PARTY like you're back in Perth.
In its first game since breaking the club's 57-year premiership drought, Melbourne repeated the trick to vanquish new foes the Western Bulldogs in the season-opener and the highly anticipated Grand Final rematch on Wednesday night.
Just as they had done in Western Australia all that time ago, the Demons had again been staring down the barrel of a daunting deficit at the MCG. And, just as they had done on that last Saturday in September, the Demons met the challenge head on. Once 22 points down, Simon Goodwin's side stormed to a 14.13 (97) to 11.5 (71) victory.
DEMONS v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
In a topsy-turvy game eerily reminiscent of when they last met, Melbourne kicked the game's first four goals, conceded the next eight, then piled on six more of its own in another dazzling display that eventually broke the Western Bulldogs and built the platform for its satisfying 26-point win.
And, eerily reminiscent of when they last met, it was Christian Petracca who was central to everything the Demons did right. Fresh from his Norm Smith Medal performance, the superstar was superb yet again. He finished with 38 disposals, nine clearances, 869m gained and kicked two goals to stamp his name as the contest's best player.
But he was ably supported by Clayton Oliver (32 disposals, six clearances) through the midfield, while Ben Brown (13 disposals, eight marks, three goals) was dominant in attack as the Demons powered to victory.
The Bulldogs were again made to rue a missed opportunity to put Melbourne to bed when the chance presented itself. Jack Macrae (39 disposals, 11 clearances) was prolific and Aaron Naughton (14 disposals, four goals) was dominant, but Luke Beveridge's team couldn't hold its nerve.
Instead, just like six months ago at Optus Stadium, the momentum swings were as volatile as they were frequent. Melbourne, in kicking the game's first four goals, quickly shot into a 27-point lead. The Bulldogs, in responding to the early onslaught, kicked the next eight to grab the advantage and then build their buffer to 22 points.
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The comeback was staggering in its swiftness and suddenness. Sparked by a controversial free kick to Cody Weightman on the quarter-time buzzer, it was then inspired by the brilliance of Naughton. He kicked three of the eight goals, with his strength in the air just as valuable higher up the field.
At the other end, Brown was proving every bit as influential. His second of the evening stopped the rot, while Petracca nailed a brilliant set-shot from deep inside the pocket to ensure the Demons' deficit was whittled back to single figures by half-time.
Supporters on both sides could have been forgiven for craving a brief moment of respite, or some type of stalemate. It never came. Brown's third, combined with Grand Final hero Bayley Fritsch getting on the scoreboard twice in quick succession, saw Melbourne reclaim the lead on the back of six consecutive goals of its own.
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Despite the Demons leading by 15 points at three-quarter time, the recent history of these teams – and the pattern of the game itself – would suggest nothing could be taken for granted. Marcus Bontempelli's crumbing goal to start the final term, followed by Naughton's fourth, was evidence of that.
Only this time, the run of majors wouldn't extend beyond two. Ever the man for a big moment, Max Gawn swung around and delivered from beyond 50m to ease Melbourne's growing nerves. Just like 173 days ago, the Dees then moved to cruise control as Petracca's second put the result beyond doubt.
Norm Smith last year, three votes this year
Christian Petracca could hardly have started the season better. After winning 39 disposals and kicking two goals in last year's Grand Final to be named the unanimous Norm Smith Medal winner, the superstar Melbourne midfielder is surely in line for the three Brownlow Medal votes to start the current campaign. Petracca finished with 38 disposals, nine clearances and two stellar goals – almost an identical stat line to the Grand Final – to quickly establish himself as the game's most dominant player on Wednesday night. His class in possession, power to break free from stoppage and smarts forward of centre were all on show. If opposition sides thought the game's most influential player would slow down, fresh from a premiership and one of the game's highest individual honours, think again.
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On Monday, it was reported that Lachie Hunter had been dropped. On Tuesday, Luke Beveridge bristled at those claims. On Tuesday night, Hunter was named in the Bulldogs' team. On Wednesday, an hour before the bounce, Hunter was withdrawn from the side and dropped into the substitute role. But, 15 minutes before the bounce, Hunter returned to the starting side when Jason Johannisen was withdrawn with leg soreness. At the end of a chaotic 24 hours, Hunter played. His impact though, perhaps fairly given the context of his lead-up to the clash, was limited. He finished with just 13 disposals for the night, playing a combination of forward and through the midfield.
Demons defence depleted, but not done
Already without three members of its premiership backline – Harrison Petty (calf), Trent Rivers (knee) and Michael Hibberd (calf) – Melbourne then lost Jake Lever to a foot injury an hour before the bounce and Christian Salem to a knee problem just minutes into the game. It left just two of the seven Grand Final defenders – Steven May and Jake Bowey – still standing. But the Demons, typically, held firm. May was joined by Tom McDonald – returning to a defensive role – as well as Adam Tomlinson and Joel Smith in occupying the key position voids, while Angus Brayshaw, James Jordon and Jayden Hunt all spent time behind the ball to help provide the run lost when Salem was substituted. Max Gawn dropped into the hole effectively to intercept throughout the night, ramming home Simon Goodwin's point that the sum of Melbourne's backline is more than the parts.
MELBOURNE 4.5 6.6 10.8 14.13 (97)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.2 8.3 8.5 11.5 (71)
Melbourne: Brown 3, Fritsch 2, Petracca 2, Langdon, Viney, Bowey, Jackson, Gawn, Harmes, Pickett
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 4, Treloar 2, Crozier, Weightman, Dale, Hannan, Bontempelli
Melbourne: Petracca, Brown, Oliver, Fritsch, Viney, Langdon, Jordon
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Naughton, Smith, Dunkley, Dale, Treloar
Melbourne: Lever (foot) replaced in selected side by Tomlinson, Salem (knee)
Western Bulldogs: Martin (omitted) replaced in selected side by Gardner, Johannisen (leg soreness) replaced in selected side by Crozier
Melbourne: Bedford (replaced Salem)
Western Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan (unused)
Crowd: 58,002 at the MCG