CHRISTIAN Petracca: midfielder emphatically re-introduced himself on Saturday at a windswept Casey Fields.
A footballer who's been relentlessly hyped, praised, criticised, spoken and written about produced his best solo performance, albeit in a pre-season game in February.
Petracca's coach at Melbourne, Simon Goodwin, ensured post-match that narrative was cemented: "I certainly haven't seen him play a better game."
Twenty-seven of his 38 disposals against Adelaide were contested – Petracca's bread and butter – and he laced them with 12 score involvements, nine inside 50s, eight clearances, seven tackles and three goals.
It was an exceptional display no matter how you want to spin it, although one he might unfairly be measured on externally for the rest of the season.
Those who watched the Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne duke it out the night before would have left Marvel Stadium or turned off the TV acknowledging Marcus Bontempelli was a class above everyone.
Bontempelli, of course, has many more runs on the board than fellow top-five draft pick Petracca but the Demon similarly left teammates and opponents in his wake.
The performance set tongues wagging like never before - and followed his physical transformation over the pre-season, after Goodwin publicly challenged him to get fitter.
ON THE RIGHT TRAC Explosive Demon set to fulfil lofty ambition
Petracca, who re-signed this week for two more years, launched his summer health kick with a whirlwind trip, alongside fellow Demon Christian Salem, to Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, United States.
Melbourne's new fitness guru Darren Burgess helped make that happen, while some feedback from Bontempelli on his own Oregon experience encouraged Petracca to go.
Ultimately, player and coach want the same thing: for the No.2 pick in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft to log more midfield time.
The complication of Melbourne's deep onball rotation – predominantly Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw, James Harmes and Nathan Jones – paled in comparison to Petracca's aerobic capacity.
That limitation, until now, was a chief reason why Petracca's played greater than 50 per cent midfield time in only 16 of his career 85 games.
CHRISTIAN PETRACCA'S TOP FIVE MIDFIELD GAMES
Round 19, 2017 v North Melbourne
Round 2, 2018 v Brisbane
Round 5, 2018 v Richmond
Round 18, 2017 v Port Adelaide
Round 17, 2018 v Western Bulldogs
Champion Data doesn't track positional percentages in the pre-season but his 23 centre-bounce attendances on Saturday were more than he's ever recorded in a senior AFL match.
With all this in mind, Petracca's Eastern Ranges coach in the then-TAC Cup, dual Essendon premiership forward Darren Bewick, had some frank conversations with him last year.
"He was getting frustrated – not from where he was playing, just that he wasn't able to show what he thought he'd be able to do," Bewick told AFL.com.au.
"He felt he was working hard … but as a young player coming through, you forget he missed his first year with his knee (injury).
"It takes a little while, especially for the good ones, to go, 'Right, this works for me, this doesn't work for me' and, at the same time, they're trying to fit into a role the club might be giving them, and a different style of play.
"For a young player, even as confident as Christian is, there's always that 'unsureness', if you like, about, 'Can I do that stuff I used to do, against the best players going around?'."
WHY PETRACCA'S A COMPELLING MIDFIELD CASE
Anyone in the know speaks in glowing terms about Petracca's innate ability in one-on-one warfare on a football field.
It's his one wood, his greatest weapon – although it's a multi-faceted one. Goodwin will tell you how hard Petracca has worked on this skillset.
What makes him dangerous is he beats you in a series of ways: speed off the mark, superior reading of the play, a subtle nudge in the wrong direction, a fend-off, a sidestep, with fancy footwork, or a spin.
Petracca was second among forwards last year, behind Giant Toby Greene, for contested possessions per game.
His average of 9.5 was still above average compared to midfielders despite him spending just 21 per cent of the season there.
As the video below illustrates, Petracca is so strong he can 'wear' a tackle and still manoeuvre into the right spot before delivering a sharp and often creative handball.
An opposition assistant coach who spoke to AFL.com.au raved about Petracca's dynamism and ability to "draw a crowd" with his tackle-breaking talents, noting his knack for bringing teammates into the play.
A bump in his midfield time and the arrival of natural wingers Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson could prove a deadly combination for the Demons.
Petracca and triple All-Australian ruckman Max Gawn also have a good understanding, which heightens the midfielder's potential.
Whether reading the Sherrin off Gawn's hands or stalking it on the ground, Petracca often outwits his opponent in knowing the exact moment to move.
Petracca's set-shot goalkicking troubles in the past two seasons have harmed his overall reputation with ball in hand but his kicking needs to be analysed in isolation.
His shot-at-goal accuracy in that period is a paltry 44.4 per cent, including complete misses, after he went at 68.4 per cent in 2017.
However, there is no such problem with Petracca's field kicking, as highlighted by Champion Data's kick rating metric, which takes into account difficulty.
His general kick rating is +3.1 per cent – above average among midfielders and forwards – whereas his shot-at-goal rating is -1.9 per cent, with zero considered break even.
Moreover, while Melbourne struggled kicking the ball inside 50 last season, 52 per cent of Petracca's kicks in that scenario were retained.
That figure ranked 26th of the top 100 for kicks inside 50, and the thought he puts into his kicking and the quality execution are evident below.
Bewick saw Petracca's "instinctive" talents while he was still a teenager and feels that ability, much like Collingwood's Jordan De Goey, can be used more often.
The long-time Ranges mentor even encouraged Petracca to be more selfish on occasion, to the Demons' benefit.
PRE-SEASON FIXTURE Check out your team's Marsh Community Series games
"The thing he's got is he's a hard match up – he's as strong as a bull but he can be as mobile and agile as any good midfielder around," Bewick said.
"I've got a feeling the preparation and pre-season he's had has given him that extra belief that he can actually do the things we know he can do and, more importantly, he knows he can do.
"I'm really interested in and excited about what he might be able to bring to Melbourne."