Down in all aspects of the game, including the scoreboard, Melbourne had their backs pressed firmly up against the wall, but a spirited fight back sparked a run that saw them run out winners by 22 points.
The Dees played two ruckmen, and it worked a treat, dominating the hit outs 73-12 and it eventually paid dividends as the Swans were forced to employ guesswork at stoppages all night. Once the fatigue set in, first hands on the ball from Max Gawn meant the Melbourne mids were able to get going, and they were able to power their team home.
So, what did we learn? That Melbourne have a gear Sydney simply don’t. That’s a pretty fair call, but what I’d liken the Dees to is a car with someone at the wheel whose been driving an automatic their whole lives. When looking for that next gear, they’re having problems with the clutch, there’s a fair bit of crunchiness going on, but then when they find it, they put the foot down a little and pull away.
The Swans… they don’t have that gear.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
ALIIR V PREUSS
There was a bit of feeling in this, and early on in the game, Preuss made a couple of big statements, snagging two goals in the first quarter. The big man showed surprising agility to rove the shallow throw in and snap around his body in the first quarter, but it didn’t take Aliir long to hit his stride.
Knowing full-well that he could run off Preuss whenever the ball hit the deck, Aliir started taking front position and attacking the incoming ball whenever it came in long and high. This enabled him to hit the contest at pace and make as quick a getaway as possible as Preuss lumbered after him.
Preuss had a chance to bag his third in the third quarter, but botched a gimme from 25 metres out.
Though Aliir had 18 touches and seven marks, it is difficult to call him the clear winner in this contest. He did give up two very early goals, and had he been on top at that stage, the Dees may not have found the hope they required to stage their comeback.
Preuss started out great, and Aliir came home hard. On the whole, you’d call that one a draw.
NATHAN JONES’ CAPTAIN’S GOALS
Look, I’ve been a little critical this season of the impact Nathan Jones has had… or hasn’t had, more to the point.
But I do give credit where it’s due, and with the Dees behind in the second quarter, the Melbourne co-captain unleashed two ripping goals to change the momentum in favour of his team.
The second of the two was the highlight, after reading the ball off the pack, Jones was able to get separation on his brother and snap a ripping goal on his left foot from the pocket. You could what it meant to him, and the Demons in general as he pumped his fist and the team got around him.
At moments like that, you need your captain to stand up, and this season, we really haven’t seen Jones at his best. Maybe tonight is the turning point?
He finished with three goals straight and worked hard back into defence to help his teammates out whenever the chance presented. He also added four clearances and a direct goal assist to his name before all was said and done.
This bloke wasn’t dominant by any stretch, but with two games under his belt, the Dees have found something here. He reads the game really well, puts his body on the line to kill a contest or take an intercept mark, and has a really good sense of what to do, and when to do it.
He picked up 20 disposals drifting around the defensive 50 arc, and ran at 75% efficiency, which belied his inexperience. As the Swans pushed hard early in the game, it was Hore that was resolute in defence, repelling attacks and disrupting the Sydney inside 50s.
If not for Hore, things could have been much worse before the Dees hit their straps.
Quick shout out to Harmes for his defensive efforts against Josh Kennedy. The Sydney midfielder is a beast at contests and still managed to collect 24 touches and six clearances, but what you can do when you’re opposing him is make him accountable, and run hard the other way.
The one criticism I have had of Kennedy in his great start to 2019 has been his inability to run defensively. As the engine room of the Swans, he has been great, but I think he can be exploited a bit going the other way, particularly when he has to carry such a load offensively. Harmes was able to do that, sneaking forward to hit the scoreboard and doubling the amount of metres gained with his 19 possessions.
Harmes was also able to match JK’s effectiveness at stoppages, collecting six clearances of his own.
This wasn’t the traditional tight tag, and credit Simon Goodwin for allowing Harmes the freedom to play his own game and place trust in the fact he would be able to impact the game substantially when he did get his hands on it. You’d look at the games of Kennedy and Harmes side by side and call them a draw – you’d take that before the game if you were offered it, Dees fans? I would.
CLAYTON OLIVER AFTER QUARTER TIME
I want to make a bit of a correction here for the Channel 7 echo-chamber. George Hewett split time between Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney in this game, doing an admirable job on all of them.
He held Oliver to just three touches in the first quarter. However, he was them used to plug the Viney/Brayshaw holes at stoppages as well. And once he was moved away from Oliver exclusively, the young red-head started to shine.
Over the next three quarters, Oliver picked up 30 touches as he powered the Demon midfield and took control of the guts. Once again he was best when the game was at its hottest, picking up 20 contested touches and picking up a game-high seven clearances to combine with his game-high seven inside 50s.
