A YEAR ago Alastair Clarkson conceded his Hawthorn side was "middle of the road" and shouldn't expect to win the premiership after losing its 2019 match up against Melbourne.
>> WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS IN THE PLAYER ABOVE
And he's probably thinking the same way after watching those same Demons trample his Hawks by 43 points at Sydney's Giants Stadium on Sunday.
Hawthorn, similarly to Melbourne the week before, wore significant public scrutiny after a second straight impotent display last round – but will face more of the same after this 14.7 (91) to 7.6 (48) result.
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The bigger story might be Simon Goodwin's Demons, who’ve struggled mightily since their barnstorming run to the 2018 preliminary final.
They toughed out a much-needed victory over Gold Coast last week, then rode stellar Christian Petracca (29 disposals, 14 score involvements) and Max Gawn (22, eight intercept possessions) performances to another against the Hawks.
Petracca had 17 touches, 10 contested possessions and five score involvements by half-time, while Gawn hauled in five intercept marks to that stage and thrashed Ben McEvoy in the big Hawk’s return to the ruck.
Hawthorn had only two goals to the main break and trailed by 30 points, were down by 20 in contested possessions and losing the inside-50 count 29-11.
Midfielders Jack Viney (19, nine clearances) and Clayton Oliver (29, four centre clearances) were other key contributors, but the tone was set early with frenetic team tackling pressure.
Melbourne reprised its scintillating first-quarter form against Carlton from about a month ago, except this time it was done for much longer. On that day in round two, the Blues fired back with a vengeance and almost ran the Dees down.
Equally impressive on Sunday was the way the Dees responded after Jack Gunston and Chad Wingard goals slashed the margin to just 18 points early in the second half.
However, this time Melbourne steadied, and an excellent build-up finished with Sam Weideman kicking the first of five consecutive Demons majors.
There was little to like on the Hawks' side, although former Melbourne defender Sam Frost (nine intercept possessions) and young gun Will Day tried valiantly.
Shutting the gates out of hell
Melbourne's insatiable appetite for tackling helped turn the match after Hawthorn started the better of the two sides. Once the Demons started getting the ball into attack, they did everything possible to stop it from coming out. That was a significant reason the Hawks went 16 minutes without an inside 50 across the first and second quarters. Ben Stratton, Shaun Burgoyne and Jaeger O'Meara were all caught holding the ball in their defensive 50 in the opening term, which resulted in two of Melbourne's three goals to quarter-time. They led 8-1 in tackles inside 50 to set the tone for an impressive afternoon.
McEvoy's rough day back in old position
So much was made of Ben McEvoy's transformation from ruckman into a key defender late last year, but he's largely performed well in that new role. It's only in recent weeks McEvoy's begun sharing the ruck load again with Jon Ceglar – and for various reasons. With a fractured toe sidelining Ceglar from Sunday's clash, McEvoy returned to being a full-time big man. The timing wasn't great, given he was coming up against triple All-Australian Max Gawn. Gawn gave his onballers first use for much of the day and was arguably even more impactful with his intercept marking down back. McEvoy, on the other hand, had only a few hitouts to advantage and won just a handful of possessions.
Cool hand Luke impresses
There is ongoing debate about the merits of Melbourne taking undersized ruckman Luke Jackson at pick three in last year's NAB AFL Draft. The queries range from the fact Max Gawn is one of the game's premier big men to just exactly what Jackson will become as a player. The Demons threw up all sorts of possibilities early – suggesting he would start as a forward, might develop into the AFL's tallest midfielder, or he may well just be a ruckman. Jackson looked a bit out of his depth on debut against Carlton in round two, but Tom McDonald's eye injury offered him a second opportunity on Sunday. Melbourne did a better job this time around of utilising Jackson's athleticism, agility and skills. He backed Gawn up in the ruck and generally roamed beyond his attacking 50m arc more often to get involved in the play. He also got on the end of a Sam Weideman handball for his first goal in AFL football to round out a promising display.
HAWTHORN 1.2 2.3 4.6 7.6 (48)
MELBOURNE 3.2 7.3 11.6 14.7 (91)
Hawthorn: Gunston 3, Wingard 2, O'Meara, Morris
Melbourne: Weideman 3, Pickett 2, Fritsch 2, Hannan, Viney, Hannan, Bennell, Melksham, Jackson, Petracca
Hawthorn: Frost, Sicily, Day, Henderson, Gunston
Melbourne: Petracca, Gawn, Oliver, Viney, May, Weideman, Langdon
Hawthorn: O'Brien (left ankle)
North Melbourne: Nil