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Real litmus tests start now for the Dees

The DeeBrief

The DeeBrief

As the calendar rolls on, two fixtures were circled by the Melbourne faithful since the season’s beginning and contributor Cam Burt takes a closer look at the challenges that lie ahead for the Demons.

After a solid 5-2 start and a lacklustre performance against Adem Yze’s Tigers, the Demons will get a proper gauge, a proper acid test and know exactly where they are come late Thursday evening, May 9th.

The Formidable Felines (Round 8)

First in line are the forever formidable Cats. You can’t help but notice the break from tradition – no journey down the highway to the Cattery this time around. Nice huh?

Geelong are coming off an impressive victory over Carlton, a heavy-weight fight at its best and remain undefeated. With a conversion rate that saw them score 28 times from 45 entries inside 50 against the Blues, Geelong’s efficiency isn’t just impressive; it’s a massive warning siren.

The coaching chess match between Chris Scott’s precise ball movement and Simon Goodwin’s #1 ranked intercept marking numbers sets the stage for another epic. Can Geelong navigate the dominance of the Steven May and Jake Lever defensive duo? Or will the competition’s sternest defence, which also comprises the likes of Trent Rivers, Blake Howes and Tom McDonald limit avenues to goal for the Cats?

Melbourne’s attacking side of the game may remain a bit of a mystery, but their defensive solidity has surprised exactly no one, conceding just 66 points on average per game (ranked #1).

A crucial part in finding victory against the Cats will be quelling their scoring prowess. 

Ranked #4 in the league for rebound scores with 37.5 points per game, the Cats on the bounce are a huge threat. However, our Demons stand as the unrivalled No. 1 defensive unit when it comes to transition defence, allowing a stingy 22 points per game. Something or someone’s gotta give. And just as a side note, the Cats are 3rd in the competition for rebound 50s and who’s ranked 1st? Goodwin’s charges, which illustrates the point that you can underestimate us at your peril on turnover and we’ll give the Cats something to think about when defending in transition, too.

The Cats’ are ferocious averaging an astounding 69 tackles a game, the most in the league and serves as the catalyst for their transition offence. The onus is on Melbourne to not just contest, but to dominate the midfield. Max Gawn has to be at his best and Christian Petracca, Jack Viney and Clayton Oliver have to rediscover some better form, along with the back six remaining a cohesive unit on the night to have any chance of victory.

The seemingly inevitable omission of Patrick Dangerfield and his hamstring injury will certainly help the cause, but the Cats are the king of the role player. They’re selfless, they’re team first and there’s a reason why they’ve been a perennial contender for the past two decades.

Blue Redemption (Round 9)

Once the Cats job is done under the Saturday night lights (fingers crossed), next up is the Blues under Thursday night lights. Another five-day break, thanks Andrew… ugh.

Carlton have backed up their late season form of 2023, also sitting at 5-2 and have a crucial clash coming up against clash their fiercest of rivals Collingwood. If we ever wanted them, despite the five-day break, then it might actually be after a brutal Pies contest. Wishful thinking? Who knows.

After two late soul-crushing losses to the Blues last year, as fans, we NEED this one. Petracca’s goal on the siren was wrongly ruled as touched (the ‘Liar On The Line’ is real), and then in that f*%c$9g final, let’s just not talk about it. 9.17 still haunts me and will for a while.

A look at the stats for Michael Voss’ men and it’s an obvious offensive output from a side boasting the two blokes that have won the last three Coleman medals. It’ll be a massive night for our back line, with Harry McKay well and truly back in form, May and Tom McDonald will need to be at their best with Lever floating across the front to curtail the ‘Two Towers’ of McKay and Charlie Curnow.

But there’s a department with a much bigger role on the night when it comes to stopping Carlton; in the middle.

Generating scores for the Blues comes right at the source, a firm No. 1 ranking when it comes to scoring from stoppage and being the No. 1 ranked team in total centre clearances, too. But, I’ll give you exactly one guess at who ranks as the best in the league when it comes from defending scores from stoppage? 

The Demons concede just 22.7 points from stoppage and to put that into context, Carlton rank 15th and allow 39.2 points from stoppage. Even at the lofty heights of 2021 winning flag form, we allowed a league low 23.8 for points from stoppage.

But our midfield needs to show up. Gawn has been elite in the ruck and on track for a seventh All-Australian, however, our ability to exit with the ball at clearance has been a mixed bag. We always want more from the revered trio of Trac, Jack and Clarry, but it’ll be a night that we need the likes of Tom Sparrow, Ed Langdon and Jack Billings to show up in a big way and help contribute as well.

Carlton is a league leader when it comes to scoring shots per inside 50 and do a superb job to hit lead up targets. Our midfield holds the key to the backline performing, applying great pressure and ensuring the Blues’ entries are scrappy, which allows Lever, Max and Trent Rivers to float across the front of packs and get our own slingshotting rebound underway.

In the space of two weeks, under the prime-time glare the Dees’ position in the 2024 pecking order will become crystal clear.

So, Demon Army, it’s time to march to the MCG for back-to-back spectacles that may well carry the intensity and nerves of finals football.

The stage is set, the stakes are high, and for Melbourne, it’s time to show if they’re contenders or pretenders in this blue-and-white fortnight of early season AFL drama.