Recap of last season
The reigning premiers began the 2022 season with a warning shot to the rest of the competition that they were aiming for back-to-back premierships. A 10-game win streak to begin the season showed this hunger, however, Melbourne's run was undone by a 38-point loss to Fremantle in Round 11.
The Demons finished the home and away season with a 16-6 record to place second and having a double chance in the finals series. Despite this, Simon Goodwin's side bowed out in straight sets, falling by 22 points to eventual runners-up Sydney in the Qualifying Final, before being beaten by 13 points against Brisbane the week after.
Clayton Oliver won his fourth Keith 'Bluey' Truscott Medal - and second consecutive - as Melbourne's best and fairest, while Bayley Fritsch kicked 55 goals to be the club's leading goalkicker in 2022. Four players (Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Steven May, and Oliver) earned All-Australian honours.
How can they improve
Understanding that after winning a premiership, you become the hunted and teams will monitor you and your game more closely as a possible recipe for success and a recipe on how to beat you, needs to be identified by the Demons going into this year.
While there were other factors at play in the second half of the year that saw them go 6-6 after the 10-game win streak to start the season, teams found out the Demons' game and used it to their advantage. All six of their losses came against fellow top-eight sides, which, the Demons might've won in 2021, and not just because they were also in the finals mix. But other teams around the mark would've studied the Demons and how to beat them, which to make finals and know you're up against the best is how it is done and was done.
The Demons will still be around the mark in 2023 but will need to adapt to other teams figuring them out, so they can come back stronger and keep the premiership dream alive this season.
In: Jed Adams (draft, pick 38), Kyah Farris-White (category B rookie), Brodie Grundy (trade, Collingwood), Lachie Hunter (trade, Western Bulldogs), Matthew Jefferson (draft, pick 15), Josh Schache (trade, Western Bulldogs), Oliver Sestan (rookie draft), Kye Turner (pre-season SSP), Will Verrall (rookie draft)
Out: Oskar Baker (delisted), Toby Bedford (trade, Greater Western Sydney), Mitch Brown (retired), Majak Daw (retired), Jayden Hunt (free agent, West Coast), Luke Jackson (trade, Fremantle), Fraser Rosman (delisted), Sam Weideman (trade, Essendon)
They say the defence wins premierships and that is a key reason why and how the Demons did so in 2021. And that defence stood up last year and should do so again in 2023.
Last season, Melbourne allowed the least amount of points against (1483) against opposition teams. This was down to the work of key defenders Steven May (second league-wide for rebounds with 176 and sixth for intercept marks with 66), Jake Lever and Harrison Petty.
The midfield is also responsible for keeping the ball from entering the defensive 50 too many times, with the midfield unit maintaining pressure on the contest and the opposition consistently with Clayton Oliver (the top-ranked contested ball winner) and Jack Viney both ranked inside the top 10 last year for pressure acts.
Finding a target inside 50 mightn't be too difficult for the Demons, but their forwards can take a mark in the attacking end that has hampered the side in recent seasons. Much of this could be put down to the pace of the game the Demons play, with the speed culminating in a lot more in-play scores than scores from set shots.
Melbourne ranked 14th for marks on the lead, and in the forward 50, these are of importance. Melbourne's game does sometimes depend on putting the ball at the top of the goalsquare - something the team were doing during the pre-season - and hoping its taller players reach up to mark, and, it might come off, but it shouldn't be relied upon.
Ben Brown will again front the attack for Melbourne as its key forward, entering his third year at Casey Fields. In a less-interrupted season than the two before, Brown managed his worst output of goals since his debut season in 2014, kicking 30 in 19 games - including four games of zero goals.
A two-key forward attack of Brown and Tom McDonald hasn't yielded the results Melbourne would like, the side needs some calls to take a hold of the contest inside 50 and kick bags of goals in tandem, similar to McDonald and Jesse Hogan in 2018 - the last time a key forward won its leading goalkicking award, and the last time two key forwards placed in the top two for the category.
It seems that outside of small-to-medium forwards like Bayley Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett, there's a lack of output on the scoreboard from taller, key-position players. And even with Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy who will rest down forward at times, and ex-Bulldog Josh Schache who has potential, the Demons still need to find a tall who can be consistent in addressing the need to find increased contributions all around.
Kysaiah Pickett already seems like a star player of the competition, the third-year player having booted 40+ goals in each of his two seasons in the AFL. While this is a proven strength, across the pre-season, Pickett has been spending time bulking up in the gym, improving his aerobic capacity, and training more with the midfield group.
Pickett attended just eight centre bounces in 2022, but in pre-season games, was in the thick of it for longer periods. Quicker and stronger, Pickett should provide an already-strong midfield unit with more runs and skills that could elevate his game to a new level, especially in seeking a new contract before the end of the year.
Melbourne will be able to put together another strong season, with their established core playing group and the new additions all contributing to what should be another top-two finish, but at a minimum, top-four. Solid structures in defence and bona fide ball-winners in the midfield who can drift forward will be useful - especially with a one-two punch in the ruck of Gawn and Grundy. However, the Demons will need to find the consistent output in front of the sticks - especially if Pickett is to head into the midfield.
Ladder Prediction: 2nd
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