Opening Night

March 24, 2023 by
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons 

Round 1 – Melbourne v Western Bulldogs

Liam Chambers

After the disappointments of last year, there would have been much soul searching in the Dees’ camp over the off season. With all the hard work and team effort displayed during the Premiership win in 2021, Melbourne looked guilty of being too casual in their approach to the game in 2022. The behind the scenes fracturing in camaraderie only exacerbated the problems on the field. Then the 2023 pre season games showed a side with a renewed determination and though we were missing some star players, fans would have to be delighted with the opener on Saturday night.

A surging Dees’ side had the Bulldogs on the back foot early on in the first quarter. With the inclusion of Brodie Grundy in the ruck, Max Gawn could roam freely around the ground, popping up in defence and up front to take important marks. Grundy is also a versatile player and though it’s early days, the combination has the look of a winning formula.

Melbourne’s first was beautifully set up after an initial race to the footy between Clayton Oliver and Bailey Smith. Adam Tomlinson collected the erratic ball and hand passed to Kade Chandler, who ran to the edge of 50 before launching directly to Kysaiah Pickett. The crowd favourite marked and converted with an around the corner kick. The Demons had their second when Captain Gawn took a mark from another Chandler kick. Max kicked his first of the night from a tight angel and it was a two goal margin.

The Dogs didn’t take the Dees’ dominance lying down though and eventually hit back when Marcus Bontempelli took advantage of the spilled ball to snap the visitors’ first. The goal energised the Bulldogs and their second came courtesy of a Jamarra Ugle-Hagan mark just inside the 50m line. His kick was well executed and his team took a one point lead. Up the other end, Tom Sparrow had a kick from a similar distance and his accuracy restored Melbourne’s advantage.

The Bulldogs started the second term with a bullet from Bailey Williams whose 55m shot sailed through. Aaron Naughton stretched their lead with a contested mark and a successful set shot. As with recent clashes between the great rivals, the game had swung with the Dogs now dominating in the fashion that gave Melbourne the ascendancy in the first quarter. Ben Brown arrested the momentum when he marked in the pocket and showed he doesn’t need a long run up to to hit the bullseye.

It was a brief respite however, with Jason Johannisen snapping a goal from 30m in front. After that the Dogs wasted several opportunities to extend their lead significantly, only managing a few minor scores before relinquishing the upper hand to the Demons.

In fact the game turned quickly in Melbourne’s favour with Charlie Spargo getting his first via a running kick from 45m. When you’re hot, you’re hot and Christian Petracca’s acceleration after receiving the tap from the centre bounce was pure magic. He launched it deep inside 50 and the Dees were back in control. Kozzie Pickett was awarded a free kick 30m out and slotted his second, to retake the lead.

Spargo also got his second when Ed Langdon’s brilliant kick from the pocket was marked by the small forward in front of goal. The next six pointer came quickly after Brodie Grundy got a free kick just on the centre bounce due to an infringement in front of goal. The ensuing scramble inside 50 resulted in Ben Brown collecting the loose ball. His snap goalward was rewarded with a fortuitous bounce in the square, securing his second of the night.

Max Gawn also got another when he marked a Petracca kick (on the second attempt) and directed his set shot kick cleanly. The final ten minutes of the half was all Melbourne and the Bulldogs finished on the back foot; trailing by nineteen points, having led by eleven early on.

Melbourne started the third quarter with a comfortable margin but couldn’t afford to rest on their laurels as the Dogs struggled to regain the edge. Their attempted assaults on the Demon’s defence proved fruitless and it was the Dees who would strengthen their grip on the game with the opening goal of the half. A big Trent Rivers’ kick from the square to deep inside 50 was marked superbly by Pickett. Having secured the sherrin, he ran towards goal, even managing a “don’t argue” while in full flight, before sealing his hat trick by sending the ball high into the stands.

Melbourne didn’t have it all their own way and a rare mistake in defence allowed the turnover which sent the ball back to the edge of 50m, where ex Demon Oskar Baker was waiting to kick his debut goal for the Bulldogs. In a low scoring quarter, the Dogs’ resurgence continued when Adam Treloar was awarded a free kick and found the target with his set shot, reducing the gap to fourteen points.

The comeback was quickly quenched however when Ben Brown somehow controlled a chaotic ball in the goal square before finally managing to tap it through for his third and Melbourne’s eleventh. Still the Dogs refused to lie down and an incredible snap effort by Jack McCrae kept his team in touch with the home side.

That was as close as the Bulldogs would get though because two minutes later, the hard working Kade Chandler took advantage of his inclusion in the team by scoring his debut goal with a sensational snap off his left boot. Then with less than a minute to go, Pickett kicked his fourth with his right foot while simultaneously shaking Bontempelli off his left leg.

With a thirty two point lead, it was a relaxed looking Melbourne that took to the field for the final quarter. Their first goal started from a defensive play that released the ball to Pickett who launched a massive kick from the 50m line to well passed the centre to an unmarked Jake Melksham. The midfielder decided not to risk being run down and booted the ball from 60m out where it bounced three times through the goal square before crossing the line.

With the clock ticking, the Dogs were going to have to do something very special to have any chance of staying in touch. Tom Liberatore provided a faint glimmer of hope with his impressive snap from 45m but it ultimately proved futile, as Brodie Grundy’s round the corner set shot minutes later effectively put a lid on any remaining Bulldog dreams.

When Ben Brown kicked his fourth from 40m out, it was just jam on top for the Demon supporters. But wait there’s more. Alex Neal-Bullen trickled one in from 20m to add his name to the list.

All in all, a very promising start to the season for Melbourne. The squad is strong with a depth of talent the envy of the league. Kozzie made Simon Goodwin’s decision on who to include in the squad a little easier by getting himself sidelined for two weeks.

The hunger and fighting spirit is definitely back and it looks like the Dees are not giving anything away this year. We travel to Brisbane for Round 2 and though the Gabba is a formidable ground for away teams, I have a feeling it’s the Queenslanders who’ll be chewing their fingernails on Friday night.

Go the Mighty Dees!!!


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