Jack Viney looks on after the R13 match between Melbourne and Collingwood at the MCG on June 10, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

TIME will tell if Melbourne's premiership hopes ended at the same time as Christian Petracca's after suffering four broken ribs, a punctured lung and a lacerated spleen, but it is a very tough ask from here.  

Even before the four-time All-Australian midfielder departed the MCG in the back of an ambulance, Melbourne had drifted from a 6-2 start to 2024 to a season on life support after four losses since then, including the King's Birthday defeat to an undermanned and inexperienced Collingwood last Monday. 

Now they will need a miracle if they are going to atone back-to-back straight-sets finals exits this September.  

Melbourne's forward line always cops the brunt of the external blame, and for good reason. But this year has been more about a midfield decline that hasn't been helped with what happened at the end of last year. 

Angus Brayshaw was hoping to play again after he suffered another concussion in last year's qualifying final loss to Collingwood. He finished fourth in the best and fairest, playing predominantly as a midfielder, after finishing fifth in 2022. But he was forced to medically retire in February and has left a massive hole in the onball rotation.  

And he isn't the only one. 

Angus Brayshaw is stretchered off the ground during the qualifying final between Melbourne and Collingwood at the MCG on September 7, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

James Jordon played 18 games last year but was subbed in or out of eight of them and chose to move to Sydney in pursuit of greater opportunity at the Swans, after playing more outside roles at Melbourne, where he became a premiership player in 2021 after being delisted 12 months earlier.

The move cost the Swans nothing and they have gained a crucial player who has featured in all 12 games to start the year, with John Longmire using him predominantly as a tagger to great effect.

James Harmes had to move for his career last October. After playing almost every game in 2021 and 2022, the premiership midfielder was withering on the vine in the VFL, averaging 28.6 disposals for Casey but unable to secure a spot in Simon Goodwin's engine room. The 28-year-old is injured right now, but would have been handy at Melbourne this year. 

Melbourne's Midfield Decline - Contest 







Centre Bounce Clearances 



Midfield Contested Possessions



Midfield Groundballs



Midfield Pressure Rating 



Melbourne has drifted from one of the best centre bounce and around-the-ground clearance teams in the AFL to 15th in the competition. The Dees have also plummeted from the best midfield contested possession team to 10th.  

The Demons dominated the territory game in 2023, but this year has seen an alarming drop-off, falling from No.2 for inside 50 differential and time in forward half differential to 15th and 14th respectively. They have also dropped from the best at forward-half intercepts to No.12.  

Melbourne's Midfield Decline - Territory




Time in Forward Half Diff



Inside 50 Diff



Forward Half Intercepts 



Clayton Oliver is a conundrum. The fact he has played all 13 games after a non-existent pre-season and after a wild off-season is something not many inside the Demons could have predicted in December or January. 

But on the flipside, the 26-year-old is playing at a level nowhere near the best that saw him become a four-time best and fairest winner and three-time All-Australian in 2022. Oliver is averaging 24.8 disposals per game – his lowest since his debut season – but the biggest problem is he is going at a kicking efficiency of 57.6 per cent and averaging 4.5 turnovers per game. 

Clayton Oliver kicks the ball during the R9 match between Melbourne and Carlton at the MCG on May 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

While Max Gawn is on course for a staggering seventh All-Australian blazer, Petracca was in the hunt for a fifth successive berth and Jack Viney was doing what he does, Melbourne's midfield drops off quickly, highlighting the absence of Brayshaw, Jordon and Harmes. 

After Gawn (285), Oliver (239), Viney (230) and Petracca (187), Tom Sparrow and Kysaiah Pickett (112) are the only two players at Melbourne with more than 52 centre bounce attendances across the first 13 rounds. 

 Melbourne's Midfield - Player Ratings 





Max Gawn



Christian Petracca



Jack Viney 



Clayton Oliver



Alex Neal-Bullen 



Tom Sparrow



Caleb Windsor



Ed Langdon 



Melbourne will need to find some more midfield contributions during the coming months in the absence of Petracca. Pickett attended 19 centre bounces against Collingwood and can impact with his sizzle, but the Demons will need to see if former first-round pick Bailey Laurie and Sparrow can have more impact after the bye. 

Trent Rivers trained as a midfielder all pre-season after finishing 10th in the best and fairest, but has only attended eight centre bounces for the year – No.11 at the club – and could get more of a look now after being one of the standouts over summer, alongside Laurie. 

Gun half-back Christian Salem has spent more time as a midfielder this year – 51 centre bounce attendances – and has the class to change games, while Judd McVee is yet to attend one and looms as another lever Goodwin can pull in this area of the ground. 

Alex Neal-Bullen executed the blueprint for stopping Brownlow Medal contender Nick Daicos, but the role meant he couldn't impact forward of the ball like he can, robbing Peter to pay Paul. 

Nick Daicos is tackled by Alex Neal-Bullen during the match between Collingwood and Melbourne at the MCG in round 13, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Caleb Windsor has emerged as a Rising Star contender this year, especially with Harley Reid and Sam Darcy ineligible due to suspension. The Eastern Ranges product has fired on a wing but could he go inside in the next couple of months to ease the burden on more experienced players?

Melbourne hosts North Melbourne and West Coast at the MCG either side of the bye, around a tip to the Gabba to face Brisbane. 

The issue from there is that six of the last seven rounds are against sides above them on the ladder, as well as the Western Bulldogs who are one spot below them in 10th. All are fighting for top-four spots and a place in September. We are about to find out more about Melbourne's midfield depth.