Look Back/Look Ahead: Melbourne

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

10-0 in the first 10 matches morphed into 6-8 over the last 14, and what looked like every chance of back-to-back Grand Finals instead became back-to-back finals losses.

Melbourne’s season was ultimately disappointing, failing to back up their drought breaking 2021 premiership win due to a combination of well-worn factors.

Today it’s all about analysing those, delving into the list and figuring out what has to improve in 2023.

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Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. Now that we’re into the finalists, here’s the schedule for the top eight:

RichmondReadWestern BulldogsRead
MelbourneTodayFremantleRead
BrisbaneReadCollingwoodRead
SydneyReadGeelongSeptember 27

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The abundance of players right in the middle of their prime is reflected by Melbourne only using 33 players for the year.

14 players made at least 22 appearances (out of a possible 24), with the Demons reluctant to move players up from the all-conquering Casey outfit unless AFL injuries forced their hand.

With Luke Jackson on the way out, Melbourne lose one of their key pieces of the future, albeit surely with a handsome bounty in return.

The intriguing part for me is how Melbourne view those first and second year players who haven’t got a look in. Obviously for some – Jacob van Rooyen for example – it’s just a matter of patience, letting him develop during a year which yielded 36 goals in 18 VFL matches.

Elsewhere, were conservative selections due to the coaches’ unwillingness to shake things up? Placing excess faith in the bottom half of a team which experienced the ultimate success last year? Or perhaps not overly confident in the level of those below?

If it’s the latter, it’ll become obvious pretty quickly through their off-season moves and how they start 2023.

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Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:

Sunday 18th: Sydney v Collingwood: The last minute
Friday 16th: Look Back/Ahead: Western Bulldogs
Wednesday 14th: Look Back/Ahead: Richmond
Tuesday 13th: Look Back/Ahead: Carlton (9th, 12-10, 108.3%)
Saturday 10th: Semi Final Analysis: Melbourne v Brisbane

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Apart from Jackson’s imminent departure, there aren’t many urgent long-term issues or people to sign this off-season.

Pickett is the clear centrepiece of 2023. With reports already swirling around teams’ interest in luring the 21-year-old, next year the circus will grow by the week.

Tying into the earlier demographic section, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see external interest around those on the edge of Melbourne’s midfield rotation.

Some teams will see players like James Jordon (2023) and Tom Sparrow (2024) and believe they can be tempted by the promise of a bigger role – something they’re obviously not going to get while Oliver, Petracca, Viney and Brayshaw rightfully take the lion’s share of on-ball minutes.

Then, maybe, Melbourne can look at that as an opportunity to reshape their outside midfielders, adding more running power and speed alongside the ever-present Ed Langdon.

It’s probably more of a ‘watch this space’ rather than something that’ll play out in the immediate future, but nevertheless something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

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As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player. To clarify, posts won’t start until free agency officially commences, despite the flurry of announcements recently.

With all these rumours going around it looks like there’ll be words on the hour, every hour:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.

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Melbourne’s status update: The good and the bad

We know what works for Melbourne – defence, on-ballers, ruck. There’s not a lot of new information to discuss there.

So I want to focus on the areas of improvement for Melbourne in 2023. For me there are three big-ticket items:

a) General ball movement patterns
b) Contested marking presence up forward
c) Lead up half-forwards/linkmen

If a) improves, it’s likely hand-in-hand with c), which means b) is mitigated to a certain extent.

At Melbourne’s bye, the Round 14 Notebook mused how they’d try to replace Tom McDonald. The short answer is that they didn’t find a way.

It’s worrying when a 30-year-old with a troublesome foot is apparently their only forward capable of playing the role of c).

So many times during the second half of the season, with no lead up forwards demanding attention, Melbourne’s general play dominance petered out into long bombs to nothing in particular.

Before his injury, McDonald’s presence stopped most of that from happening. Without him, as I covered in the Demons’ Finals Dossier, a couple of experiments didn’t amount to much and they decided to abort the role.

It could be as simple as fit McDonald = ball movement problem solved in 2023. But if a) doesn’t improve, naturally c) doesn’t either. That’ll mean b) has to be there, otherwise 2023 looks much the same as 2022.

Which leads me into Melbourne’s apparent interest in Brodie Grundy.

Reports suggest Grundy would become the number one ruck with Gawn receding into what has basically been Jackson’s role in the rotation, but theoretically with more of a contested marking presence closer to home.

To be blunt, this makes no sense to me.

Gawn’s rucking skill set suits Melbourne midfielders much more than Grundy’s.

Gawn is at his most damaging forward when he’s floating down there opposed to a ruckman – not starting there against a specialist defender, which is what he’s apparently going to be doing if Grundy arrives.

This isn’t to downplay Grundy’s abilities at all because he’s a great player. But he’s not the type of player Melbourne need to improve.

When Grundy is in the ruck he’s not an improvement on Gawn. Then when he’s playing forward he’s not good enough there to help Melbourne’s ball movement patterns.

I’ll happily put my hand up in the air to admit I don’t know what the exact solution is. But what I’m convinced of is that Grundy in Melbourne colours won’t help them improve in 2023.

I’ll probably be proved spectacularly wrong soon enough.

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