Melbourne has returned to the top of the ladder but not in the way it may have expected after a stunning 11.13 (79) to 12.7 (79) draw with Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday night.
The Demons held a convincing and not-unexpected 20-point lead at quarter-time, but the seemingly comfortable gap was reduced to under two goals at the long break and just one point at the final change.
The fired-up Hawks grabbed the first clearance of the fourth quarter, the quick passage of play finishing with a Mitchell Lewis goal and handing the Hawks the lead for the first time in the match.
Set shots from Tyler Brockman and Jacob Koschitzke followed but both went wide of the mark, opening a door that Bailey Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett were happy to walk through with goals to regain the lead.
However, Hawthorn wasn't done and continued to throw everything at the ladder leaders until Luke Breust finally slotted a major to level the scores with a minute to play.
Clarko building a foundation for Sam Mitchell
Hawthorn went into Saturday’s game with one of the youngest line ups it has fielded for a long time. While there were still four premiership heroes running around they were well outnumbered by 11 players 23 or under, including three teenagers, plus third-game ruckman Ned Reeves thrown in at the deep end against Max Gawn. There may be plenty of theories on how Alastair Clarkson has taken to the club’s coaching succession plan, but there’s no doubt he is already working on leaving the list in its best possible shape for Sam Mitchell, whenever he takes the reins.
A demon that must be dealt with
As impressive as Melbourne's season has been, its three losses have come against Collingwood (16th), Adelaide (15th) and Greater Western Sydney (currently 11th), along with being pushed till very late by bottom-placed North Melbourne in round seven and now a draw with Hawthorn, who sit just one spot above the Roos. While only the Giants are any chance of making finals, the pattern suggests a tendency to lose concentration at the worst possible time - not a sustainable trait come September
The Demons' dueling champions
Melbourne’s top-of-the-table season is riding on the back of an across-the-board team effort, one which could deny the Demons their first Brownlow medalist since Shane Woewodin saluted in 2000. Star midfield duo Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca both sit inside the top five of AFL.com.au’s Brownlow predictor, and both were excellent again against the Hawks, but whether one is favoured over the other by the umpires won’t be known until the Monday before Grand Final day. Max Gawn could be taking a vote or two away as well!
MELBOURNE 4.4 6.7 9.10 11.13 (79)
HAWTHORN 1.2 5.2 10.3 12.7 (79)
Melbourne: Fritsch 3, Pickett 2, Brayshaw, Brown, Hunt, McDonald, Neal-Bullen, Spargo
Hawthorn: Breust 3, Lewis 2, Howe, Koschitzke, McEvoy, Mitchell, Moore, Phillips, Worpel
Melbourne: Oliver, Viney, Petracca, Fritsch, Jordon, Gawn
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Breust, O'Meara, Worpel, McEvoy
Hawthorn: Conor Nash (isolation) replaced in selected side by James Cousins,
Melbourne: Tom Sparrow (unused)
Hawthorn: Jai Newcombe (unused)