Sydney v Melbourne – The Big Questions

It was a slog during the first half in the season opener, with a slippery footy adding to the usual first-up jitters for both sides. Dropped chest marks, missed targets… they were common, as the clubs adjusted to the flow of true AFL footy once again. How many times have you witnessed Christian Petracca fumble a footy?

He did it three times in the same play in this one!

However, after the Dees squandered early opportunities, the Swans were able to put it all together in the second half, heading into the final change with a two-point lead, blowing it out to over five goals, before ending up with a solid 22-point victory.

The Swans got a huge lift in the middle, with recent acquisition, Brodie Grundy, playing an intelligent brand of footy against former teammate, Max Gawn, and some scintillating runs from defence from Nick Blakey to break the game open.

Plenty to get through in this one. Let’s jump into the Mongrel’s Big Questions… free this week, because it is the first game of the year, and I am feeling generous.



Coming into this contest, the prospect of Brodie Grundy versus Max Gawn was a huge story.

Snubbed by the Dees in the latter half of 2023, Grundy had to look for greener pastures this off-season, and with Tom Hickey hanging up the boots in Sydney, Brodie would have been checking out how he looked in red and white pretty often before trade period.

But how you look at that point of year means nothing – it is how you look once the games start that matters, and all signs point to Brodie Grundy having a career renaissance at Sydney in 2024.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about the previous Gawn v Grundy battles and how they played out. The last time they met, Grundy took the chocolates, but that was way back in 2019 – injuries and a year as teammates robbed us of what could have been an enduring ruck duel. Given the chance to build on that rivalry, Grundy attacked the contest with intent against Gawn, immediately moving across the centre circle to negate Gawn’s best weapon – his leap and timing of the hit out.

Think about it – how many times did you see Gawn hit a moving target in this game with his ruck taps? I’ll ask another one – how many times was Gawn permitted to take the footy cleanly out of the ruck?

The former didn’t happen at all. That latter occurred twice – once in the first few minutes, as he pushed Grundy under the footy and hit the post with his ensuing snap, and once later against Hayden McLean. The Swans completely removed Gawn’s most powerful weapon, and Grundy was brilliant in executing what was obviously a strategy going into the game.

At throw ins, Grundy took front spot, daring Gawn to push him under the footy. If he didn’t have front spot, he fought to take it. The thing is, Grundy is no kid. He is no 90 lb weakling that can be easily moved off the footy. He can hold his ground against Max, which meant that Gawn was unable to have his way at any type of stoppage.

Gawn may have finished with 37 taps to go along with his 14 disposals, but he was beaten, both physically and mentally by a thoroughly prepared Grundy and the Swans. Grundy registered the 60th 20/20 game of his career, drawing level in second place with the great Gary Dempsey and moving to within five of all-time leader, Dean Cox, collecting 23 disposals and 33 hit outs in his most impressive individual outing in a few years.

What does it mean to Sydney if Grundy can sustain this type of performance?

Well, early this year, I was thinking aloud how Sydney are probably not going to receive the 2019 version of Grundy, given the number of injuries he’s endured, but he looks in great shape, and ran the game out brilliantly. His second efforts are his best attribute, and they were on display in this one – it was the Grundy of old! What if they get close to that version on a regular basis? How good does their midfield become? Particularly as troops return – Parker, Mills, Adams?

Yes, this was a game that made the footy world sit up and take notice. Could Grundy be back to his best?

Why, yes… yes he can.

Can he sustain it?

Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Regardless, for at least one shining March night under the SCG lights, Brodie Grundy demonstrated that he is a long way from being a spent force in this league. He did it at the expense of Max Gawn, and if he can do that to one of the best big men of the past 30 years, what will he be able to do against lesser rucks?

The Swans turned a 2023 weakness into a 2024 strength, and it was wonderful to see Grundy playing this type of footy once more. I hope to see a lot more.



There are some players in the league that catch the eye when they run with the footy. Some run and run until they are in trouble, banging the footy on the boot and hoping for the best – think Adam Saad every season up until last year.

However, there are not many that can break lines, sow the seeds of chaos in the opposition, and then have the composure to do something good with the footy in hand.

Nick Blakey does it all.

We will have stars mentioned throughout this article for the roles they played in this win or loss. We will celebrate players for the outstanding efforts they made, but I am not sure anyone caused the damage in this game that Blakey did with his run and carry.

How do you combat him?

Do you immediately have a player forward of the footy peel off his man and charge at Blakey? It seems as though that may be the only answer, as nobody is going to be catching him from behind. You may have to make him make a chip kick, or a handball forward rather than allow him to run for so long. If you send people at him from the side, he dances around them like a matador does a charging bull, and then he takes off again!

