The most succinct way to describe Melbourne’s season is “mediocre”. Much like ordering a tasteless mid-priced dish at a forgettable middle-class restaurant, the Demons were served exactly what they ordered with a mid-table finish. Beating just 2 teams above them on the ladder was balanced up by falling to 2 teams beneath them. They finished mid-pack in almost every single basic statistical category. Even the ‘M’ for Melbourne is smack bang in the middle of the alphabet. Everything about the Demons is packed tight in the middle of the bell curve.
Which is ironic, because their playlist list is anything but normally distributed. They were extremely top-heavy, with the likes of Gawn, Petracca and Oliver dominating both in real-life (all three finished in the top 13 of the Brownlow) and in fantasy (the lowest score between the trio all year was an adjusted 84 AF). But the drop off from there was sharp, with Melbourne boasting the fewest players of any club to average more than 72 AF last year. Too few are doing too much, and whether by a faulty design or a discrepancy in talent, we can’t say from the outside looking in.
What we can judge harshly from our armchairs is how incredibly unaccountable the Demons were. While you’d assume their midfield would be their greatest strength given the names and numbers I just reeled off, it’s also their biggest weakness. For a team that is up there in the contested possession numbers and headlined by the best tap ruckman in the game, to rank 18th for tackles laid is unforgivable.
That’s just one symptom of their lack of midfield pressure. They conceded the 2nd-most uncontested possessions last year. In fact, they allowed the smallest contested possession to uncontested possession ratio of any club in the league at just 38%. They even let teams take the 2nd-most bounces against them. Simply put, Melbourne didn’t just allow their opponents to casually waltz their way down the field with ease, they practically laid out the red carpet out for them.
It’s super frustrating, because it cancels out their greatest advantage – contested footy. Oliver and Petracca were both top 3 for contested possession league-wide last year, with Viney not too far behind at 12th. No one averaged more hitouts than Gawn. Yet they ranked 15th for clearances as their games featured the fewest stoppages of any club, with Melbourne’s midfield infuriatingly unable to force the game onto their terms. Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.
On the flip side, they did fix a previous glaring list weakness by shoring up their defense. It’s amazing what a full season out of high-profile recruits in May and Lever can do, with the pair a driving force behind the Demons conceding the 2nd-least Marks inside 50 last year.
Let’s hope the midfield follows suit.
Preuss, Hannan [trades, free agency]
Bennell, Kolodjashnij [retired]
McDonald, K Dunkley, J Wagner, C Wagner [delisted]
B. Brown (NTH)
The Demons didn’t lose a lot, but didn’t gain a lot, either.
Preuss was gratuitously surplus to needs with Gawn and his understudy Luke Jackson both fit, while Hannan was a part of the small forward bottleneck. It wasn’t a great year to be a sibling at Melbourne, with both Wagners, Josh Dunkley’s lesser known brother Kyle and Oscar McDonald told to ship off (and the latter’s brother Tom would’ve suffered the same fate if not for an immovable contract). Guessing we won’t see any messaging about being a “family club” from Melbourne’s PR team this year.
Investments in injury-prone recruits Bennell (calf) and Kolodjashnij (neck/concussion) failed to return anything concrete, which was a bad omen for the inbound Ben Brown from that start. Much like his set-shot routine, Brown faces a long lead-in to his Demon debut after undergoing knee surgery during the pre-season.
#21 Jake Bowey – M/F – 63 avg from 16 games in 2019 NAB League
Melbourne adopted a very needs-based mentality into this draft, including zeroing in on midfield talent that can play in other positions while their very settled core still has 3-5 elite years ahead of them as a unit. Bowey plays well above his 174cm and 66kg frame, displaying the aggression and packing the punch that belies a larger, or more mature, man. He excelled as wingman in his bottom-age year but will likely do his early AFL work closer to goals as a great decision maker and skillful user of the footy.
#22 Bailey Laurie – M/F – 67 avg from 7 games in 2019 NAB League
Like Bowey, Laurie is a future midfielder who’ll kick off his career as a small forward. No stranger to plying his trade off a half-forward flank after impressing in that role in his bottom-age draft year, Melbourne will take full advantage of his slippery and sneaky antics closer to the sticks. He’s the kind of player that you can unleash into the cage of the forward half, where they’ll zip around all day and simply make things happen. Basically, Laurie doesn’t need high volume in the disposals department to have an impact. The Demons have a bit of a log-jam in the small forwards department so he’ll need to make some waves in the VFL before earning his opportunity at the top level.
