MELBOURNE'S ruck partnership of Max Gawn and Luke Jackson got another tick on Friday, with the pair combining to help the Demons overcome Richmond in their practice match.
Gawn was best on ground, with the Demons skipper steering his side to its 11-point win at Casey Fields. The four-time All-Australian showed he had lost none of his touch with a standout showing working in tandem with a noticeably more athletic and stronger Jackson ahead of his second AFL season.
Having Jackson in stints in the ruck also allowed Gawn to drift into attack, where he kicked two goals and offered a marking target in the Dees' injury-hit forward line. The score at the end of the fourth term was 14.9 (93) to 12.10 (82)
The clubs broke their game into seven periods, with Melbourne sticking with its first-choice line-up for the first four periods before a largely youth and development squad played out the remainder.
The Tigers stuck with a largely unchanged squad for the same time, however, they subbed in a group of fresh players into the match in the fourth term, with superstar Dustin Martin, defender David Astbury and midfielder Shane Edwards among those to finish early after reaching their planned game time. Two-time premiership player Marlion Pickett played in the second match.
Young Demon Kade Chandler pressed his claims for a round one berth with three goals across the game, while Bayley Fritsch also kicked three. Veteran Nathan Jones, playing mainly as a half-forward, chipped in with two, while gun midfielders Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver were dominant.
Tom McDonald, who was on the trade table in last year's exchange period, played as a key forward for the Dees and kicked one major.
Jack Riewoldt and Jake Aarts both kicked two goals for the Tigers, who controlled the game early but allowed Melbourne to hit back with a five-goal third term, with the Demons holding onto the lead thereafter. Fellow Tigers forwards Mabior Chol and Shai Bolton also competed well.
Hardwick is enthusiastic about the young Tigers developing at the club and he gave a couple of them an opportunity on Friday. Hugo Ralphsmith, noticeably bulked up in his second season at Richmond, was solid off half-back and is being groomed as a potential Bachar Houli replacement of the future, while Will Martyn spent time in the middle, including in the centre square. None of the Demons' draftees from last year played in the game but Charlie Spargo, in his third AFL campaign, was busy across half-forward while Tom Sparrow took a courageous grab that caught the eye.
Jayden Hunt started his career as a dashing half-back with lightning speed but in the past two seasons has been deployed as a forward option. However, the Dees look set to go back to their first impressions of the 25-year-old and played him as a running defender against the Tigers. Hunt was valuable with his run and carry and the Demons tried to give him a chance to break the lines. Josh Caddy resumed his post on the wing for the Tigers and had an impact, also pushing forward to kick a goal in the third term.
Both teams appeared to get through the game unscathed. Gawn had some treatment on his neck at one stage, while Chandler hurt his arm in the second half, but both played out the game without any concerns. The Dees had plenty missing from their line-up, including Jack Viney (foot), Jake Melksham (hamstring), Ben Brown (knee), Sam Weideman (leg) and Angus Brayshaw (foot). The Tigers were without Daniel Rioli (ankle), Kane Lambert (hip), Dion Prestia (hamstring) and Bachar Houli (calf), while a big bump floored Riley Collier-Dawkins in last week's intraclub but he is expected to be available for the AAMI Community Series.
It might be stating the obvious but it needs to be noted regardless: Petracca has to be in AFL Fantasy coaches' plans. He looks primed to back up his brilliant 2020 season and could be the best player in the game by the end of this season. He was very good against the Tigers and controls games. Richmond youngster Jack Ross will also be one to watch at the other end of the price spectrum. Ross is set for more midfield time and has plenty of fans at Punt Road so should be tracked carefully.