Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.
This … this is the post most likely to leave me wide open for derision.
Cards on the table: I don’t understand this move from a Melbourne point of view, and can’t see how it makes them a better team by improving their weakest areas.
To be clear, it’s not going to make them worse. But it’s a lot of resources invested in a player whose full value will only be realised if there’s an injury to Max Gawn.
On to the explanation.
During the free agency and trade period, these posts will be exclusive to Patrons on the $7.50 and $10 tiers for 24 hours after publishing.
After that they’ll be free for all. Given the Patreon is only running until the end of October, signing up now means only one payment on sign up, and then nothing else needed until March 2023.
To establish where I’m coming from, in the Griffin Logue and Darcy Tucker post, I explained how I subscribe to the theory that from a personnel point of view, upgrading your weakest area is a better way to improve (specifically talking AFL) rather than improving a strength.
Grundy in Melbourne colours can be used in a handful of ways.
1: Becomes first ruck, Gawn fills ‘the Jackson role’
At best this is a wash, possibly a marginal improvement depending on your opinion of each player.
When they’re both fit, Gawn is (in my opinion) a slightly better ruckman while Grundy – while still good in that area, no doubt – provides value at ground level functioning as an extra midfielder.
A bunch of clubs would be desperate for Grundy’s skill set. Meanwhile Melbourne, with Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Angus Brayshaw, first and foremost need their ruckman to prioritise supply and give them the space to operate.
Grundy working as an extra midfielder doesn’t have the same impact when Oliver, Petracca, Viney and Brayshaw are already better than nearly every other team in the league. It’s of minimal benefit.
Then we consider Gawn spending most of his time forward. He’s at his most damaging close to goal when playing as a ruck, floating down there with his opposing number as the direct matchup – not starting there against a specialist defender.
Gawn’s ruck craft is some of the best we’ve seen. There’s little evidence to suggest his forward craft is an improvement on what Melbourne rolled out with Ben Brown, Jackson, Tom McDonald and a rotating cast of members in 2022.
During the second half of the year it was clear what Melbourne needed in its forward line, in the absence of McDonald, was a strong, high-leading forward to force better ball movement.
Gawn doesn’t fit that bill. His influence comes as a contested presence – if Melbourne are content to continue with what they did in possession in the back half of this year, that’s where Gawn may have an effect on proceedings. Whether that’s enough to provide a tangible uplift is where I’m sceptical.
2: Plays ‘the Jackson role’, Gawn continues on as normal
Speaking of strong, high leading forwards, that’s also not what Grundy is. His year-by-year mark on lead numbers are as follows.
|Year||Total Marks On Lead||Average Per Game|
Grundy’s also not a big contested marking presence, topping out as solid. It’s for those two reasons, if forced to choose between Grundy or Gawn as a forward, I’d pick the latter.
Grundy as a forward would be a downgrade on Melbourne’s options in 2022.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
3: Close to a 50-50 split with Gawn between ruck/forward
This would likely be dependent on matchups from week to week, and requires flexibility in planning.
It’s still running into the problems of point one and two – and doesn’t improve the forward line – but potentially has the effect of neutralising an opposition plan.
For instance, at a base level, if a team thinks they can be physical against Grundy, then Gawn goes in there. If they want to try and run Gawn around, it can be Grundy time.
It falls into Melbourne’s foundation as a defence first team, but doesn’t improve their main need on offence.
Of all those three options, none look overly appealing to me. The fourth and final one requires a bit of imagination, but feels like the most plausible…
4: Wildcard – they’re copying Geelong’s role for Rhys Stanley
This is the intriguing option. We all know Melbourne’s foundation is as a defence-first team.
As I briefly covered in the Grand Final review, late in the season Geelong tweaked Stanley’s role to the point where he’d ruck and then drop behind the ball more often than not.
That way the Cats were able to orchestrate an extra defender and have a solid base behind the ball, manipulating matchups so they were almost always favourable.
The key difference so far is Geelong have Mark Blicavs, and 17 other teams don’t. Blicavs was able to switch from general midfielder to around-the-ground ruckman at the click of a finger.
So if Melbourne can’t carry out an exact replica of Geelong’s plan, what they could do is ruck based on territory. The centre bounce ruckman drops back into the defensive half, the ‘resting’ ruck pushes up from forward 50 to take the front half, and the remaining players structure up around that.
That would be new. It’d take some getting used to, but also create a different look for opponents to defend.
Hypothetically, let’s say Grundy starts at a centre bounce and Gawn forward. Then, in carrying out this strategy, the constant movement forces Gawn’s opponent out of position at one end of the ground.
At the other end, a key forward has to battle through an extra body as Grundy drops back to cause an outnumber in Melbourne’s favour.
The positive domino effect is it makes an already imposing defence that much better.
The negative is that it still hasn’t solved the main issue where Melbourne need to improve – their forward line. If anything, by taking away an option it has the potential to make it worse.
Regardless of which way you look at it, or how many realistic options you think of, it’s hard to find an avenue where this move makes Melbourne a better team.
In case you missed it, the Look Back/Look Ahead series recently wrapped.
Every team’s list was analysed in depth, with a key question picked out for 2023. In some ways the posts work hand-in-hand with these individual analyses, understanding needs and priorities.
Here are all the links to catch up on:
|North Melbourne||Read||West Coast||Read|
|Gold Coast||Read||Port Adelaide||Read|