombe and Soligo go head-to-head will be worth the price of admission alone.

While a win would be a huge boost to either side, the real victory will be which side can get the biggest contribution from their younger players. Both teams can score big when they’re willing to take risks, and both rely on big input from their veteran players. It’s a real toss up, but I’m leaning towards Adelaide to get the job done.

Crows by 9 points.

 

Final thoughts

Clayton Oliver has become an almost unbackable favourite for the Brownlow, and this game showed why. It’s like he’s seeing through time in some plays, putting the ball exactly where the player needs to be, bringing his teammates into the game, and generally being the most secure ball carrier since Bonds started making boxer-briefs.

Adelaide players can also stand tall. They put in a four quarter effort, and despite their youth and inexperience, stuck with a team that may well win the flag this year. They fell short to a better squad, but they know that they did what they could. They were beaten, but not shamed. The young talent they have will have learned from their opponents and will be the better for it.

I’m still not ready to put the house on Melbourne winning the flag, but I’m certain that if it’s not Melbourne hoisting the cup, they’ll at least be there to watch it happen.

 

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