The fact we are talking about Oliver as one of the best players on the park after what was a severely stifled effort in the first quarter is testament to his work ethic and how he does not allow one poor quarter to dictate how the rest of the game will play out.
Many will criticize John Longmire for allowing Oliver room to move after quarter time, but I understand his thinking. So many players have their belief shaken after being tagged, and even when the tag is lifted, struggle to get into the swing of the game. Sadly for the Swans, Oliver is not one of those kinds of players. As Hewett started to shift his focus, Oliver stormed back into the contest. Credit to his resilience.
I’ll get to Cal Sinclair in a moment, but to see Gawn have such an absolute dominance in the ruck against one who should’ve been able to somewhat nullify his influence somewhat, was incredibly impressive.
The longer the game went, the more influential Gawn became at stoppages, and the Dees didn’t lose much when he was spelled for Preuss to have a run. The Demon big man combo utterly destroyed the Swans ruck division on the back of Gawn’s 55 taps – an easy season-high for him.
Gawn also added 19 touches around the ground and six clearances, himself – good enough for second in the game.
Teams would be well-served taking note of what a determined Gawn is capable of, and how teams have been successful against him this year. And then they could take a look at how Sydney handled him, and avoid doing the same at all costs.
Look, the bloke has “star” written all over him, and is poised to take the next step… but he hasn’t just yet. I’m not sure there is a player in the game who is more ready to take over games, but just doesn’t quite do it.
That’s not a knock – it’ll come, and everyone can see it will, but for periods, he was the best player on the ground. He had 13 contested touches and still ran at 91% efficiency. He took a couple of contested grabs, won clearances and laid eight tackles. Whilst not dominant, he was one of the Swans’ best.
At 22, there is little question that the Sydney team will be his in the coming years.
Probably the best four quarter performer for the Swans, Cunningham spent the majority of his time in defence, and did the kind of work that Jake Lloyd doesn’t. He won contests and battled hard in the contest. Not a knock on Lloyd – they play different roles.
Cunningham’s ten tackles were a game-high, and his 25 touches were second to only Lloyd for the Swans. He also sent the ball outside 50 on eight occasions and gained close to 600 metres running at 76%.
THE BIG HITS
I love a good, hard tackle or bump, and we saw a few of them tonight. Buddy went after Oscar McDonald on the boundary in the third quarter, and was a split second away from knocking him into next week.
He opted to tackle Josh Wagner instead of putting him to the week after that in the last quarter as well.
Then there was Heeney making Jayden Hunt pay as he took the ball overhead in the last quarter. I know they are three Sydney hits on Melbourne players, but they were all fair, and all in the play.
And hey, the Mongrel likes a bit of the physical stuff.
The funny thing about players picked up from other clubs is that they either completely re-invent themselves, or you quickly become aware as to why their previous club was okay with letting them go.
Tonight, Sydney found out about the bad side of Jackson Thurlow.
I don’t like singling out one player and pointing the finger at them, but Thurlow’s decision making, and foot-skills completely deserted him during this outing. He turned the ball over, gave away silly free kicks in contests his teammate was about to win, and just hacked the ball way too often to have been anywhere near an effective player.
Thurlow notched 18 disposals whilst travelling at 61% efficiency. He had eight contested touches, but it was his six turnovers that really hurt the Swans.
He needs to go back, hit the track and sharpen up, because what we saw today simply cannot be anywhere near the output the Swans require.
This might be unfair, but I’m finding that Viney is definitely midfielder #3 in the Demon rotation at the moment.
Actually no, it’s not unfair. If he isn’t fit, that’s one thing, but he had just eight effective disposals in this game, and whilst he made up for some of that with the nine tackles he laid, I’m not sure that the Dees are getting bang for their buck out of their co-captain at the moment.
He had no clearances, despite spending a fair bit of time in the middle, and tended to hack the ball when he did get his hands on it.
So, what do you do with him? His best position when fit is obviously in the middle, but at the moment he is second to the ball too often. With Brayshaw having a less than stellar game as well, the Dees were lucky they have that wild-looking red head lifting his game after quarter time.
Viney will get better with each game. Like a racehorse rounding into the Spring carnival, he’ll improve with a few runs under his belt. Well, that’s the hope, anyway.
Let me put this in perspective. This is the Swans’ number one ruckman. Twice this season, he has notched 40+ hit outs in a game. Are you telling me that he was so completely inept against Max Gawn – the guy who was beaten by Rhys Stanley – that he could only manage to get his hands on the ball at stoppages nine times?