#34 Fraser Rosman – M/F – 36 avg from 2 games in 2019 NAB League
Similar to Nik Cox taken by Essendon a couple of rounds earlier, Rosman is an absolute physical specimen. Standing 194cm tall, Rosman has blitzed all the running trials at Melbourne since joining the club, which comes as no surprise after he finished 9th in the 20 Second Sprint test and 2nd in the 2km Time Trial at the AFL Draft Combine last year. With a few years in the system, and the muscle that comes with multiple pre-seasons, he might develop into a key forward; but for now, he’s right in the frame to hold down a wing for Melbourne after Tomlinson’s shift to a key defensive post. Don’t take much notice of his 36-point average in the 2019 NAB League – he’s developed swiftly in the last two years since those two appearances, and a wing role would be significantly more fruitful in fantasy for the new Demon.
The stand-out DFS rule against the Demons is to avoid the rucks like you would Brendon Fevola at the Brownlow. As a side they conceded only 23 hitouts per game, which built the backbone of Melbourne ranking as easily the hardest team for RUC’s to score against in a DvP sense. I’m talking complete and utter avoidance – Melbourne single-game slates were particularly painful because you already had $20k married to Gawn’s auto-selection in the ruck slot.
Besides that, it was open season. Melbourne’s outside weaknesses benefitted the usual suspects, ranking 3rd softest for General DEF’s and 2nd softest for MID’s. Basically anyone who scales on touches or marks was in for a busy day against the Dees.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Max Gawn
With a lowest score of a healthy 91 AF last year, Gawn’s swollen pricetag had no respite and hovered around the $18k mark all year. That put his value point somewhere around the 130-point threshold, which meant it was crucial to pick and choose your spots with the pricey ruckman. Max reached that figure in 5 games last year, against Carlton, Richmond, Hawthorn, Brisbane and GWS (he was injured for the Bulldogs) and line-ups with his name in it littered the DFS leaderboards on those days.
What do those sides all have in common? No top-line ruckman. While Gawn missed out on clashes with Grundy (only 1 ton against him in last 4 tries) and Goldstein due to injury, it wasn’t surprising to see his dual basement scores of 91 AF posted against his fellow All-Australian Naitanui and the rapidly improving O’Brien.
Look out for some huge Gawn games to kick off the season with these juicy early games:
Round 1 – Fremantle (Darcy, or back-up if injured as per usual)
Round 2 – St Kilda (no Marshall)
Round 3 – GWS (no Preuss)
Round 4 – Geelong (Stanley or Fort, take your pick)
Round 5 – Hawthorn (McEvoy and Ceglar playing silly buggers)
Round 6 – Richmond (the incredibly leaky Nankervis)
2. James Harmes
I talked about the vacuum beneath Gawn, Oliver and Petracca, and Harmes is one player that could fill that void with a move back to what he knows best. Trialled in a half-back role last year, Harmes’ adjusted average of 62 AF didn’t even begin to tickle the 94 points he averaged as a midfielder in 2019. So the news that he’s been training as a MID all through-out the pre-season, which continued into their scratch match against the Tigers, is massive for his fantasy prospects.
The big question is how the Dees are going to juggle the CBA’s this year. They ran the tightest midfield rotation of any club last year, basically boiling it down to Gawn (93% CBA presence), Oliver (77%), Viney (77%), Petracca (66%) and Brayshaw (59%) with daylight followed by more daylight.
The simplest solution would be to slot Harmes onto a wing opposite Langdon, but the Demons have been caught out trying to stash inside midfielders like Brayshaw on the outside for years (hence the recruitment of Langdon and Tomlinson in the first place, and the courting of Isaac Smith in the off-season). So it’s a hybrid M/F rotation in store for Harmes for mine, and while that role likely won’t allow him to reach the heights of his 94-point season, it’ll dwarf his 2020 output – and we’ll be able to pick him as a DEF to boot.
3. Tom McDonald
The redemption narrative is looking like destiny for Tom McDonald this year. Out of form and favour in 2020, a fat contract was the only thing that saved T-Mac from immediate relocation, forcing him to walk back into Melbourne HQ with his tail between his legs. Unwanted by rival clubs as well as his own, that was the clear rock bottom that any comeback story needs.
Then came the Rocky montage. McDonald put in a power of work over the off-season, with the key forward returning “trimmed down” and “fitter than ever” – high praise for an endurance beast who has won 2km time trials for the Demons in the past.
