When: Saturday March 31st, 1:45pm
Weather: Min: 18. Max: 29.
Partly cloudy. Warm at first with north to northwesterly winds increasing to 35 to 45 km/h. A cooler south to southwest change 25 to 35 km/h during the early afternoon. Isolated showers possible following the change.
TV: Fox Footy (live)
Radio: SEN, ABC 774, 3AW, Triple M
Odds: Melbourne $1.42, Brisbane $3.00, Line Brisbane +14.5.
The indifferent form of the pre-season, off-field scandals, and even footy itself pales into insignificance at times like these.
Make no mistake, no club or supporter base will be keener to get things underway than the Demons.
They don’t necessarily hold high hopes for 2011, nor are they expecting to immediately begin a long awaited premiership campaign – but when the dust settles after a legendary player of the club, and more importantly a legendary person finally passes, it’s human nature to feel the need to get on with things and honour his name with more than just words.
Brisbane is a club with strong values and quality people, and the magnitude of Melbourne’s loss will not be lost on them. And whilst their sympathies lie with the Melbourne Football Club, you can be sure that they are privately wishing they were facing Melbourne under different circumstances.
The intangibles of the inner circle of a football club are often underestimated amongst the broader football community, and whilst teams regularly lift when the chips are down or when a favourite son reaches a milestone, this is different.
To the very fibre of their being, you can bet your bottom dollar that Melbourne will have no trouble finding 22 men able to reach to the depth of their passion with a burning desire to pay tribute to a great man for 120 minutes this Saturday.
In short, this will be a strategically intriguing matchup between two sides with very different strengths and weaknesses. It won’t be the cleanest game of the weekend, nor is it likely to reach the heights of at least a couple of the other fixtures from a football purist’s point of view, however the break-down of this game is far less predictable of any other this weekend.
After a less than precise 2011, the new Brisbane coaching set up which includes new assistant Mark Harvey, have turned the focus to maintaining possession and using the ball well.
Whilst pre-season form needs to be viewed with caution, the Lions have gone from turnover kings last year to being the most efficient side in the league by foot during the NAB Cup series.
Contrary to Brisbane’s fortunes, Melbourne look back on their 2011 season and lament their lack of ball-winning ability, and by extension, their passion and commitment to the hard ball.
Yet, just like Brisbane, last year’s weakness has become the focus of a new gameplan.
The inside word is that new Coach Mark Neeld has demanded a more ferocious attack on the contested ball before all other aspects of the game….and it has been reflected statistically in Melbourne’s pre-season thus far.
Whilst results have been mixed, Melbourne’s dedication to winning the hard ball in the corridor in particular has been a consistent feature of their pre-season hit-outs.
Again, this is an unpredictable yet alluring aspect of this clash. It’s amazing at times how a single player’s absence can produce a domino effect among the remaining 44 combatants.
In an incident on the training track that is surely against any AFL team’s internal rules, Matt McGuire flying third man up resulting in a broken cheek bone to his captain Jonathan Brown a few weeks ago has completely changed the make up of this contest.
The simple reality is that Brisbane only had one established quality target in the forward line before Brown went down, and now they need to find another. From the beginning of the NAB series it became apparent that Michael Voss had an eye on champion full back Daniel Merrett filling this temporary role.
Originally drafted as a forward, Merrett has spent more time forward than back in the build-up, with mixed results at both ends.
His most impressive effort was a three-goal haul against Carlton, yet the back line suffered badly in his absence in their clash with Essendon with Michael Hurley hardly breaking a sweat, racking up nine scoring shots.
As much as Voss would like to see Merrett shut down his former pupil and danger man Mitch Clark, he has little choice but to start him forward if Brisbane is to produce a winning score. The problem for Brisbane is that whilst Merrett is unquestionably an A grade full back, he is a C grade forward at this level.
The flow on affect directly impacts the ruck dual. Under different circumstances Voss would be licking his lips at the challenge of Matthew Leuenberger and newly recruited hard man Ben Hudson taking on Melbourne’s most important player in Mark Jamar and the young Stefan Martin, but Leuenberger will most likely be forced to spend extra minutes as a forward target.
Furthermore, with Merrett playing forward, Voss is left with little choice but to assign Matt McGuire to Clark. This leaves the much maligned Jack Watts with a perfect opportunity to answer his critics against Joel Patfull, who is ideally suited to the third defender role rather than centre-half-back.
Everything is against Brisbane here.
Both sides are coming from a long way back and have a similar level of talent, especially in the midfield where the slightly more developed bodies of mature recruit James Magner, Nathan Jones, Brent Moloney and the reinvigorated “Your Health” devotee Matthew Bate, take on the young talent of Jack Redden, Tom Rockliff , Daniel Rich and veteran Simon Black.
The Lions haven’t beaten the Demons since mid 2009, and didn’t win a single game in Melbourne last year.
Under normal circumstances this would be a very difficult game to call, but with the memory and emotion of Jim Stynes passing, Melbourne should crush the Lions well before the final siren.
Melbourne by 40 points.
B: Joel Macdonald, James Frawley, Clint Bartram
HB: Rohan Bail, Jared Rivers, Colin Garland
C: Jack Watts, Jack Grimes, Nathan Jones
HF: Jack Trengove, Brad Green, Jeremy Howe
F: Aaron Davey, Mitchell Clark, Stefan Martin
Foll: Mark Jamar, Brent Moloney, James Magner
I/C: Matthew Bate, Sam Blease, Jordie McKenzie, Josh Tynan
Emg: Lynden Dunn, James Sellar, Thomas Couch
B: Niall McKeever, Daniel Merrett, Ashley McGrath
HB: Mitchell Golby, Matt Maguire, Daniel Rich
C: Tom Rockliff, Jed Adcock, Pearce Hanley
HF: Jared Polec, Joel Patfull, Todd Banfield
F: James Polkinghorne, Matthew Leuenberger, Ryan Lester
Foll: Ben Hudson, Simon Black, Jack Redden
I/C: Cheynee Stiller, Sam Sheldon, Claye Beams, Rohan Bewick
Emg: Ryan Harwood, Jesse O’Brien, Billy Longer