UNDEFEATED Melbourne has moved to the top of the ladder for the first time since 2005 after surviving a fright from North Melbourne in a 30-point victory at Blundstone Arena on Sunday.
It looked like a huge upset was on the cards when the Kangaroos led their more-fancied opponents by 19 points at half-time, but the 2021 version of the Demons are made of sterner stuff and upped the ante after the main break to register the 16.7 (103) to 11.7 (73) triumph.
KANGAROOS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
Down on numbers due to the absence of late withdrawal Jack Viney (toe) and the loss of in-form defender Adam Tomlinson to a potentially serious knee injury, the Demons had to call on their new-found depth to make it seven wins from as many starts this season.
Underrated marksman Bayley Fritsch booted a career-high six goals to outshine fellow forward Ben Brown on his club debut, while exciting livewire Kysaiah Pickett kicked three goals in yet another strong showing.
But it was young ruckman Luke Jackson (22 disposals) and improved defender Christian Salem (29 touches) who played a major part in the six-goal third quarter that changed the momentum the Demons' way and ensured they would sit on top of the ladder at the end of the round.
Onballers Clayton Oliver (25 disposals) and Christian Petracca (23) also found plenty of the ball and Steven May continued his excellent start to the season with 25 touches and a whopping 14 marks.
Experienced midfielder Ben Cunnington was one of few Kangaroos to play four quarters and he can hold his head high following a performance that netted 34 touches, eight clearances and two goals.
Running defender Aaron Hall also picked up 34 touches, while Jy Simpkin (30) and Kayne Turner (27) also impressed in an entertaining midfield battle.
The class of Cunnington and Hall had the winless Kangaroos on the front foot early and with Tom Campbell enjoying some freedom up forward to boot two opening-quarter goals, it was North Melbourne by five points at the first break.
Nick Larkey got in on the act with two majors of his own in the second term and the margin grew to 19 at the half as the thought of an upset looked more than a live chance.
But Jackson and Salem helped turn the game in the third quarter, with Fritsch and Pickett cashing in to ensure the Demons claimed the lead and held a 13-point advantage at the final break.
Cunnington snapped his second early in the final term to give the Kangas some hope, but the Demons' class shone through as the League leaders maintained their poise to make it seven straight.
Action Jackson coming of age
A few eyebrows were raised when the Demons read out West Australian tall Luke Jackson's name with the third pick in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, but any queries about the teenager's ability can now surely be put to rest. Jackson was very good in the Demons' upset victory over the Tigers last week and he backed up that effort with another impressive showing against the Kangaroos. Jackson's third term was instrumental in the Demons' comeback and the 19-year-old's latest effort will put him in the mix for this week's NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.
Emotions run high for luckless Tomlinson
A visit to Tasmania on a mild autumn day usually brings much joy and excitement, but for Adam Tomlinson it was quite the opposite as the Dees defender fought back tears on the bench following a knee injury against the Roos. It remains to be seen how long Tomlinson will be sidelined, but the signs don't look good for the former Giant. The Dees do have options should Tomlinson be out long-term, with Tom McDonald showing he is just as efficient down back by playing the second half in defence against the Roos. They also have Sam Weideman in the VFL they can turn to if they require a different option in attack.
Big Ben returns in the Apple Isle
All eyes were on the towering Melbourne forward in his first game for his new club and it made sense that his first game back from injury at the top level would be against his former club and in his home state of Tasmania. Brown probably had his colours lowered in an entertaining battle with North defender Ben McKay, but the 200cm giant showed enough promising signs to suggest he will improve as the season progresses. Brown had a 55m shot on goal touched on the line in the opening term and finished the match with two goals.
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.1 9.5 10.6 11.7 (73)
MELBOURNE 3.2 6.4 12.7 16.7 (103)
North Melbourne: Larkey 2, Campbell 2, Cunnington 2, Zurhaar, Mahony, Atley, Simpkin, Powell
Melbourne: Fritsch 6, Pickett 3, Brown 2, Langdon, Jackson, Spargo, Jordan, Oliver
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Hall, Powell, McKay, Turner, Simpkin
Melbourne: Fritsch, Jackson, Salem, May, Pickett, Petracca
North Melbourne: Bonar (corked thigh)
Melbourne: Tomlinson (knee)
North Melbourne: Menadue (replaced Bonar)
Melbourne: Jones (replaced Tomlinson)
Crowd: TBC at Blundstone Arena