WHEN searching for leadership on set-shot goalkicking, even Max Gawn would admit he wouldn't be the first player to follow. But on Sunday, in the midst of a dogged battle against Hawthorn, the Melbourne ruckman and skipper stepped up to the plate.
Gawn's long bomb from outside 50 midway through the last term broke Hawthorn's resistance, with the Demons piling on the next six goals to run out powerful 50-point winners at the MCG.
Just 30 minutes earlier the Hawks had drawn within four points, but Gawn was the dominant figure in the 15.14 (104) to 8.6 (54) win, which kept alive Melbourne's unbeaten start to the season after five rounds – their best start to a campaign since 1994.
HAWKS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
In a battle with Hawthorn counterpart and captain Ben McEvoy, Gawn was clearly best afield, amassing 26 disposals, 24 hit-outs, five clearances, eight contested marks and the towering goal, which had ended a run of misfires from the Demons inside-50.
The four-time All-Australian's commanding performance did not marry up with a centre-square shellacking, however, with Hawthorn's midfielders (they claimed the centre clearances 15 to 12) competing well up until the last term, before the Demons broke away with eight goals to two.
Ed Langdon continued to press his claims for a maiden All-Australian berth with three goals from 17 disposals, while Clayton Oliver (30 disposals), Christian Salem (30), Christian Petracca (23, two goals) and Tom McDonald (22, two goals) were among the Demons' best.
Despite Gawn's hot start – he had nine disposals and nine hit-outs to the first change – the Hawks got the jump on the Demons early.
Melbourne didn't help itself in front of goal, blazing away with chances instead of steadying balls inside-50, but two goals apiece for Luke Breust and Ollie Hanrahan helped Hawthorn to a 10-point advantage at the first break, which was reward for their control.
The Demons continued to pepper the goals in the second term, but their forward mix wasn't gelling. A clever snap to Jake Melksham, and a second major to the in-form Langdon, helped cut the Hawks' lead back to two points by the main break.
But they still had a gear – or several, probably – to lift as they threatened to kick themselves out of the game in front of goal. Misses to Kysaiah Pickett, then Gawn and a quieter-than-usual Petracca kept the Hawks' lead intact at the main break.
Petracca got his side moving in the third term, slamming home the first goal of the second half and later brilliantly setting up a goal for McDonald, who also chipped in with his two goals that quarter. The Demons continued to cough up chances inside-50, but had flipped the momentum to take a 10-point lead into the final term.
A goal from Hawthorn small forward Dylan Moore inside the first 30 seconds of the final quarter threatened to change the script, but the Demons stepped up when required, in and of itself another test of their top-four credentials.
Dees find May replacement
With gun defender Steven May missing for several weeks with a fractured eye socket, Melbourne had to reshuffle its back line. Adam Tomlinson, who stood in for May deep last week, was deployed there again alongside in-form defender Jake Lever, while Harrison Petty was included for his first game since 2019. Matched up against Hawthorn key forward trio Tim O'Brien, Jacob Koschitzke and Conor Nash, the Melbourne backline held up well, conceding a total of two goals (both to O'Brien) to the three tall Hawks.
Big-name recruits on song for Hawks
Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara and Chad Wingard – all Hawks via previous homes – were excellent in keeping their side in striking distance of Melbourne until the huge final-quarter blitz. Mitchell collected 32 disposals and four inside-50s and was part of the centre-square unit that controlled proceedings for some of the game, while O'Meara was also excellent with 27 touches. Wingard collected 20 with five clearances and was electric at stages. The Hawks will need all three firing to push out of the bottom four this year.
Hibberd lays claim on spot
Former Bomber Michael Hibberd has been made to earn his place back in the Demons' defence and was brought into the side for his first appearance of the season. The 31-year-old made a seamless return, gathering 21 disposals in a polished display out of the back line. The tough and physical left-footer also had a moment of brilliance in the third term, when his effort to smother and stop a goal deep in defence helped set up a Melbourne goal at the other end of the ground.
HAWTHORN 4.3 5.3 6.6 8.6 (54)
MELBOURNE 2.5 4.7 7.10 15.14 (104)
Hawthorn: Breust 2, Hanrahan 2, O'Brien 2, McEvoy, Moore
Melbourne: Langdon 3, Melksham 3, Brown 2, McDonald 2, Petracca 2, Pickett 2, Gawn
Hawthorn: O'Meara, Mitchell, Impey, Wingard, Scrimshaw
Melbourne: Gawn, Langdon, Salem, Oliver, Hibberd, McDonald, Petracca
Hawthorn: Cousins (unused)
Melbourne: Sparrow (unused)
CROWD 36,337 at the MCG