MELBOURNE used round 20 to launch its undefeated charge towards the premiership last year, and history could be repeating after the Demons dispatched of Fremantle by 46 points at the site of their famous flag win.
In a Friday night fizzer at Optus Stadium, the Demons brought the fanatical defensive pressure and hunger for the contest that marked their 2021 season and secured a crucial four points, winning 12.13 (85) to 5.9 (39).
DOCKERS v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
It is only one win after an unsteady two months, but there were signs everywhere that the Demons are ready to flick a switch and reignite their campaign three matches out from finals.
They dealt a massive blow to Fremantle's season in the process, with the Dockers losing their fourth match on home soil this season and facing the prospect of falling as low as seventh on the ladder by the end of the round.
The game was on Melbourne's terms from the opening bounce, and it increased its lead at every change. The only concern as the final siren sounded was the fitness of young star Luke Jackson, who headed to the rooms with a trainer in the final minutes.
Former captain Jack Viney was outstanding for the winners, setting the tone with his attack on the ball and man to finish with 33 disposals (16 contested) and four clearances.
Norm Smith medallist Christian Petracca, who was quiet in the last meeting between these teams, bounced back to challenge for best afield honours with 30 touches, six clearances and seven inside 50s.
Re-signed defender Angus Brayshaw moved into the midfield and gave the Demons a different look with 28 disposals, while Bayley Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett did the damage in attack with three goals each.
The clear win for Fremantle was tireless midfielder James Aish's shutdown job on Melbourne star Clayton Oliver, holding his man to 21 disposals and having 28 himself as his team's best player.
Key defender Alex Pearce held Melbourne forward Sam Weideman to one goal from one disposal, while David Mundy (35 and 10 clearances) and Will Brodie (35 and seven) were workhorses.
The Dockers ultimately lost the inside 50s by a massive 60-40, however, and did little with their ball movement to change the flow of the game under Melbourne's relentless pressure and defensive discipline.
The Demons' fast start was built on that defensive intensity and they raced to a 21-point lead, dominating contested ball and forcing Fremantle into rushed kicks that allowed them to win it back quickly.
It took the speed of Brandon Walker, Michael Frederick and Michael Walters to create opportunities for the Dockers, who matched the Demons' intensity late in the quarter and clawed the margin back to 13 points.
Ruckman Sean Darcy was physical at the start of the second term and upset Petracca in a behind-play moment, but it was the Demons again setting the standard on the ball.
As an electric crowd grew frustrated with the umpires' interpretation of the high tackle rule, the Demons piled on three quick goals to open up a 33-point lead.
A massive rundown tackle from Andrew Brayshaw on Jackson had the potential to be a team-lifting moment, but it was composure under pressure rather than effort that was holding the Dockers back.
They entered half-time trailing by 27 points and needing to reproduce the barnstorming third quarter from round 11 that had announced them at the time as a credible premiership threat.
They couldn't, with Melbourne turning the screws in the second half and celebrating what could be a season-defining win for it, and a season-defining loss for its opponents.
Defensive moves get mixed results
The Dockers had two match-ups in mind that were easy to repeat after their round 11 win at the MCG. Griffin Logue went straight to Steven May as a defensive forward, and James Aish tagged Clayton Oliver from the outset, instead of waiting until the second half. While Aish was terrific, Logue was part of a forward group that didn't impact the game, with May eventually getting to Rory Lobb and having a say. The Demons were still able to manufacture a loose man when they wanted, and their midfielders made sure the ball came in under pressure. They weren't done any favours, but more was needed from key targets Lobb and Matt Taberner.
Brayshaws do battle in the midfield
The move of Angus into the midfield by Melbourne allowed the Brayshaw brothers to spend time opposed to each other and the pair regular stood each other at stoppages. Andrew is among the Brownlow Medal favourites and was prolific again, while Angus has been putting together a fine season as a defender. But after signing a six-year deal to remain with Melbourne, his move into the midfield looked a winner. He had two fewer disposals than his brother's 30, but was more damaging and got forward into dangerous positions. Replacing him in defence, Jayden Hunt had 12 touches, while Michael Hibberd did a lot of the intercepting work.
Darcy not ready to hand over ruck mantle
Melbourne sent Luke Jackson to the first centre bounce as speculation mounts he will be wearing purple in 2023, allowing Max Gawn to play forward more. Freo big man Sean Darcy made sure he was the best big man on the night though, taking on the lion's share of the work for his team and helping Freo to a 39-36 advantage in hitouts and 12-7 in centre clearances. They squared the clearances overall 41-41. What the Dockers did from there saw them unravel, but Darcy did his job and reminded everyone he is the Dockers' No.1 ruckman, regardless of whether Jackson crosses to the west next year.
FREMANTLE 2.2 3.4 4.5 5.9 (39)
MELBOURNE 4.3 7.7 10.11 12.13 (85)
Fremantle: Frederick 2, Walters 2, Logue
Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Pickett 3, Spargo 2, Jordon, Langdon, Melksham, Weideman
Fremantle: Aish, Pearce, Mundy, Brodie, Brayshaw, Walters
Melbourne: Viney, Petracca, Fritsch, Brayshaw, Pickett, Hibberd
Melbourne: Lever (ankle)
Fremantle: Bailey Banfield (unused)
Melbourne: Kade Chandler (unused)