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THE TWENTIETH ROUND by The Oracle

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Melbourne wasted yet another opportunity to establish a strong grip on a top eight placing for 2017 last week and, as a result, is back among a large pack of clubs contesting against each other for a spot on one of the lower rungs in the finals series. 

Whether it was a case of stage fright, tiredness or something else, the Demons really blew it after taking the lead against the Kangaroos halfway through the final quarter with a strong breeze at their backs. They desperately missed the presence of experienced heads like co-captain Nathan Jones out with a quad injury and fellow leader Bernie Vince who was serving a two-match suspension after his second indiscretion this season. Both are likely to return this week along with another tall to replace Jesse Hogan who is out with a broken collarbone. The Giants also have their share of injury problems so there are no excuses on either side. 

The Giants will open as firm favourites in this twentieth round of the season and the memory of the Demons' last outing on this track when they kicked 14 out of the last 15 goals of the game would seem to justify this although that game took place two years ago and the visitors have matured as a team since then. More pertinent is the fact that GWS can hardly claim to be in form at the present time and they also have more injury worries than Jeremy Cameron to contend with in the lead up to the game. 

Melbourne has to deal with the demons inside their heads - will they come out as the quick starters of the Port Adelaide game or will it be the sleepy slow opening that we witnessed up in Darwin a few weeks ago? 

That may well be the key to this game but I think there is also some significance in the fact that this game comes on the Saturday afternoon of the twentieth round of the season exactly twelve months after the Demons announced themselves as a team of the future by coming in as the underdog against the premiership favourites Hawthorn without key forward Jesse Hogan and beating them hands down. That was the day that Sam Weideman made his debut for the club and a number of other young Demons excelled on the big stage. Although Manuka is not as big a stage as the MCG, I have this feeling in my bones that history is about to repeat itself. 

THE GAME

Melbourne v GWS Giants at Manuka Oval, Saturday 5 August, 2017 at 1.45pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall  GWS Giants 4 wins, Melbourne 5 wins
At Manuka Oval  GWS Giants 1 win, Melbourne 1 win
Past five meetings GWS Giants 3 wins, Melbourne 2 wins 
The Coaches Cameron 0 wins, Goodwin 0 wins

MEDIA

TV – Fox Footy Channel Live at 1.40pm

RADIO - SEN

THE BETTING

GWS Giants to win - $1.48, Melbourne to win - $2.65

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Melbourne 12.8.80 d GWS Giants 10.18.78 at The MCG, Round 1, 2016

Melbourne came back from the dead with a six goal final quarter thanks to some late goal kicking heroics from Jesse Hogan. Jack Viney (32 possessions) was best afield for the Demons and was ably supported by Nathan Jones and first-gamer Clayton Oliver in the middle.

THE TEAMS

GWS GIANTS 

B: Zac Williams, Adam Tomlinson, Nathan Wilson 
HB: Nick Haynes, Phil Davis, Heath Shaw 
C: Tom Scully, Callan Ward, Lachie Whitfield 
HF: Devon Smith, Rory Lobb, Harrison Himmelberg
F:  Dylan Shiel, Steve Johnson, Matt de Boer 
FOLL: Shane Mumford, Jacob Hopper, Matthew Kennedy 
I/C: Stephen Coniglio, Aidan Corr,    Brett Deledio, Josh Kelly 
EMG: Daniel Lloyd, Harry Perryman, Dawson Simpson  

IN: Brett Deledio, Harrison Himmelberg, Jacob Hopper, Steve Johnson, Shane Mumford 

OUT: Jeremy Cameron (hamstring), Jonathon Patton (hamstring tightness), Harry Perryman (omitted), Will Setterfield (concussion), Dawson Simpson (omitted) 

NEW: Brett Deledio (Richmond)

MELBOURNE

B: Jayden Hunt, Oscar McDonald, Neville Jetta 
HB: Jordan Lewis, Sam Frost, Michael Hibberd 
C: Dom Tyson, Bernie Vince, Christian Salem 
HF: Clayton Oliver, Cameron Pedersen, Alex Neal-Bullen 
F: Jeff Garlett, Tom McDonald, James Harmes 
FOLL: Max Gawn, Jack Viney, Nathan Jones 
I/C: Corey Maynard, Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca, Jack Watts
EMG: Billy Stretch, Josh Wagner, Sam Weideman  

IN: Nathan Jones, Corey Maynard, Cameron Pedersen, Bernie Vince

OUT: Mitch Hannan (rested), Jesse Hogan (shoulder), Jay Kennedy-Harris (omitted), Jack Trengove (omitted) 

NEW: Corey Maynard

So it's crunch time for the Demons who face a tough battle on enemy soil to maintain their spot in the top eight. 

The two teams have been hit hard by injury and suspension in recent months and both will be buoyed by the return of some important members of their respective teams while, at the same time, they will each miss their injured spearheads in Jeremy Cameron and Jesse Hogan.

The Giants welcome back veterans in ruckman Shane Mumford and forward Steve Johnson and have included former Tiger Brett Deledio for the first time having missed most of the season battling persistent calf injuries. The Demons have also brought in some experienced heads with co-skipper Nathan Jones, Bernie Vince and Cam Pedersen and given a mature age rookie and convert from basketball, Corey Maynard his first opportunity. The experience of Jones and Vince was sorely missed last week and might well have made the difference between winning and losing in Hobart.

For some strange reason Melbourne often plays at its best when it's not favoured to win so they will relish being the underdog in this game. They come up against a tough opponent with the Giants ranked as the number one clearance side in the competition in 2017 at an average of 42.3 per game (the Demons are third at 38.8). 
That makes for an exciting contest in the middle where youngster Clayton Oliver is second in the league for contested possessions while the Giants' best is Dylan Shiel (15th). 

The Giants have been strong all year in winning the ruck contests and while this has been a Demon weakened for most of the season, it has been addressed by the return from injury of Max Gawn. 

While there's no doubt that the battle in the middle will be critical, the manner in which each team covers the loss of their main key forward could well determine the outcome. GWS have Johnson at full forward amid rumours of hamstring issues with Jonathon Patton. The Demon backs might struggle if he comes up because they will also have to contain Rory Lobb. They have struggled with tall, strong opponents this year.

The Demons will be hoping for a return to form from Jack Watts who has been quiet since his return.

All in all, a fascinating tussle is on the cards. It could go either way but I'm going for the home team by 18 points. 

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