WHERE will Saturday's Grand Final be won and lost?
On the eve of the game's showpiece event at Optus Stadium, AFL.com.au delves into the numbers with some help from Champion Data and analyses what Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs will need to execute to lift the premiership cup.
GRAND FINAL PREVIEW Demons v Bulldogs, stats that matter, who wins and why
MELBOURNE MUST MAXIMISE MAX
This one is given, but Melbourne must take full advantage of its ace in the pack Max Gawn. The five-time Therabody AFL All-Australian was superb in the preliminary final, kicking five goals, but the Demons couldn't capitalise on their star skipper the last time they played the Dogs. In that round 19 clash, Melbourne won the first-possession stats 56-42 and yet lost the clearance count 44-47. The side's first-possession-to-clearance rate of 67.9 percent was well below its season average of 76.1 percent, as the Demons failed to make the most of Gawn's dominance in the ruck against Tim English and Josh Schache. Gawn won a season-high 56 hitouts in that game, as well as amassing 16 hitouts-to-advantage and nine clearances (both his second-highest amount of the season), yet Melbourne was unable to convert winning first use of the ball into territorial dominance via clearance.
THE NEW DUSTY HAS COME FROM NOWHERE
Bailey Smith is fast becoming this year's Dustin Martin. But his growth into the finals series' best forward-half player has come from almost nowhere. Smith has kicked eight goals from his three finals games, while still averaging 23.3 disposals, with his attacking output proving a by-product of a surprising month-long role change. Smith played just 15 percent game time as a forward throughout the home-and-away season. But over the last four weeks, including a round 23 clash against Port Adelaide, he's progressively spent more and more time in attack. Smith played 41 percent forward against Port Adelaide, 43 percent forward in the elimination final win over Essendon, 68 percent forward in the semi-final victory over Brisbane, and 85 percent forward in the preliminary final win over Port Adelaide. It's not yet clear why the switch has been made, given his form through the midfield this year, though there's no doubting it has been an overwhelming success.
GOOD LUCK SCORING AGAINST THE DEES
Melbourne has the best backline in the competition and it's not even close. Led by superb Therabody AFL All-Australian duo Jake Lever and Steven May, the Demons have conceded a score from just 35 percent of all inside-50 entries allowed this season. It's not only the best defensive efficiency rating in the League, it's also the best across a campaign that Champion Data has ever logged dating back to 1999. Melbourne will give the Western Bulldogs entries on Saturday night, but chances are Luke Beveridge's side will find it difficult to score from them. But if anyone is to engineer a way of hitting the scoreboard, it's the Bulldogs' coach. Their attacking efficiency this year, scoring from 46 percent of all inside-50 entries, ranks No.1 in the competition.
THE DOGS NEED TO MOVE THE BALL FROM THE BACK
Melbourne is one of the best teams in the League at forcing forward-half turnovers. The Western Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the League at retaining the ball in their defensive half. It makes for a fascinating stylistic dual. The Bulldogs' season-average for turnovers in their back-half is just 18.6 per game. However, they've struggled to maintain possession in that area during their two fixtures against the Demons this year. In round 11, a match they lost, they committed 24 defensive-half turnovers – well above their season average. In round 19, a game they won, they committed even more – giving the ball away 29 times in their back-half. That was by far their worst result of the season, meaning they were lucky to not be punished even more than they were. If they can control that aspect of the game on Saturday night, it could go a long way to deciding the result in their favour.
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THE CRUMBERS GIVE THE DEMONS DIFFERENT LOOKS
Melbourne is among the best teams in the League at scoring from forward-half turnovers, which made its 83-point victory over Geelong all the more remarkable. Rather than relying on that trusty route to goal, the Demons instead scored 16.5 (101) from stoppage. It was the fourth-highest result on record and the most a team has scored from stoppage since 2011. It was also the most in Melbourne's history and the most ever in a final. Crumbing forwards like Kysaiah Pickett, who kicked three goals himself from stoppage on that Friday night, have given Melbourne an entirely new dimension in attack. The key roles that Charlie Spargo and Alex Neal-Bullen have also played this season have added to that. It's just another aspect of this dangerous Demons side that the Bulldogs will need to be wary of throughout the Grand Final.