The response from Melbourne was surely what club chairman Glen Bartlett was hoping for after his strong criticisms of the players a few weeks back following the insipid 51-point loss to Port Adelaide a few weeks back.
Mind you, Port have, and will continue to do that to a few teams. The Power are flag favourites in 2020 for a reason.
But the Demons have asked all that you could wish for since then, beating Adelaide by 51 points and North Melbourne by 57.
Their percentage jumped from 89.9 to 109.9 over those two weeks and they’re in 10th place and just a game out of the eight with seven games to play.
Yes, it is easy to remain skeptical of Melbourne, which has made an art form of the big tease for so much of the past 56 years since the last premiership. When they’re not teasing, the Demons are flat-out disappointing, which is what Bartlett might have been alluding to with his spray.
Certainly Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca took it upon themselves to lift the Demons from the mire. Oliver had 22 contested possessions in the Adelaide win while Petracca had 17 contested and 12 score involvements against the Kangaroos. With Max Gawn and Jack Viney out of the side, he relished the chance to carry the team on his broad shoulders.
So now we get to the biggest game of round 12, and likely season-defining for the Demons. They ‘host’ Collingwood at the Gabba. The Pies are seventh and six points clear of Melbourne. They successfully negotiated a tricky midweek clash with Adelaide, powering away in the second half after some earlier anxious moments.
And they’ll likely be bolstered with the return of Darcy Moore, Jamie Elliott and Ben Reid who were rested from the trip to Adelaide. Skipper Scott Pendlebury and Will Hoskin-Elliott might be back as well.
Melbourne desperately needs Gawn for this one. He and Grundy remain the best two big men in the competition, even though the likes of Todd Goldstein and Nic Naitanui are enjoying banner seasons.
Gawn is battling a PCL injury as a demanding season begins to take its toll. But if ever the skipper needs to play it is this week. Win and Melbourne’s season truly comes alive. Lose, and the frustration, disappointment and anger of another wasted season will permeate through the Demon faithful.
Collingwood will ask the right sorts of questions of Melbourne. That is what Nathan Buckley-coached sides do the best. It will be fascinating to see how far the Demons have progressed since Bartlett’s tirade.
It’s also a big week for…
1. Geelong: Two big tests for the Cats in the space of four days. They passed the first one with flying colours on Monday night, thrashing St Kilda by 59 points, and on Friday night they get Port Adelaide. Geelong’s defensive system squeezed the life out of the Saints and now to see how it fares against the best team so far in 2020, which is also in the midst of a tough stretch, having overcome Richmond last Saturday in what was unquestionably the game of the year. Both teams eschew the hard tags and like to attack. Geelong’s selection will be interesting – will the four-day break compared to six for Port come in to play? This shapes as another great game.
2. Fremantle: You can see the confidence and the momentum growing by the week with the Dockers, with consecutive Optus Stadium wins over Collingwood and Hawthorn. They took control late against the Pies whereas last Sunday against the Hawks it was clear within a few minutes that they were dictating terms. Fremantle now has four wins for the season and while a push for the finals is unlikely, Justin Longmuir is building a side whose finals aspirations should start as early as 2021. From all reports, this week’s clash with Carlton will see Jesse Hogan will return for the first time since round five and likely as a defender. Looking forward to seeing how he fares. He deserves some luck.
3. Brett Ratten: Three likely handy in’s for the Saints coach this week with Paddy Ryder, Zak Jones and Seb Ross all set to return against Essendon on Sunday. But the dynamic playmaker Jade Gresham is probably not going to play for the rest of the year because of stress fractures in his back. The upbeat Ratten has stressed the positives all year, but the Saints were bossed around in the second half by the Cats and they’ll need to bounce back. He'll be strong that every team is entitled to one poor performance, but in a season like this, the consequences for two bad weeks on the trot can be dire.
4. Jonathan Patton: The big man has been almost a non-factor for the Hawks in his first year at the club after crossing from the Giants due to various injuries and middling form when he does play. If he gets picked by the Hawks this week – let’s face it, their forward line has been a disaster – then he owes it to them but more to himself to find some form. Against the powerful West Coast, it won’t be easy.
Sydney v GWS Giants (14) Geelong v Port Adelaide (7) North Melbourne v Brisbane (40) Melbourne (10) v Collingwood Fremantle (6) v Carlton Western Bulldogs (10) v Adelaide St Kilda (16) v Essendon West Coast (10) v Hawthorn Richmond (22) v Gold Coast