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I was reflecting recently about the impending arrival of the new AFL season and I came to the conclusion that it is fitting that the capital city of the Northern Territory, whose government is a relationship partner of the Melbourne Football Club, was named after English naturalist Charlie Darwin. Darwin, whose theory of evolution was expounded in On the Origin of Species described the process of natural selection as being a matter of the "survival of the fittest" and, as fate would have it, this is becoming a catch phrase that best sums up the early part of the AFL season still very much in its infancy. It's a phenomenon that happens often at this time of year when the teams are not all yet at the peak of their fitness. In the first game of the round last Friday night, Collingwood and Fremantle went hammer and tong in the opening quarter before the Dockers took control in the second and blew the Magpies off Etihad Stadium. The following afternoon and evening saw the two new franchise teams in action with the Giants sending shock waves through the competition disposing of their neighbours and one of the premiership favourites with a withering six goal onslaught in the final 15 minutes of the game. That night the Suns overcame the loss of two players in the first half by overpowering the Tigers and, as if that wasn't enough, Port Adelaide left Carlton literally breathless in its wake on Sunday night. Melbourne coach Paul Roos summed it up neatly when he said: "Hard-running teams I think teams are fitter going into this year than they have in the past few years they've now adjusted to three on the bench and theyre adjusting to 120 subs. Theyre probably the main things Ive noticed." From a technical point of view, it was Freo, coached by Roosy's former Fitzroy teammate in Ross Lyons which employed the forward press and zone to expose Collingwood in a clinical decimation that emphasised the importance of fitness and in particular, midfield grunt. So whilst many Melbourne supporters are crying over, as yet unspilt milk due to the absence due to injury of its three power forwards and a couple of ruckmen, they are overlooking the fact that when their team runs out on Saturday night to take on an equal injury-depleted St. Kilda at Etihad Stadium, they will do so with a substantial influx of midfielders who are fit and can run. Moreover, by adopting a conservative approach with his injured players, Roos and Dave Misson who have been reunited after their success at Sydney, are ensuring that the team is best placed to follow the trend of fitness first that has been so evident with all of the round's winning teams to date. That is not to say that the big men will not be missed up forward but we shouldn't forget that St. Kilda's defence is also very much depleted and it's midfield, without last year's best and fairest Jack Steven, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna and in the wake of recent departures of Nick dal Santo and Ben McEvoy, is not what it used to be four or five years ago when that club came literally within centimetres of winning a premiership flag. I do think that while the first round is important to the club, Roos' main mission is not dependent on the result of this one game. The Melbourne team of the future will evolve in time and I expect that there will be plenty of highs and lows and lots of frustration over a journey that will take a while before a successful outcome for the club is achieved. I see a style based on defence but the skills and strength of the young team need to be worked on and that will not happen overnight. After all, it took a five year voyage on The Beagle before Charlie Darwin was able to produce his theory on natural selection. I'm not suggesting that Roos will take that long (after all, he's been given less than half the time) but his track record as a player and a coach suggests that any team with which he is involved will usually have the capacity to compete against and survive among the very fittest. THE GAME St. Kilda v Melbourne at Etihad Stadium Saturday 22 March, 2014 at 7.40 pm HEAD TO