Sport AFL Demons prove genuine premiership threat in AFL thrashing
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Demons prove genuine premiership threat in AFL thrashing

Melbourne afl round 10
Angus Brayshaw is congratulated by team mates after kicking a goal on the siren in Melbourne's 91-point win. Photo: AAP
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Such is the greater vulnerability these days of even the very best AFL teams that you can guarantee seemingly significant victories once called statement wins will be nonetheless be questioned.

It will probably be the case, again, with Melbourne’s 91-point thumping of Adelaide in Alice Springs on Sunday afternoon.

The Crows are certainly doing it tough on the injury front right now. Already without Taylor Walker, Rory Sloane, Brodie Smith, Brad Crouch, Mitch McGovern and Riley Knight, Adelaide then lost Paul Seedsman just before the bounce.

That’s a fair roll call of talent in anyone’s language, though it’s worth pointing it out it hadn’t stopped the Crows taking some significant scalps already this season.

But it’s the way the Demons are dismantling their opponents at the moment which simply can’t be ignored, opponents’ injuries or not. And after having disposed of Essendon, St Kilda, Gold Coast and Carlton, this fifth win in a row was easily Melbourne’s most noteworthy since it last beat Adelaide a little over a year ago.

The Demons have won those five games on end by an average 69 points, the last two victories by an aggregate of 200, and have won no fewer than 18 quarters in succession. They’re 7-3 with the best percentage in the competition, behind only the season’s biggest surprise packet West Coast and Richmond.

AFL round 10 Melbourne
Demons players sing the team song in the centre square after beating the Crows. Photo: AAP

Their participation in finals for the first time since 2006 now appears a formality. With reigning premier Richmond also a September certainty, incredibly, it will be the first time since 1941 the MCG co-tenants have both appeared in the same finals series.

It’s been a long time coming for Melbourne, but this is a team which now looks ready not only to play finals, but do some serious damage once it gets there. The indicators are everywhere, most strikingly a perfect balance of hardness and, if you like, Hollywood.

The offensive qualities of Simon Goodwin’s team are self-evident. Melbourne is No.1 in the AFL for points, an average of more than 108 per game, having topped the ton seven times. There’s a great spread of firepower, too, 10 players contributing to the 23-goal tally against Adelaide and 10 on the list averaging at least one goal per game.

But the Demons’ dominance in the contested ball stakes is even more profound. Going into Sunday’s clash, they were not only ranked No.1 in the contested possession differentials, but at nearly 17 more contested balls per game than their rivals, more than double the figure of the No.2 ranked team.

And as if to underline the point, they finished their pasting of the Crows with a whopping 46 more contested ball wins. This is a midfield, however, which not only wins the hard stuff, but spreads and links up beautifully with handball, banging the ball inside 50 quickly and to plenty of targets.

afl round 10 Melbourne
Jesse Hogan kicked five goals in Melbourne’s victory. Photo: Getty

Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver, Nathan Jones, Angus Brayshaw, Christian Petracca, Christian Salem, Jordan Lewis, James Harmes, Jake Melksham, Bernie Vince … the potential midfield rotations are endless. So deep that right now Dom Tyson can’t even crack a spot in the best 22

Melbourne in this form should make short work of the Western Bulldogs next weekend before a bumper Queen’s Birthday clash with Collingwood ahead of the bye. Win both of them and at 9-3 Demon fans can be assured they won’t be wearing any jibes about September holidays and the snow this year.

They weren’t the only team which was posed a serious test in round 10 and passed with flying colours, however, West Coast continuing to make a mockery of all those gloomy pre-season prognostications with its ninth straight victory, and importantly, a fourth from four starts on the road.

The “buts” from the sceptics in the case of the Eagles’ hard-fought 15-point win over Hawthorn at Etihad Stadium will be concerning the venue (despite the travel factor) and the opposition (despite the Hawks’ decent form over the course of the season).

Etihad has certainly been a happier hunting ground for West Coast in recent times, having won three and lost two by a total of just 16 points there in the last 12 months. The MCG remains the popular question mark, yet the Eagles have already won there, too, this season, with one more appearance to come at the grand final venue, against Collingwood, in round 17.

What else can they do in the meantime but keep winning? And that they’re doing brilliantly.

This one may not have been as comprehensive as that at home over Richmond the previous weekend, but, importantly, it showed another side of West Coast, one capable of winning a tight, low-scoring scrap.

AFL round 10 west coast
West Coast forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling celebrate a goal. Photo: Getty

The Eagles never led by much, but held their nerve when it mattered. They got over the line this time without a major contribution from Jack Darling up forward. And continued to laugh in the face of those pre-season concerns about a midfield minus Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell.

Jack Redden has been a key to that, the former Lion having a terrific season. All-Australian Elliot Yeo is even more valuable now as a hard-nosed midfielder, Dom Sheed continues to get better, and Andrew Gaff is bordering on superstar status, his 35 disposals against the Hawks complemented by seven clearance wins, as many as any Eagle.

The defence mixes negation with attack perfectly, skipper Shannon Hurn a wonderful general, and Nic Naitanui’s ruck and on-ball presence grows by the week.

While the cynicism over the Eagles born of their 2015 grand final performance still lingers, this version is harder, tougher, more resilient, and not coincidentally, more seasoned. They’re going to take some knocking off.

And speaking of tests, let’s also not underestimate North Melbourne’s win in Perth against Fremantle, the Roos now fifth at 6-4, and with, compared to most of their rivals, a friendlier run home, very legitimate hopes of a finals appearance.

That nearly halfway through the season we’d be saying that about a team which was arguably the most popular candidate for the wooden spoon is in itself incredible.

But the Roos’ leaders have stood up magnificently this season. Their younger faces are making important contributions. And there’s a stability about Brad Scott’s team of which several more-fancied rivals should take note.

North has now beaten Hawthorn, Sydney, GWS and inflicted the Dockers’ first defeat at home by a travelling team.

Yes, they too, will have plenty of doubters still just waiting for them to fall over. What the sceptics are forgetting as the up-and-comers keep passing the tests, however, is that there’s no longer a clutch of “super teams” sitting back waiting to teach them a lesson.

Wins are all that matter. And Melbourne, the Eagles and even the little-fancied Kangaroos just keep racking them up.

Read more from Rohan Connolly, formerly a senior football writer for Fairfax, at Footyology, or watch Footyology TV here.

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