MELBOURNE has drawn first blood in the battle between the AFL's rising teams and ended a 14-match losing streak against St Kilda, dominating after quarter time to win by 30 points on Saturday evening.
The Demons notched their first win over the Saints since 2006 and just their second at Etihad Stadium in 26 attempts, winning 18.12 (120) to 13.12 (90) to give Simon Goodwin a dream start to his coaching career.
The match ended with injury concerns for both clubs, with St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt hyper-injuring his right knee with six minutes to play and leaving the ground on a stretcher.
The early diagnosis on Saturday evening was positive, with the Saints confident Riewoldt had avoided a dreaded anterior cruciate ligament injury.
The Demons also lost debutant Joel Smith, who dislocated his left shoulder in the opening quarter, forcing the Demons to play out the match with three men on the interchange.
There were concerns for Melbourne early, falling 24 points behind in the second quarter as St Kilda's trademark tacking pressure undid the Demons' increasingly slick kicking game.
But Goodwin's men flicked a switch after quarter time to go on a blistering 10-goal run, turning the tables and asserting themselves over the Saints as the rising team to watch in 2017.
It was a mix of young stars and established guns who got the game on Melbourne's terms, with recruit Jordan Lewis (32 possessions and six inside 50s) magnificent on debut with his new team.
The four-time premiership Hawk added grunt to a centre-square combination that feasted on ruckman Max Gawn's 49 hit-outs, with the Demons' big man sublime with his taps to advantage.
It was young midfielder Clayton Oliver, however, who was arguably best on ground, playing the best game of his short career to finish with 36 possessions (14 contested) and a game-high nine clearances and eight tackles.
The match turned in the centre square, with St Kilda leading the centre clearances 7-2 at quarter time, but going on to lose the stat 17-7 over the next three quarters.
The dominance of Oliver and Jack Viney (22 possessions and eight clearances) in the centre square transferred into a 54-43 advantage in inside 50s, with forwards Jesse Hogan and Jeff Garlett kicking three goals each.
"We were poor at clearance early, we were beaten around the ball and that's something we want to pride ourselves on in building our style of play," Goodwin said.
"As I said to the boys at quarter time it was just about getting back to what we trained for all summer and getting back to the style of play that we know has been really successful for us."
The Demons also unearthed an impressive youngster in debutant Mitch Hannan, while co-captain Nathan Jones was terrific with 35 possessions.
The Saints' usual stars were on top early, with Riewoldt kicking two of his four goals in the first quarter. But they fell away, with young half-forward Jade Gresham (three goals) one of the few players to win his position.
Coach Alan Richardson said the team had been given a midfield lesson, particularly in the third quarter when they lost all eight centre clearances and conceded 20 inside 50s to five.
"We were smashed in the midfield. (It was) as poor as I reckon we've been in there," Richardson said.
"They were just too good for us and that's really disappointing. We won't accept that the opposition are too good for us and we need to learn from that."
St Kilda: Midfield recruit Jack Steele battled hard in the centre but was a victim of poor supply, with the former GWS on-baller finishing with three clearances. Defender Jake Carlisle played his first game after serving a 12-month ban and teamed up with recruit Nathan Brown. The pair had few positive moments in an under-siege backline, with Carlisle's contested mark deep in defence in the third quarter a rare highlight.
Melbourne: Jordan Lewis delivered exactly what the Demons recruited him for. His strength and composure at stoppages stood out and his handballs hit their targets. Mitch Hannan was a left-field but inspired selection after missing the entire JLT Community Series, adding pressure in the forward line. Rangy youngster Joel Smith also made his debut and played in defence before going down with injury. Jake Melksham returned after serving his 12-month ban and rotated between wing and half-back roles, giving the team an aggressive edge.
St Kilda: Paddy McCartin was withdrawn late with "hamstring awareness", Richardson said. The young forward will line up in a VFL practice match on Sunday, where his minutes will be managed. Scans on Sunday will reveal the extent of Riewoldt's knee injury, while Nathan Wright and Nathan Brown were cleared of any damage after head knocks.
Melbourne: Smith will miss an extended period with a dislocated left shoulder, leaving the ground just 18 minutes into his debut with the assistance of trainers. Gawn received treatment for a back complaint and spent 10 minutes off the ground through the second quarter, having the injury re-taped.
The Saints face West Coast on Saturday at Domain Stadium, where they will be hoping to end a seven-match losing streak against the Eagles. Melbourne returns to the MCG to host Carlton, a team it has lost nine of its past 10 matches against but will be heavily favoured to beat.
ST KILDA 6.2 7.8 9.9 13.12 (90)
MELBOURNE 2.3 9.4 15.7 18.12 (120)
St Kilda: Riewoldt 4, Gresham 3, Billings, Armitage, Membrey, Lonie, Dunstan, Bruce
Melbourne: Garlett 3, Hogan 3, Hannan 2, Petracca 2, Stretch, Watts, Weideman, Jetta, Vince, Neal-Bullen, Brayshaw, Jones
St Kilda: Riewoldt, Gresham, Billings, Steven, Steele
Melbourne: Oliver, Lewis, Gawn, N Jones, Vince, Hogan, Jetta, Garlett
St Kilda: Paddy McCartin (hamstring tightness) replaced in selected side by Jack Lonie, Nick Riewoldt (knee)
Melbourne: Joel Smith (left shoulder), Max Gawn (back tightness)
Umpires: Chamberlain, Fleer, Ryan
Official crowd: 36,249 at Etihad Stadium
Jordan Lewis cops a spray in the rooms after the Demons' big win. Picture: AFL Photos