History is usually the best judge. History says no team in the VFL/AFL will go through unbeaten.
We are a mere six matches into the 2022 season. The reigning premier has been toying with its rivals, including the team it demoralised in the 2021 Grand Final, the Western Bulldogs, and the team which had won three of the previous four premierships, Richmond, in a 22-point win at the MCG on Sunday night. Richmond was gallant on Sunday night, but it is not Richmond of 2017-20.
Melbourne is actually in need of a proper challenge. It barely has to get out of third gear to win these days. St Kilda in round eight at the MCG may require a fourth gear. May. Fremantle at the MCG in round 12 may present as a blip on the radar. May. Brisbane at the MCG in round 15. Now, there may lie a proper fight. But again, given the Demons' ability to break down every opponent's greatest weapon, it is all unlikely.
Even in the early stages of what was to become a premiership-winning campaign in 2021, Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin was confidently predicting his team would eventually get a game of football on its terms, and find a way to win.
The Demons won the first nine last year, as well as the last seven. They haven't lost in six matches of 2022. They just find a way, no matter the opposition or situation.
In the Grand Final last year they were 19 points down halfway through the third quarter, and won by 74 points. On Sunday night against Richmond, the winner of three of the previous five flags, they were nine points in arrears in the third quarter, and yet had the game secured by the final change of ends.
There is NO situation this team can’t overcome. Even when they butcher kicks at goal. On Sunday, they finished with a 9.22 scoreline, and yet never looked like losing.
No Jake Lever, no Jack Viney, both out for COVID protocols. No problem. Harrison Petty stepped up to assume even more responsibility against the Tigers, and Joel Smith, extremely unlucky with injury late last year, looked at home in this star-studded line-up.
Of course, Clayton Oliver was important, so too Max Gawn. Christian Petracca was quiet by his standards. Tom Sparrow, an important bit-player as a forward in the 2021 flag, has been a tireless runner in the midfield this year. He's got an old-school football brain, this guy. And a preparedness to run till he will drop. Love how he is developing.
Essendon lost one game in 2000, and won that year's premiership. Geelong lost one game in 2008, lost that year's Grand Final. Collingwood lost two games in 2011, lost that year's flag.
Melbourne? It is in that conversation, already. In the mood it has developed, and is clearly in on a weekly basis, only a bad day seems capable of stopping it.
Just wait until Nat Fyfe's fit again...
What a beautiful problem for Justin Longmuir.
Out of nowhere, his Dockers are 5-1, the only loss by 10 points in round two to St Kilda, with the Saints' four matches since actually making that result look really good anyway.
Longmuir and his peers had already judged midfielder Andrew Brayshaw as the best player in the competition after the first five rounds, and he seems certain to get more votes in the 5-4-3-2-1 system out of Saturday night's big win against Carlton.
Alex Pearce's body is finally letting him prove to be the very important defender Fremantle needs him to be, and Luke Ryan, Brennan Cox and Griffin Logue are working in sync with him.
There is a star in the ruck, with Sean Darcy moving closer to the benchmark in that space, Max Gawn, with every game. Their forward line is functioning as a unit. Matt Taberner kicked seven goals in round five. It was Lachie Schultz with three against the Blues who set up the win.
THINGS WE LEARNED Fremantle has the best forward spread in the AFL
People will rightly question the teams Fremantle has beaten. Adelaide, West Coast, GWS, Essendon, Carlton. Geelong at The Cattery next Saturday will be a massive test.
The beautiful problem? That's two-time Brownlow Medallist, three-time Therabody AFL All-Australian, two-time AFL Players Association MVP, three-time best-and-fairest winner Nat Fyfe.
Fyfe hasn't played this season, may still be six weeks away as his 30-year-old, banged-up body rehabilitates from 202 matches and surgeries and procedures to his back, shoulders, fingers, and seemingly dozens of other parts.
When Fyfe returns is part of the beautiful problem. That the Dockers have got to 5-1 without him is as confidence-building as the wins themselves. Where he plays is another part of the beautiful problem. He's made it pretty clear he doesn't want to be consigned to a forward-only role. Longmuir will play him where the team needs him most.
Familiar boot haunts Bulldogs again
Footy seasons are full of what-if moments.
For the Crows, a couple of those what-ifs revolve around last year's best-and-fairest runner-up Ben Keays, who has taken his own game to even higher levels to this point of 2022, and on Saturday in Ballarat racked up another 33 disposals in his side's one-point win against the Western Bulldogs.
What if his round one kick in the final seconds against Fremantle had travelled a mere half-metre further, and not been miraculously touched by Docker Heath Chapman right on the goal line? What if his round four kick in the final seconds of round four against Essendon wasn't as "centred" and instead of falling in the arms of Mason Redman, went toward his own forwards?
The Crows might have been 5-1 had that happened. That they are 3-3 is more than OK.
Taylor Walker's return has been extraordinary. Four goals, five goals, three goals, against Essendon, Richmond and the Dogs.
Anyone connected to the Bulldogs must loathe his exquisitely-spinning drop punts. Whether it be the 50m drilled pass at the MCG to Charlie Cameron in the final moments of the 2015 elimination final or the set-shot, match-winning goal in Ballarat on Saturday, they certainly don't want to see another one.
The kids at Moorabbin are all right
St Kilda players met after their round one loss to Collingwood. The loss in itself wasn't disastrous, but the listless manner in which it came was, particularly with it being the first appearance after a disappointing 2021, and it is understood some of the younger players drove the gathering's agenda.
Fast forward five weeks. The Saints haven't lost since, each victory coming in an increasingly reassured, confident manner, with the new wave of talent – Josh Battle, Rowan Marshall, Jade Gresham, Max King, Jack Higgins among it – driving the surge.
Friday night's win against GWS was very impressive. Even with big men being unavailable within the contest – Jack Hayes shatteringly blew an ACL, and Marshall could barely walk with corked muscles – the Saints won with authority.
Loving the season that Higgins is having. He's kicked 14 goals. But he's a missed a full match and three quarters of another. His energy on and off the field is becoming crucial.
Steele is still the main man, controlling everything. Gresham could be No.2 to him in importance by season's end. King is going to kick 10 one day. Maybe soon. Battle is becoming reliable weekly. Seb Ross, with two best-and-fairests already behind him, is impacting via a different role. Brad Crouch is using his footy smarts. Jack Sinclair may still be untapped, eight seasons after being taken in a rookie draft. Daniel McKenzie has a real presence.
There's a lot to like so far in '22.