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CROSSROADS by The Oracle



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Melbourne stands at the crossroads. 

Sunday’s game against the West Coast Eagles who have not met the Demons at the MCG in more than ten years, is a make or break for the club’s finals aspirations. 

That proposition is self-evident since every other team the club will be opposed to over the next eight weeks of footy is a prospective 2024 finalist. To add to this perspective is the fact that while the Demons are now in twelfth position on the AFL table, they are only a game and a half behind third placed Fremantle. So, with games to come against seven of the teams above it on the ladder, including the Dockers, their destiny is well and truly in their own hands. But if they can’t prevail on their home soil against the only remaining opponent that’s out of the finals race, then their credibility as a contender and their finals hopes will become greatly diminished.

There is a pall hanging over Melbourne even though the club showed some good signs in last week’s game against Brisbane that its mid-season slump, which began with a narrow loss to Carlton two months ago, is nearing an end. Why the concern then with the lowly Eagles?

For starters, one of the West Coast’s three wins this year was a resounding victory recorded when they monstered the Demons at Optus Stadium in mid-May. That Harley Reid goal running away from a now absent Christian Petracca and the masterful performance of Jake Waterman at full forward is still clear in the memory. And there’s more concern if you add the way in which Melbourne has squandered substantial leads with stuttering finishes in the final quarters of each of its last two games — leads which, if built upon during those periods, would have seen it sitting as high as fifth rather than labouring below the pack of finals aspirants.

At the head of those concerns is the dramatic decline in the Demons’ final quarter differential figures from first in the league in Rounds 0 to 9 (at +8.7 points) to last since then (-14.2). The first thing that comes to mind at this sudden development is the question of the team’s fitness but this isn’t backed up work rate statistics on distance run, repeat sprint numbers, clearances and contested possession.

The explanation suggested by coach Simon Goodwin is that it’s the team’s conservatism late in games when the team went safe enabling the opposition midfields to get on top enhancing their ability to transition the ball too easily from one end of the ground to the other. There’s also the change in profile to one of the competition’s most youthful. Against the Lions, the Demons had nine players aged 22 or younger in their side (Daniel Turner, Trent Rivers, Jacob van Rooyen, Taj Woewodin, Judd McVee, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Caleb Windsor, Koltyn Tholstrup and Kynan Brown) while Brisbane had sixteen 100-plus gamers to ten.

The way I look at this week’s game is that we should be focussing more on how the club has performed in its first three quarters than in its last. They have been impressive and seem to be building up with more fitness and greater aggression at the football. The return of Jake Lever saw a massive change in the way the team went about defending its ground and attacking the football through the middle as they did in the second quarter against the Lions. Clayton Oliver was threatening and Kozzie Pickett was back to his best. Bayley Fritsch is due to return to his early season goalkicking form as well.

Meanwhile, the Eagles are well down on their form from a month and a half ago. Their form has been poor, they’re coming off a six day break and are travelling across the continent to get to Sunday’s game.

Lightning won’t strike a second time. Melbourne to win by 45 points.

THE GAME

Melbourne v West Coast Eagles at the MCG, Sunday 7 July 2024 at 1.10pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 20 wins West Coast Eagles 38 wins
At the MCG Melbourne 7 wins West Coast Eagles 9 wins
Past five meetings Melbourne 3 wins West Coast Eagles 2 wins
The Coaches Goodwin 4 wins Simpson 5 wins

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Waalitj Marawar 16.9.105 defeated Narrm 10.10.70 at Optus Stadium in Round 10, 2024

Jake Waterman and Jack Darling had days out with five and three goals respectively while Harley Reid was explosive out of the middle for the Eagles. The Demons were hurt by the early loss of Jake Lever and were unable to mount any semblance of a revival against an opponent that went 90% in kicking for goal in the second half.

THE TEAMS 

MELBOURNE

B J. Lever, S. May, J. McVee
HB A. Moniz-Wakefield, T. McDonald, T. Rivers
C T. Sparrow, A. Neal-Bullen, C. Windsor
HF K. Tholstrup, J. Van Rooyen, E. Langdon
F K. Pickett, B. Fritsch, J. Melksham
FOLL M. Gawn, J. Viney, C. Oliver
I/C J. Bowey, K. Chandler, C. Salem, D. Turner SUB T. Woewodin 
EMG T. Fullarton, B. Laurie, A. Tomlinson

IN J. Bowey, J. Melksham, C. Salem

OUT K. Brown (omitted), H. Petty (hamstring), A. Tomlinson 

WEST COAST EAGLES

B B. Hough, T. Barrass, A. Witherden
HB T. Cole, J. McGovern, L. Duggan
C J. Hunt, E. Yeo, J. Jones
HF L. Ryan, J. Waterman, T. Brockman
F J. Cripps, O. Allen, J. Darling
FOLL B. Williams, H. Reid, T. Kelly
I/C C. Chesser, R. Ginbey, J. Hutchinson, J. Rotham SUB J. Williams
EMG H. Edwards, H. Johnston, R. Maric

IN J. Hutchinson, J. Williams

OUT M.Flynn (ankle), R. Maric (omitted)

Injury List: Round 17

Marty Hore — calf / available
Jake Melksham  — knee / available
Jake Bowey — general soreness / test
Ben Brown — knee / test
Harrison Petty — hamstring / test
Will Verrall — concussion / test
Christian Salem — knee / test
Charlie Spargo — Achilles / TBC
Christian Petracca — spleen / indefinite

PreviewR172024.png

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I personally don't accept the 'conservatism' rationale. 

We still have runners. A simple edict given to player after player suggesting , " give it all, go for it"... " 'or stay out there after the final siren' wouldn't go astray.  A simple directive is all it takes.  

If we went limp biscuit it's only because that was part of a plan, albeit instituted too early. You only defend a game ( if at all ) in the last minutes....should you be ahead .

Otherwise...well , just look at us.

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