HEAD Overall St. Kilda 86 wins Melbourne 118 wins 1 drawn At Etihad St. Kilda 4 wins Melbourne 3 wins Past five years St. Kilda 6 wins Melbourne 0 wins The Coaches Richardson 0 wins Roos 0 wins MEDIA TV - TBA RADIO - TBA THE BETTING St. Kilda to win - $2.35 Melbourne to win - $1.62 THE LAST TIME THEY MET St. Kilda 16.8.104 defeated Melbourne 10.9.69, Round 13, 2013 at Etihad Stadium The Saints were off to a flier in Neil Craig's first game as stand in coach for the Demons who made a reasonably promising fist of things after the first quarter break. Nathan Jones was Melbourne's best while the better players for the Saints that day - Montagna, Steven and Dal Santo - won't be taking the field on Saturday night. THE TEAMS ST. KILDA B: Sean Dempster, Luke Delaney, James Gwilt HB: Nathan Wright, Dylan Roberton, Jimmy Webster C: Jack Newnes, Luke Dunstan, Farren Ray HF: Clint Jones, Nick Riewoldt, Josh Saunders F: Rhys Stanley, Beau Maister, Eli Templeton FOLL: Tom Hickey, David Armitage, Shane Savage I/C: Jack Billings, Thomas Curren, Jarryn Geary, Sam Gilbert EMG: Trent Dennis-Lane Tom Lee Sebastian Ross NEW: Jack Billings (Oakleigh Chargers), Luke Delaney (North Melbourne), Luke Dunstan (Woodville-West Torrens), Shane Savage (Hawthorn), Eli Templeton (Burnie Dockers) MELBOURNE B: Dean Terlich, James Frawley, Jack Grimes HB: Lynden Dunn, Tom McDonald, Bernie Vince C: Jimmy Toumpas, Jack Watts, Dom Tyson HF: Rohan Bail, Jack Fitzpatrick, Daniel Cross F: Shannon Byrnes, Cam Pedersen, Jeremy Howe FOLL: Jake Spencer, Nathan Jones, Jack Trengove I/C: Viv Michie, Matt Jones, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Alex Georgiou EMG: Daniel Nicholson, Sam Blease, Michael Evans NEW: Daniel Cross (Western Bulldogs), Alex Georgiou (Norwood), Jay Kennedy-Harris (Oakleigh Chargers), Viv Michie (Fremantle), Dom Tyson (Greater Western Sydney), Bernie Vince (Adelaide) LONG TIME BETWEEN DRINKS The memory of Melbourne's last victory over St. Kilda hasn't quite dimmed yet. It was an elimination final played at night at the MCG and Brock McLean played a starring role as light misty rain fell intermittently over the ground. He was going to be our next star but it didn't quite work out that way. Since then the two teams have met nine times in seven and a half seasons and on each occasion Melbourne has fallen. Not only that, but in a similar timespan the club has failed every time it has ventured to the Docklands. Sooner or later, the club has to drive the monkey from its back and this Saturday night presents the Demons with their best opportunity to atone for humiliation of those losses. If the Saints are looking forward into a distant horizon when they state they're aspiring to be premiers by the end of the decade then tomorrow will be nothing more than a first stepping stone into that brand new future but they are taking that step in the absence of many of their dwindling band of good footballers. Key midfielders Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna and Jack Steven, plus Sam Fisher and Adam Schneider are all among the missing while Sam Gilbert would have to be a doubtful starter given his interrupted pre season. So despite the fact that the Demons also go into the game with an undermanned forward line (with no Chris Dawes, Mitch Clark and Jesse Hogan) and last year's best defender Colin Garland out with an ankle injury, not to mention talls Mark Jamar and Max Gawn who are also unavailable, the bookies still rate them a chance. And so do I. I don't have the data available but it would not surprise me at all if the number of new players in a red and blue jumper (actually you can add a slab of white to that combination to ensure that there's a clash of colours with the host team) for the season opener against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night is higher than for any first round game in half a century - all the way back to the mid 1960s when the club was in rebuild mode at the end of the Norm Smith era. Paul Roos and the recruiting team have attacked the weakness in the club's midfielder by importing Daniel Cross, Bernie Vince, Dom Tyson and Viv Michie from other AFL clubs and have also added mature age defender Alex Georgiou and small forward Jay Kennedy-Harris to play their first AFL matches. That's a nice combination of a wealth of experience and some enthusiastic youth added to spice up the team against the ailing Saints but the most important additional element is the coach himself - an astute man with great knowledge, people skills and a mission to succeed which should turn football history on its head. Melbourne by 13 points.
