MELBOURNE survived a lightning break and a late West Coast charge at a wild Optus Stadium on Monday night, rising to the top of the ladder with a nine-point win that locked in the club's first finals double chance in more than 20 years.
On a bizarre night that saw play halted for 29 minutes in the final term because of severe weather, the Demons conceded the last four goals of the game to nearly squander a match they had in their control.
They held on against a rampaging and desperate Eagles team to win 10.12 (72) to 9.9 (63) and secure their highest ladder finish at the end of a home and away season since 2000, when they placed third and went on to make the Grand Final.
The ladder leaders had appeared to be cruising to victory when play was halted six minutes into the final term because of approaching severe weather, with both teams retreating to their changerooms for almost 30 minutes.
The Eagles then emerged a different team, booting four goals in a 19-minute run that cut a 33-point margin down to nine points with just under 90 seconds to play.
Midfielders Christian Petracca (28 disposals and seven clearances) and Clayton Oliver (28 and nine) were excellent in a contested slog, with Ben Brown booting three important goals.
Young ruckman Luke Jackson (21 and two clearances) took a big step forward, while James Harmes (25 and a goal) stepped up in big moments.
The Demons made their move in the third quarter, going on a four-goal run that turned a five-point margin into 32 points at the final break.
They got on top in the clearances (13-9), contested ball (35-24) and inside 50s (14-6), kicking 5.5 to 1.1 for the quarter.
The Eagles saved their best period of the game until it appeared all over, with midfielder Elliot Yeo brilliant with 31 disposals, 14 clearances and eight inside 50s in his best performance since recovering from osteitis pubis.
Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling and Josh Kennedy each booted two goals, while ruckman Nic Naitanui was influential in the fightback, finishing with 29 hit-outs, five clearances and a late goal.
Brown was central to Melbourne's fast start, booting two first quarter goals as the Demons raced to a 20-point lead and silenced the Optus Stadium crowd.
EAGLES v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
The Eagles were clearly working hard at the coalface but struggled to move the ball with any fluency as Jake Lever rolled off across half-back and intercepted their rushed entries.
They turned the game into a scrap late in the quarter, however, and got on top in the second as Yeo and Tim Kelly gained ascendency around the stoppages and led an impressive fightback.
Cripps converted an excellent 50m set shot and when he missed another long-range attempt moments later the game was on level terms.
It took until the half time siren for the Demons, who were outmuscled in the contest, to kick their only goal of the quarter when Kysaiah Pickett converted his set shot from 50m.
That gave them a four-point lead that quickly blew out in the game-changing third quarter, leaving the Eagles with too much work to do in the frantic final term.
Eagles see the light
The lightning break came at the perfect time for West Coast, who had been pinned in their back half for the opening exchanges of the final term and appeared to be going nowhere. They flipped the game on its head when they emerged after the break, playing with freedom, dare and run to go on a four-goal run that left the Dees nervous in the final two minutes. The Eagles probably need to win their remaining two games to play finals, but they look more likely to do that now than they did six minutes into the final term.
Big Ben strikes right on time
Ben Brown could be timing his run perfectly after a three-goal performance that will make him hard to leave out come September. Playing on young Eagle Harry Edwards, Brown showed his experience at key moments and covered for the absence of fellow tall Tom McDonald, who was withdrawn pre-game after failing to come up from a back injury. The Demons chose not to replace McDonald with emergency Sam Weideman, putting their faith in Brown and young star Jackson instead on a wet night.
Young Melbourne star enjoys big moment against his hero
Luke Jackson grew up idolising Nic Naitanui, and on Monday night he found himself contesting a boundary throw-in with the West Coast star. It was halfway through the third quarter and only six points separated the teams before Jackson's intervention. He got front position against Naitanui and won the tap down to advantage, followed up to win the clearing kick down the wing and set up the James Harmes goal that got the Demons rolling. It was a brilliant night for Jackson, who was playing against the Eagles and in his home state for the first time.
WEST COAST 2.0 4.5 5.6 9.9 (63)
MELBOURNE 4.2 5.3 10.8 10.12 (72)
West Coast: Cripps 2, Kennedy 2, Darling 2, Redden, Naitanui, West
Melbourne: Brown 3, Melksham 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Petracca, Harmes, Pickett
West Coast: Yeo, Naitanui, Redden, Kelly, Cripps, Sheed
Melbourne: Petracca, Oliver, Harmes, Brown, Jackson, Bowey, May
West Coast: Hurn (hamstring), Liam Duggan (knee soreness) replaced in the selected side by Luke Edwards
Melbourne: Hunt (ankle), Tom McDonald (back) replaced in the selected side by James Jordon
West Coast: Zac Langdon (replaced Hurn)
Melbourne: Aaron vandenBerg (replaced Hunt)
Crowd: 31,584 at Optus Stadium