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Five Key Dee-tails: Nibbler’s form, BBB’s back

The DeeBrief

The DeeBrief

Contributor Ben Wilmoth provides his five key takeaways after Melbourne’s thrilling victory against Port Adelaide on Saturday night.

2021 style victory

The Demons’ win on Saturday night felt reminiscent of the resolve and professionalism that defined its 2021 flag. Conceding the first three goals in a hostile environment had Melbourne with its back against the wall. But the Dees stemmed the flow, started winning important balls and ground out one of its greatest away triumphs in recent years. The group looks incredibly fit after what Kade Chandler described post-match as a physically brutal off-season. Melbourne’s competitive edge in its flag year was its ability to run over teams. Dees fans saw something eerily similar this weekend.

Nibbler recognition

Externally, Alex Neal-Bullen has long been an underrated cog in the Demons’ front-half machine. But his performance on Saturday night only reinforced just how important he’s become to their system. He plays the not so glamorous – but increasingly pivotal – high half-forward role; closing down space in defensive transition and applying forward half pressure. Nibbler finished sixth in last year’s Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott but has arguably gone to another level this year, adding attacking flair and winning more of the ball. He collected 24 disposals, kicked two goals, provided 1 goal assist and laid six tackles as Melbourne’s best afield.

Did it for ‘Vin’

Skipper Max Gawn isn’t a massive fan of using milestones to influence the group, but he felt the Dees lifted for Jack Viney’s 200th game. Gawn said post-match that Viney is “a pretty good person to put up on the whiteboard”, and it’s hard not to think the group embodied the Viney way. While the Dees midfield was beaten comprehensively at stoppage Viney, Petracca and Oliver were able to stand up in key moments, particularly in the last term, to hold on against an impressive Port engine room. Viney, who was tagged by Willem Drew, himself kicked an important goal just before half-time to arrest back momentum and was strong in the contest with eight tackles.

Brown and better entries

Melbourne’s forward-half connection, but for a slippery night against Sydney in Opening Round, has finally started to click. The strategy going inside 50 seems to have been re-thought. Midfield distributors are picking off the shorter kick, looking to transition the ball to open up space, and generally seem more patient with ball in hand. The Dees were uncharacteristically smashed in entries – Port with 66 inside 50s to Melbourne’s 45 – but the Dees took their chances. Last year’s finals losses would have looked different if they were far more efficient in the forward half. Ben Brown has been so pivotal since his return, not only through scoreboard return (three goals) but the way he straightens them up ahead of the ball. He’s moving as well as he has in years and could play the majority of the season if the high performance staff can keep him fit.

No May, no worries

The Dee’s record when Steven May doesn’t play isn’t great, which meant supporters were worried when they heard he had broken his ribs and injured his transverse process and overjoyed when they heard he might only miss a week. But with May leaving a considerable defensive hole, Jake Lever (who had his own sore knee to worry about, but relished the responsibility), as well as Tom McDonald and Harrison Petty stepped up and carried the load against a dynamic Port Adelaide offence. There’s a slight selection headache if May can lineup against Adelaide this week, but Marty Hore seems most likely to make way for May.