PENDULUM by The Oracle The nature of the NAB Cup dictates that, for a majority of clubs, it's more like a series of exhibition trial games and experimentation once the triple header season opener is out of the way. And so was for Melbourne in 2013. The NAB Cup campaign was over on opening night. It managed to accumulate an irrelevant four points (which the football world rightly ignored because it was the sort of game usually reserved for yesterday's venue at Casey Fields) but if there was a silver lining it had to be that the Demons only put in two poor quarters for the journey and they were undermanned in both of them. The first was against a fresh Richmond in the opening quarter of week one, the other in the the second term yesterday. Of course, that 10-12 minute patch against St. Kilda was a total disaster, reminiscent of all of the worst aspects of the past half decade. Melbourne fiddled with the ball, turned it over too easily and succumbed to pressure in the heat coughing up goal after goal. During that time the Demons were vulnerable in the midfield and gave away too many easy possessions (including an ungodly number of frees) that enabled the Saints to rebound with ease and dominate. In the batting of an eyelid the pendulum swung from a point where Melbourne doubled St. Kilda's score to exactly the reverse and the contest was over. I'm not sure what it means but during the rest of the game, the Dees were good but who knows these days, how much teams are really trying in exhibition matches of this sort? What we do know is that, of the combatants, it was St Kilda that took what was close to its best line-up to Casey Fields with a strong and dominant midfield and its small forwards dominating when push came to shove (Milne and Milera kicking four goals during that purple patch) while Melbourne either rested or was forced to leave out players through injury who will at least be under strong consideration for selection in most post positions on the ground. Three key position certainties were out of the action - Tom McDonald (defence) and Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes (forward). Given the contribution of the opposition small forwards to Melbourne's demise Nev Jetta and James Strauss would have been handy and Jordie McKenzie would have been able to annoy the living suitcases out of one of their dominant midfielders. And if you insert Jack Trengove, Sam Blease, Jack Viney and Rohan Bail into the midfield mix, you might just be able to blunt the sort of run on to which the team was subjected. Also rested this week was the kid from Clackline, WA Dean Kent who has impressed as a medium forward who knows how to kick a goal and who showed some promise in the earlier games. But what about those who took part and what about the other 65-70 minutes of the game? Melbourne started like a house on fire in the hot conditions with Mark Jamar owning the ruck and giving Nathan Jones and newcomers David Rodan first use of the ball. Two other recruits in Shannon Byrnes and Cameron Pedersen were giving the Saints plenty to think about and the Demons were out to a 22-point lead with the aid of the breeze by the halfway mark of the first term thanks to a 9 pointer from Lynden Dunn. They then lost the ascendency in the second half of the opening term and this lull in intensity probably set the scene for the Saints' revival in the second. Melbourne needs to learn from their relentless non stop push once they gained control. You rarely win if you cough up seven or eight unanswered goals to your opponent. The Demons fought back in the third but couldn't peg back the Saints' lead sufficiently to fight their way back into contention