There was a time when I hated seeing players corral the opposition instead of dragging them to the ground, but with Blakey, I think it might actually be the best option. He flat out murders teams when he finds space to take off.

He finished this game with 26 disposals. Most came in the back half, as you’d expect, but it was the two direct goal assists that prove the value of what he can do with the footy. Pulling kicks across his body, and making great choices as options appear all over the place, Blakey hurts teams, and with running support from blokes like Ollie Florent, who was very prominent in the first half, and Harry Cunningham, the Swans find themselves with a host of running defenders that can kill off the opposition’s hopes pretty quickly.

Teams are going to have to put some work into these blokes, with Blakey, in particular, looking like a potential headache this season.




For years, we’ve been pondering the best position for Isaac Heeney, and for years, he has shifted between being a potent forward and a part-time midfielder, but Sydney fans have always speculated what would happen if he was able to get his body right and play in the middle, full-time.

If this game was anything to go by, plenty will happen, and his ability to get forward and hit the scoreboard may not be impacted as much as we thought it would.

Heeney was a clearance machine in this game, registering a career-high 13 for the game, whilst collecting 18 contested touches amongst his 26 disposals.

He was hard at the footy, collecting the ball in tight and dishing it out to the waiting Sydney runners, as he and Brodie Grundy combined to collect 22 clearances between them (as much as all-time record holder, Paul Salmon, had in one game).

Their work gave the Swans a +11 clearance advantage against a club that has great – not just good – clearance players, such as Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, and Jack Viney. Whilst a lot of this can be attributed to the combative work of Grundy, the willingness of Heeney to get down and dirty, and mix it up with the Melbourne contested players, was the type of thing that would have warmed the cockles of John Longmire’s heart.

Or something like that.

Whenever the subject of players who haven’t reached their potential comes up, Heeney’s name seems to accompany it. It’s not unfair to have it in the mix, but it is unfair to do so without context. An injury-free Isaac Heeney could set the Swans on fire in 2024. He is strong, classy, and in a dry weather game, has the ability to control the air, as well. We’ve seen plenty over the years, but he has never really put it together to the level everyone expects.

Could this be the year?

If so, his work would make the Swans must-watch on a weekly basis.



Well, the short answer is that we got 30 touches, and it could be viewed as a real positive to see him out there.

Actually, it is a massive positive. After the off-season he had and the coverage of the situation, to see him out there doing what he loves is brilliant and I wish him nothing but the best.

That said, this was probably the least-effective 30-disposal game he’s ever had.

He got a lot of the footy, but it was not… geez, how do you describe it? It was not the Clayton Oliver that won four Bluey Truscott Medals out there in this one. This version hacked the footy forward, looked like he was just happy to get rid of it, and didn’t have much of an impact.

Maybe we look at the fact it was his first game at the top level in a while? Maybe we give him time to adjust to life back at the club – he did get the call up pretty quickly. And maybe we give him a bit more time to work into the type of shape that saw him rip games apart. Because he is a much better player than what we saw in this game.



Righto, we’ve discussed how Grundy worked against Max, but if you listened to the chatter of the commentators about how tired Gawn looked toward the end of the game, then you’d be looking at how much of the load he had to carry, and who was able to shoulder some of it for him.

I think Melbourne got yet another lesson in this game that whatever the question is, Josh Schache is not the answer. When you play backup ruck, you need to have some aggression about you. You need to have some mongrel!

Schache has about as much mongrel as a french poodle.

After quarter time of this game, he managed the following stats – One disposal. Two tackles.

As Porky Pig would say… that’s all, folks!

Look, it wasn’t a great night for big men, but far out, one hit out? The Dees had 40 for the game. Gawn had 39 of them.

Whether the Dees play Jacob van Rooyen as the backup ruck (he has no issues crashing into people) or bring in one of Tom Fullarton, Tom McDonald, or Ben Brown (all playing VFL this week), it is clear that someone needs to step up and give Max a breather. It shouldn’t be Schache – if you’re playing him in the role, you’re conceding. And if he is the answer you come up with, time to ask a different question.



Halfway through the last quarter, I heart BT utter that Errol Gulden was having a “good night”.

Was he watching the same game I was?

That Sydney were able to win with Gulden playing a game where he had so little influence is a credit to the club. He attended 13 centre bounces in this one and struggled to get his hands on it, looking a little out of touch as the ball slipped and fumbled from his grasp.

Moving to the wing in the last quarter, he started to find a bit more of the footy, but in the contest, he was overshadowed by the work of Grundy, Heeney, and Chad Warner.