Finally, the path to redemption requires McDonald to take to the field – so injury has stepped in and parted his competitors like the Red Sea, with Ben Brown (knee), Weideman (foot) and Petty (groin) out of action early doors. I don’t know if we’ll see the 90-point or 2.8-goal averages from T-Mac’s 2018 season ever again, but I do know that he’s got a lot of meat on the bone if he’s going to be priced at last year’s 56-point average.
4. Steven May
May has piqued my interest after closing out the year with adjusted scores of 111, 105 and 105 in his last 3 games as a pure backman. This coincided with Tomlinson and Joel Smith helping pin down the key forwards, which allowed May to assume a more aggressive mindset out of defense.
Freeing up May seems to be a focus this pre-season. Not satisfied with his 2nd-placed finish in the Best & Fairest, May pointed to his key defender brethren as inspiration for developing his intercept game. “I was really good in the one-on-one’s last year, but I only halved the contest, I didn’t win enough. If you look at your All-Australian defenders in (Harris) Andrews, (Darcy) Moore and Luke Ryan, they would win the ball back, not just halve it. One of my focuses this year”.
May averaged an adjusted 110 AF from his 5 games with an unadjusted 7+ marks in 2020 – imagine if he starts doing it regularly? After all, he did tick over at 7.3 marks per game in his last two seasons with the Suns… watch this space.
5. Jayden Hunt
Essentially flipping ends with Harmes, Hunt will be returning to his back flank role after a couple of years spent trying to reinvent himself as a pressure forward. The switch should see him return to fantasy relevance too, managing just 51 AF per game in the past two seasons compared to the 72 he averaged from 22 games as a half-back in 2017.
AFL journo Callum Twomey singled him out in his match report from Melbourne’s scratchie against the Tigers, noting that “Hunt was valuable with his run and carry and the Demons tried to give him a chance to break the lines”. One shudders to think of the damage Hunt could do on the overlap with the new man-on-the-mark rule – scribble his name down in your DFS blackbook.
- Oliver had a lowest adjusted score of 93 all year, and pumped out monsters of 145, 156 and 164 along the way. He’s only 23 years old.
- Langdon has one wing locked down, but it’s wide open for the other with Baker & Rosman squaring off in a position battle. The “break glass in case of emergency” option is Brayshaw/Harmes rotating through the wide expanses of the MCG, so this structural anomaly has created some relevant DFS ripples.
- Speaking of Brayshaw, he’s coming off a modified pre-season following foot surgery that ended his 2020 campaign. He’s the kind of player who boasts the epic ceiling that requires you own some shares of him in GPP’s; but man, it’s few and far between these days, even when fully fit.
- Petracca added a vital ingredient to his game last year – consistency. Reaching the Dusty/Danger echelon where he’s just as potent up forward as in the midfield, CP5 needs to be in your player pool weekly.
- Mentioned a few times above, but Tomlinson didn’t pan out as the wingman the Demons thought they paid for. Including the pre-season games, Tomlinson averaged 94 on a wing compared to just 50 in defence. Huge pass.
- Salem was Melbourne’s version of a Tom Stewart or a Nick Haynes in the sense that he generally scored whatever other teams let him off half-back. Adjusted scores of 123 against the Pies, 115 against the Bombers… you get the idea. Shame he can’t play against the Demons.
- Nathan Jones’ massive pre-season from a fitness perspective probably gives him the nod ahead of fellow fringe types like Neal-Bullen, vandenBerg, Jordon and Sparrow early on, but I’m tipping that doesn’t last the full season. Competition is hot for that couple of half-forward/midfield spots and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any combination of the above run out in Round 1. Jordon, in particular, has been lauded by the club and track-watchers alike this pre-season.
- Jackson returns bigger and stronger and will be the key in helping Melbourne cover for their ravaged key forward stocks – both directly, and indirectly by allowing Gawn to drift forward. Can’t touch him in DFS unless Max goes down, however.
- Chandler and Spargo have a positional battle of their own for that forward pocket spot. Both hit the scoreboard in the Richmond scratchie, so their AAMI Community Series hitout will be the decider (unless Melksham isn’t deemed fit with his hammy).
- Purely depth at this point, Mitch Brown is worth a look in DFS if he’s ever needed. Can rack up marks like few others.
- I haven’t put Majak Daw on the Depth Chart because he’s not officially on Melbourne’s list despite training with the squad recently. He’s being auditioned to fill the forward void, rather than defensive or ruck roles he played at North in the past.
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.