despite making a fist of it in the last when the hot and steamy conditions had taken the sting out of the match. The pendulum was never going to swing far enough for the Demons. Apart from Nathan Jones and Jamar (35 hit outs), Melbourne was well served by Lynden Dunn, Dan Nicholson and Colin Sylvia while Dean Terlich showed why he was plucked out of the SANFL to resurrect his career. However, if the day is ever going to be remembered for anything other than the bunfight needed to get out of the car park at the end, it will be for that period during which the pendulum swung so dramatically against a hapless Melbourne. For them to improve this season, the Demons will need to eliminate the lapses although we shouldn't forget that the nature of the NAB Cup means that the makeup of teams will vary and they definitely came up against a team that was much closer to full strength on the day. MELBOURNE184.108.40.206 220.127.116.11 18.104.22.168 22.214.171.124 ST. KILDA 0.1.2.8 126.96.36.199 188.8.131.52 184.108.40.206 Supergoals Melbourne Dunn N Jones St. Kilda Newnes N Dal Santo Goals Melbourne Sellar 2 Byrnes Hogan Rodan Tapscott Toumpas St. Kilda Milera Milne 2 Dal Santo Dennis-Lane Gilbert Hayes Koschitzke Riewoldt Best Melbourne N Jones Rodan, Dunn Terlich Jamar Sylvia Nicholson St. Kilda Dal Santo Newnes Montagna Milne Steven Geary Roberton INJURIES Melbourne Nil St. Kilda Nil Reports Nil Umpires Stuart Wenn Ben Ryan Shane McInerney Crowd 5,000 (est.) at Casey Fields VIEW THE GAME Quarter 1 - http://bit.ly/15FgNKw Quarter 2 - http://bit.ly/15FgSOq Quarter 3 - http://bit.ly/Y7z5B3 Quarter 4 - http://bit.ly/WBNDvq STATISTICS Disposals - Melbourne 247 St. Kilda 250 Kicks - Melbourne 137 St. Kilda 164 Handballs - Melbourne 110 St. Kilda 86 Free Kicks - Melbourne 10 St. Kilda 23 Clearances - Melbourne 23 St. Kilda 27 Centre - Melbourne 11 St. Kilda 7 Stoppages - Melbourne 12 St. Kilda 20 Inside 50 - Melbourne 37 St. Kilda 31 Marks in 50 - Melbourne 5 St. Kilda 4 Contested Possessions Melbourne 87 St. Kilda 94 Tackles - Melbourne 21 St. Kilda 51 Hit-Outs - Melbourne 36 St. Kilda 13 Melbourne [K H M HO T SG.G.B DT] Colin Garland 13 2 8 0 0 0.0.0 64 James Magner 9 8 4 0 4 0.0.0 63 David Rodan 5 7 5 0 3 0.1.0 62 Dean Terlich 6 9 5 0 0 0.0.0 53 Nathan Jones 9 7 3 0 1 1.0.0 52 Lynden Dunn 11 3 3 0 0 1.0.0 48 Mark Jamar 3 3 1 32 0 0.0.0 47 Joel MacDonald 9 7 3 0 0.0.0 47 Colin Sylvia 8 4 2 0 2 0.0.0 43 James Sellar 4 4 3 0 0 0.2.2 40 Jack Grimes 5 4 2 0 2 0.0.0 38 Jeremy Howe 4 4 3 0 1 0.0.1 35 Matt Jones 6 5 3 0 1 0.0.0 35 James Frawley 6 4 2 0 0 0.0.0 33 Tom Gillies 3 8 4 0 1 0.0.0 33 Jack Watts 5 4 2 0 1 0.0.0 33 Shannon Byrnes 5 2 4 0 1 0.1.0 32 Cameron Pedersen 3 7 2 4 0 0.0.1 32 Daniel Nicholson 5 8 1 0 0 0.0.0 31 Aaron Davey 6 0 2 0 0 0.0.1 26 Jimmy Toumpas 6 5 1 0 1 0.0.0 26 Luke Tapscott 3 3 0 0 1 0.1.0 25 Jesse Hogan 2 0 1 0 1 0.0.1 14 Michael Evans 2 2 1 0 0 0.0.0 10 NAB CUP APPEARANCES - 2013 [Week 1 v NM, Rich, Week 2 v PA, Week 3 v STK - square = played game] 1 Hogan, Jesse (new) ■■■■ 2 Jones, Nathan ■■ - ■ 4 Watts, Jack ■■ - ■ 5 Toumpas, Jimmy (new) - ■ - ■ 6 Dawes, Chris (new) ■ - - - 7 Viney, Jack (new) ■ ■ - - 8 Frawley, James ■■ - ■ 9 Trengove, Jack - - - - 10 Byrnes, Shannon (new) ■ - - ■ 11 Clark, Mitchell - - - - 12 Sylvia, Colin ■■■■ 13 McKenzie, Jordie ■■- - 14 Dunn, Lynden ■■ - ■ 15 Rodan, David (new) ■ - - ■ 17 Blease, Sam ■ - - - 19 Strauss, James - - ■ - 20 Garland, Colin ■■ - ■ 21 Pedersen, Cameron (new) ■■■■ 22 Magner, James ® ■■■■ 23 Tynan, Josh - - ■- 25 McDonald, Tom ■■- - 26 Nicholson, Daniel ■■■■ 27 Gillies, Tom (new) ■ - ■■ 28 Macdonald, Joel - ■■■ 29 VACANT 30 Sellar, James - ■■■ 31 Grimes, Jack ■■ - ■ 32 Evans, Michael ■ - ■■ 33 Barry, Dominic (new) -- ■ - 34 Kent, Dean (new) ■ - ■- 35 Tapscott, Luke - - ■■ 36 Davey, Aaron - ■■■ 37 Gawn, Max -- - - 38 Howe, Jeremy ■■ - ■ 39 Jetta, Neville ■■■- 40 Jamar, Mark ■ - - ■ 41 Davis, Troy -- ■- 42 Spencer, Jake - ■■ - 43 Taggert, Rory -- ■ - 44 Bail, Rohan -- - - 45 Jones, Matt (new) - ■■■ 46 Terlich, Dean (new) - ■■■ 47 Couch, Thomas ® - ■■- 48 Fitzpatrick, Jack - - ■ - 49 Stark, Nathan ® (new) -- ■ - 50 Clisby, Mitch ® (new) -- --