The conditions probably didn’t suit Gulden in the midfield role, as there were few opportunities to create by hand, and due to the slipperiness of the footy, chains of handballs were often brought undone before they got a chance to get up and going.

Gulden excels when he can start, or become part of those handball chains, particularly when he can receive and get to the outside,. With the Melbourne mids making life tough, he just had a bit of a dirty day in the middle.

Eight touches in the last bumped him to 20 touches for the night, but this own’t be one he’ll write home about.



Not a bad first-up effort from the Dees’ Blake Howes, who recorded a game-high 12 intercepts to be the only player on the park in double figures in that category. Playing alongside Jake Lever (who had to deal with Robbie Fox most of the evening) and Steven May, Howes gave a fantastic accounting of himself in his first game, showing composure and a good understanding of what the Dees were wanting to do.

I had Steven May down as the best player on the park through the first half. The Sydney entities – long and high to a contest – seemed to invite him to swallow them up, and as Logan McDonald seemed eager to try to match muscle with May (a mistake, of course), the big Demon simply had his way inside defensive 50.

He collected nine intercepts and nine one-percenters for the game. Eight of those intercepts came in the first half, so a bit of credit has to go to John Longmire for successfully negating May’s influence after halftime.



He started slowly… very slowly, but worked his way into the game after quarter time.

After starting in the middle, he moved out to play more on the flanks as the game progressed, finding space through the wings in transition. I wouldn’t say he would be thrilled with his own performance, particularly given how he struggled to get involved in the first quarter (one disposal), but he remained combative and was at his best through the third quarter, as Sydney started to edge their way to a lead.



Yep, I like the game of Matt Roberts in defence for the Swans. The Swans seem to trust his decision-making and he returned that trust with a solid, if unspectacular innings down back. In just game number eight, you absolutely take that.

Caleb Windsor did a few nice things on debut. One of his turns, using footwork to completely bamboozle the opposition, was all class. As was his oass inside 50 in traffic during the first half. That said, he did get a harsh lesson about how much time he has, or doesn;t have, at this level, as he was run down as he ambled out of defence.

Overall, a solid outing for the kid. There’ll be plenty more.

And Dane Rampe did what Dane Rampe does. He was solid, had the lazy seven intercepts, and made the occasional blunder, but as always, the excellent outweighed the negative substantially.



So, what gives with the Swans’ forward setup?

Amartey was horrid in this one. McLean was pretty ordinary, as well. He ended up with two goals, but one was an absolute gift as it rolled past two defenders and into his hands. And Logan McDonald was clearly outplayed by Steven May.

For me, Logan stays, but for crying out loud, when you play on someone like May, lead! And when you lead, extend your arms to take it in front of your face. Hell, palm it down to yourself if you have to, but don’t try chest marks when the defender is renowned for closing speed and getting his fist in there… like Joe Ganino at a high school reunion.

I’m not sure who misses out, but three talls doing the job of two… it seems a waste.

Four goals for Bayley Fritsch… could have been six. I feel like even in games where he isn’t having a great outing, he still finds a way to deliver results. Gotta love that about him – four goals in a losing side that could hardly hit the ocean from the beach – it is a nice day at the office.

I haven’t given Jack Viney anywhere near enough credit in this review. He willed the first goal though, with Errol Gulden hanging off him like a cheap suit, and then kicked another big goal later in the game when the scores were tight. Those goals book-ended a game where he continually burrowed in and under to fight for the footy, and did everything he could to get his team over the line.

I’d love to play with him.

Robbie Fox up forward – we all know why he’s there. He is the defensive forward, which allows Will Hayward to play a bit more of an attacking game. So, how’d he do?

Whilst not locking down on Jake Lever, Fox was charged with making his life difficult when the option became available. Lever can control a game when allowed to play the intercept role, but given he had just four in this game, I’d say that Robbie Fox well and truly got the job done.

And finally, the Jacob van Rooyen goal in all its clumsy glory – wow.




Look, I don’t think this game gets a rewatch anytime soon. It was not the greatest way to highlight our game, and the halftime score of six goals between the sides tells a pretty sad story. That said, the Swans would be ecstatic with the way they were able to switch up their forward entities, nullify the influence of Steven May, and power home to win.

For the Dees… questions will come about both their attack, and their inability to run the game out.

In truth, I thought the Swans just started to get things right in the last quarter at stoppages. Melbourne’s issues revolve around wasteful disposals, poor conversion, and no backup ruck.

As for Sydney, they’ll need to address three young forwards who struggle to impact once the ball hits the deck, but that’s about it at this stage.

A fantastic win for the Swans to kick start their season, and a very welcome return to great form from Brodie Grundy.

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