People, you don’t just go from getting 40 hit outs to getting nine because your opponent is so much better. You go from that high to that low because there is something going on upstairs. To me, after being dominated in the first quarter, it looked as though Sinclair completely checked out of this game.
Not only did he barely get a touch after quarter time, he was almost non-competitive in the ruck duels in the second half. As he limped toward the bench at one stage, he looked like a guy desperate to get off. He was yelling out for Sam Reid to come and take his place, and looked genuinely pissed that he may have had to attend another stoppage.
He knew he was going to lose it. He knew he had zero chance of winning the ruck tap, and he knew that he was basically being beaten from pillar to post. He was ready to take himself off at that stage, and he did.
Sinclair finished with game stats of six disposals and one mark to go with those nine hit outs. This, from a bloke who was averaging 35.33 hitouts per game prior to tonight. Sorry Swans fans, but those are the numbers of a downhill skier.
I probably have to rein myself in a little here, as I spent a fair amount of time looking for things Christian Petracca was doing wrong, but there was also a lot he did right, particularly early. His snap-goal from 40 metres whilst being tackled was exactly the type of forward play the Dees need from him, and it came at a vital part of the game as the Swans were in full control. Those goals against the flow of the game are incredibly valuable, and whilst Petracca has been a bit of a whipping boy for those who report on Melbourne games (myself included), he was instrumental in keeping them in the game early on.
Without him, it may have been messy. He did have a couple of crucial double grabs, one of which led to a Sydney goal in the second quarter, but overall, a lot more good than bad in this encounter.
Where is Buddy at? At times he looks like a million bucks, and his physical presence was very evident whenever an unsuspecting Melbourne player ignored his presence. But how effective was he overall? He took nine marks with four of them contested, but lacked that trademark Buddy penetration on his kicking, with several dropping 10 metres shorter than you’d normally expect.
Buddy saw several shots at goal fall into the waiting arms of Melbourne players as he went for home from 50+ metres. One shot from 50 directly in front failed to make the distance. I think we put this down as an anomaly, but if he starts failing to get that amazing distance he’s been renowned for, perhaps Sydney have to reassess how they’re using him?
I was tempted to have Jake Lloyd in the ‘good’ category but decided against it based on his last quarter, where he just continually hacked the ball into the waiting arms of Melbourne midfielders. Credit the Dees mids here – they set up perfectly to cut off the normally composed Lloyd’s exits.
He accumulated over 600 metres gained for the game, but I found myself wondering how the hell he is allowed to wander around unmanned for 90% of the game. With McVeigh out, a defensive forward could ostensibly cripple the Sydney rebound with a nullifying role on Lloyd.
That said, if he is going to dish up the kind of disposals he did in the last quarter, maybe leaving him by himself is a wise move. Three significant turnovers by foot from him in the last.
Quite an impressive outing for Dane Rampe again, who was the impressive in curtailing the Melbourne forwards for most of the game. Tom McDonald was found several times at half back to get himself involved in the play, as whenever the Dees ventured inside 50 in the first half, Rampe seemed to own the space. That said, I am pretty sure I saw him cop the rare double falcon late in the first quarter. Got hit in the head, then as he looked for the spilled ball, it bounced up and got him in the head again. You don’t see that too often, but I’m glad I saw it happen to him.
How are we seeing the Weideman/Tom McDonald forward set up at the moment? I hate to say it, but it has been easy-pickings for opposition defenders to this point of the season. TMac may be carrying an injury, but he has not troubled many defences as yet. That this game was arguably his best of the year thus far speaks volumes about his impact, or lack thereof, on the season.
Four goal assists to Jake Melksham again in this game. Last year’s leader in this category is at it again, and has turned into a very valuable, and dangerous man to have the ball in his hands anywhere within 80 metres of goal. I loved the way he was so patient with the ball in hand in the first quarter to set up the running goal of Petracca… though the handball probably could’ve hit him in stride, to be fair.
Heard the commentators giving Ollie Florent the plaudits, and yes, he was good. He was able to work all over the ground, but I felt his impact dwindled later in the game.
Ten minutes into the second quarter, the Swans had twice as many scoring shots, and almost twice as many disposals as the Dees. They were all over them. Credit to Simon Goodwin for shaking things up and reversing that trend. Those disposal numbers were crazy. 141-78 at one point in favour of the Swans – how could they be so dominant and then fall away? Ran out of gas? Missed a couple of crucial shots? Momentum and heads dropping?
There’ll be a fair few questions asked at Sydney this week
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