MELBOURNE did what was needed to extend its undefeated start to the season but lacked its ruthless edge after quarter time in a 74-point win against West Coast on Sunday.
Fielding 21 of their premiership players against an Eagles team without 11 of its best 22, the Demons raced to an early lead before moving into cruise mode, winning 16.16 (112) to 5.8 (38) at Optus Stadium.
In a return to their 2021 premiership venue, the Demons were dominant at stoppage and controlled the contested ball, but they were inaccurate and short-changed themselves with just three goals across the second and third quarters.
EAGLES v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
Still, the scrappy win extended their overall winning streak to 16 games, with the nine-game run to start this season setting a new record for defending premiers this century, passing Geelong's eight wins in 2008.
For the Eagles, their hard work and clear willingness to fight couldn't prevent what is now their worst start to a season since 1989, when it took until round 12 to record their second win.
They dragged the game into a scrap and played to limit the damage for periods after the Demons' brutal opening, which saw them go inside 50 20 times to just four and open a 32-point lead.
Clayton Oliver (28 disposals and seven clearances) was prolific in the midfield, while only inaccuracy prevented a dominant game from Christian Petracca, who drifted forward regularly and booted 2.4 to go with his 28 touches.
Small forward Kysaiah Pickett was electric inside 50 with three goals, while premiership key forward Tom McDonald kicked a game-high four.
With its midfield decimated, West Coast would have been pleased with the form of Connor West (29 and eight inside 50s), while Tim Kelly stepped up to lead the engine room with 32 and five clearances.
Premiership midfielder Jack Redden battled hard in his 250th match, while key defenders Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass prevented the margin blowing out further.
Still, the 74 points that separated the top and the bottom of the ladder marked a record loss for the Eagles against Melbourne and there is a mountain now to climb for the club to get back where their opponents on Sunday now are.
It gets worse for West Coast
Already missing 10 of their best 22, champion forward Josh Kennedy was withdrawn pre-game with knee soreness and premiership star Liam Ryan looks set for a stint on the sidelines. Ryan will be scrutinised for a high bump on Jake Bowey, but will likely miss next week anyway with a hamstring injury. With captain Luke Shuey, senior midfielders Elliot Yeo and Andrew Gaff, premiership captain Shannon Hurn and ruckman Nic Naitanui among the many sidelined players, leadership is in short supply for West Coast. Highlighting the Eagles' plight, Melbourne was only missing injured pair Christian Salem (knee) and Michael Hibberd (calf) from its premiership team.
Gawn's ruthless mindset on show
The result was already settled early in the third quarter when Melbourne captain Max Gawn ran with the flight of the ball and into ongoing traffic. Given the state of the game, it would have gone unnoticed if the ruckman had slowed to let his forwards take care of the looming contest, but he threw himself into it courageously and took a battering. It was a small clue into the mindset of the Demons' leader, who finished with 25 hit-outs and 17 disposals.
A hard way to prove yourself
Late inclusion Hugh Dixon and versatile forward Jake Waterman are two of the Eagles who would have been out to earn back trust and respect after their nightclub visit two weeks ago, but playing in a forward line that saw just four entries in the opening term is a tough place to do it. Waterman kicked the opening goal of the game and worked hard, but it was otherwise a slog for the forwards and he finished with nine touches and spent time up the ground. Dixon took one mark, while Liam Ryan struggled to get involved as the Eagles went forward 35 times to 59.
WEST COAST 1.0 1.3 3.4 5.8 (38)
MELBOURNE 6.5 7.9 9.12 16.16 (112)
West Coast: Cripps, Darling, McGovern, Waterman, Williams
Melbourne: McDonald 4, Fritsch 3, Pickett 3, Brown 2, Petracca 2, Neal-Bullen, Spargo
West Coast: Kelly, West, McGovern, Barrass, Redden
Melbourne: Petracca, Pickett, Oliver, Jackson, McDonald, Viney
West Coast: Foley (concussion), Ryan (hamstring), Josh Kennedy (knee soreness) replaced in the selected team by Hugh Dixon
Melbourne: Harmes (hamstring)
West Coast: Patrick Naish (replaced Liam Ryan)
Melbourne: Kade Chandler (replaced James Harmes)
Crowd: 27,488 at Optus Stadium