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ON THE ROAD AGAIN by Whispering Jack

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I like the fact that Melbourne is still standing four months into a season that has been so badly interrupted by injuries, illness, suspensions and some of the disappointing early losses that occurred at least partly as a result of the disruption that these things brought with them. The Demons are still standing particularly because in recent weeks they have found ways to win close games that tested their nerve and their depth which is one of the ingredients needed for them to become a great side.

I'm not suggesting the club is anywhere near such lofty heights right now but if it wants to aspire to the level of greatness in this sport at any time soon then what happens over the next four weeks will be a guide as to how far this team can possibly go.

This Saturday night the Demons face the Crows in Darwin, then it's Port Adelaide at the MCG, North Melbourne at Blundstone Arena, Hobart and the GWS Giants in the national capital. Three road trips is an enormous task in light of the fact that the co-captains Nathan Jones and Jack Viney might miss all of those games and other key midfielders like Christian Salem, Angus Brayshaw and possibly even Dom Tyson are likely to miss some, if not all of them. And that's not to mention Jack Watts whose lingering hamstring strain continues to place a question mark on the timing of his return.

But let's go back and do what all good football people do and that is take things one game at a time, starting with the last one - that very lucky victory over Carlton. A narrow win over a 16th placed side, albeit by an undermanned team, is not particularly inspiring even allowing for the Blues' wins this year against the two Sydney teams and their recent close encounter with the Crows. Surprisingly, the Blues had the edge in both age and experience (games played +259) and with three of last year's top four best and fairest winners out (and the other underdone after coming back from a long injury break), the Demons belied their favoritism going into the game.

Most good sides would have beaten Melbourne last Sunday. This week's opponent Adelaide is a very, very good one and a hard one to beat when you're without most of your best midfielders. Jones, Viney and Salem all starred when the Dees beat the Crows in Adelaide two months ago so it's going to be a tough ask expecting them to repeat the dose with another six day break and a trip to the hellishly hot and humid Top End. The forecast for Saturday is a maximum of 33 degrees. By nightfall, it will only be a few degrees cooler.

The circumstances of the game will no doubt weigh heavily on the minds of the selectors who know that the team will also need to be refreshed for the week following when they take on Port Adelaide in another vital match up. But now I'm getting ahead of myself and ignoring my message about taking things a week at a time.

On that score, the club has to take great credit for quickly defusing the matter between Clayton Oliver and that goading Blues fan by getting the Demon youngster to apologise for his behaviour. I like to call it the "Clayton's Apology". Oliver has been in great form despite the ribbing he and others have been getting from the media and opposition supporters which demonstrates that the club has finally shaken off the "loser" tag. 

I will be back after team selection to look at whether the Demons can take it one step further to upset the ladder leaders on the road in Darwin.

THE GAME

Melbourne v Adelaide at TIO Stadium, Darwin Saturday 15 July, 2017 at 7.40 pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall  - Melbourne 13 wins Adelaide 23 wins

At TIO Stadium - Melbourne 0 wins Adelaide 0 wins

Past five meetings - Melbourne 2 wins Adelaide 3 wins

The Coaches - Simon Goodwin 1 win Don Pyke 0 wins

MEDIA

TV -  Channel 7, Fox Sports 3 Live at 7.30pm

RADIO -  SEN

THE BETTING

Melbourne to win - $3.00, Adelaide to win - $1.39

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 17.5.107 defeated Adelaide 9.12.66 Round 15, 2017 at the Adelaide Oval

The Demons stunned the Crows and the football world when they turned a 28 point deficit at the 18 minute mark of the second term into a 41 point victory. The turnaround came about thanks to the dominance of midfielders and co-captains Nathan Jones (25 disposals) and Jack Viney (30 touches) and emerging star Christian Salem (31 disposals), none of who will be out on the field on Saturday night. Michael Hibberd (34 possessions) was superb in defence while Bernie Vince, playing against his old club, celebrated his 200th AFL game by closing down the dangerous Rory Sloane.

THE TEAMS

MELBOURNE

B: Michael Hibberd, Oscar McDonald, Neville Jetta 
HB: Josh Wagner, Sam Frost, Bernie Vince 
C: Alex Neal-Bullen, Jordan Lewis, Mitch Hannan 
HF: Christian Petracca, Tom McDonald, Jayden Hunt 
F: Jeff Garlett, Jesse Hogan, Cameron Pedersen 
FOLL: Max Gawn, Jake Melksham, Clayton Oliver
I/C: James Harmes, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Dean Kent, Joel Smith 
EMG: Billy Stretch, Jack Trengove, Sam Weideman 

IN: Jay Kennedy-Harris

OUT: Billy Stretch (omitted)

ADELAIDE CROWS

B: Rory Laird, Jake Lever, Andy Otten 
HB: Luke Brown, Daniel Talia, Jake Kelly 
C: Rory Sloane, Richard Douglas, Brodie Smith 
HF: Riley Knight, Taylor Walker, Charlie Cameron 
F: Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins, Mitch McGovern 
FOLL: Sam Jacobs, Matt Crouch, Brad Crouch 
I/C: Rory Atkins, Hugh Greenwood, Tom Lynch, David Mackay    
EMG: Jonathon Beech, Jordan Gallucci, Paul Seedsman 

IN: Hugh Greenwood, Tom Lynch 

OUT: Wayne Milera (calf), Scott Thompson (omitted)

Once it was clear that they were not ready and that Dom Tyson and Jack Watts were therefore not going to make the trip to Darwin, the team selection for the Adelaide Crows game was fairly predictable. Jay Kennedy-Harris received  another chance to revive his career at the expense of Billy Stretch who has been disappointing of late. Kennedy-Harris' form at VFL level has been outstanding since he was dropped earlier in the season and he might well have been welcomed back a fortnight ago but for that well-documented drinking incident with a few of the boys after a recent Casey victory. His selection makes sense for a game in muggy heat and under lights that calls for smaller players with pace rather than the bigger types.

However, the story is not all about the diminutive Demon youngster who showed promise in his debut season but has been severely curtailed by injuries ever since. 

The selectors would have dearly loved the option of bringing in more fit players for the team's fourth six-day break (and second interstate) game in five weeks but the cupboard was decidedly bare as a result of having those midfielders in the infirmary recovering from the ailments of recent rounds. Compounding matters is the fact that the Casey Demons had only three players in their last game who have played at AFL level this year and none of them fits the requirements in terms of their size.

Simon Goodwin is however, extremely confident that the next tier of mids can step up to the plate:

"We train all our players up to play a certain way, so it really isn't personnel based. Clearly we've got some really good midfielders out of the team. 

"But that's provided a great opportunity for guys like (Christian) Petracca, Mitch Hannan and James Harmes to come into the midfield and … last week (they) were very good in that area."

Much the same could be said of the team when they met the Crows at Adelaide Oval in round eight and recorded their best win of the season. They did so without Max Gawn and Jesse Hogan but others stood up in their absence. This is exactly what Goodwin is asking for on Saturday night.

The two teams are first and second for contested possessions so that battle will be crucial. If the Demons can contain the likes of dangerous forwards, Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins and Tex Walker who are the Crows' heaviest goalkickers, then half the job will be done.

I can't be entirely convinced that this will happen and that Melbourne will kick enough goals on the night so I'm going to sit on the fence and tip a draw.

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