TWIN towers Tom McDonald and recruit Ben Brown have steered the undefeated Melbourne to an eighth-straight win, seeing off a brave Sydney by nine points at the MCG.
Playing a full game in the same forward line for the first time, the pair kicked seven goals between them in the see-sawing 10.7 (67) to 8.10 (58) win on Saturday night.
Sydney jumped out to an early 12-point lead before Melbourne wrested a strong control, and the match meandered on – in a surprisingly flat manner for two free-flowing sides – through the first half in the Melbourne autumn drizzle.
But the Dees struggled to capitalise on their dominance, kicking 2.5 for the second term, the most comical miss of which saw Bayley Fritsch slipping over the goal line while attempting to pick up the ball.
The Swans never dropped their heads, kicking two goals to go into the final break just 10 points arrears, before Callum Sinclair showed some quick reflexes 20 seconds into the fourth to bring the margin to four.
DEMONS v SWANS Full match coverage and stats
The teams traded goals before McDonald's fourth – after a soaring contested mark above a pack, including teammate Brown – proved to be the match-sealer with around seven minutes remaining.
Led by Callum Mills, Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker, Sydney dominated the centre clearances 17-4, but Demons wrecking ball Clayton Oliver (35, 10 clearances, 500m gained) thrived in the damp conditions.
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Dane Rampe made a welcome return to Sydney's defence from a broken finger, but champion Lance Franklin was blanketed by Steven May after two weeks off with bone bruising in his knee.
Young Dee James Jordon (a career-high 23 disposals) was highly impressive in the midfield, Christian Petracca's fine season continued with 28 and eight tackles, while James Harmes (30 and five clearances) didn't miss a beat in his return from a wrist injury.
Return of the champ
Eyes of both clubs' supporters were on champion Swan Lance Franklin, playing his first game on the MCG since round 21, 2018 (coincidentally, against the Demons). Coming off a two-week break for bone bruising in his knee, Franklin struggled to get involved in the game against a powerful Steven May, although the supply from further afield wasn't always clean. He finished scoreless with six disposals and three marks, but also got his hands dirty with five tackles.
Battle of the big men
There's been a certain magic around Tom Hickey this year, and the Swans' journeyman took on one of the very best in the last few years in Max Gawn. It was an intriguing battle between the two big men, with the Demon comfortably taking the chocolates in the hitouts, but Hickey recording six clearances off his own boot. Their two stat lines were eerily similar, recording 16 touches and 186m gained apiece.
Weideman waiting game continues
With Tom McDonald putting in one of his best performances for the year paired with Ben Brown, it looks as though the in-form Sam Weideman will be stuck in the VFL for another week. The out-of-contract young key has kicked 14 goals from his past three state league matches, but McDonald and Brown worked well together, with the former finding plenty of the footy (18 disposals) roaming high up the ground while the latter stayed closer to goal.
MELBOURNE 3.1 5.6 8.6 10.7 (67)
SYDNEY 3.3 3.7 6.8 8.10 (58)
Melbourne: McDonald 4, Brown 3, Melksham, Petracca, Spargo
Sydney: Hayward 2, McInerney, Hickey, Lloyd, Papley, Sinclair, Mills
Melbourne: Oliver, McDonald, Petracca, Harmes, Salem, Jordon
Sydney: Parker, Rampe, Mills, Lloyd, Rowbottom, Hickey
Melbourne: Chandler (unused)
Sydney: Blakey (unused)
Crowd: 35,567 at the MCG