A trek down to the holiday isle against a lethargic 2nd string Hawthorn side is all it took to convince this writer that Melbourne will improve this year. The disclaimer of course being that they are still definitely bottom 4 material. An honorable 3 point loss in a match that Melbourne largely dominated against a lethargic Hawthorn was a better start than most Melbourne fans could have hoped for.
As Melbourne supporters, we enter 2009 with low expectations. We must learn to manage the expectations of mediocrity and the tag that goes along with being a $2.20 wooden spoon favorite. This begs the question. Why SHOULD Melbourne give a fat rat’s clacker and turn up this year? The following gives me hope.
This year Melbourne has a host of players whose development will sustain them on the 6 wins or less I expect them to garner.
Colin Garland- Melbourne’s most exciting prospect and probably the best young defender in the AFL (that’s right superior to one Nathan Q Brown). The best closing speed I have ever seen on a young defender, gangly Dustin Fletcher like arms and an ability to out maneuver and outsmart his opponent 1-on-1.
Jack Grimes- Pick 14 from the 2007 draft was hampered in his first year with a debilitating back injury and Melbourne wrapped him in cotton wool. A full pre-season and 2 pre-season matches later, Grimes is a Dreamteam must-have and a dark horse for the Rising Star award. Against Sydney last Saturday he earned 150 Supercoach points, gathered 27 possessions and looked at home. Against Hawthorn he showed commitment, maturity and skill level beyond his years and the rest of the team crumbled around him. His smother as he dived across a Hawthorn players boot was a perfect example. Against Sydney he was Melbourne’s best providing grunt and quality foot skills rebounding of half-back. Let’s not forget he was Vic Metro’s captain in 2007 ahead of Cotchin and Kruezer and was touted as a top 5 pick before his back injury.
Cale Morton- Still built like a twig but has put 4-5kgs over the summer and tips the scale at 80kgs. Is a proven ball magnet and has had more than 20 touches in his 2 pre-season hit-outs. He must refine his kicking style because the 2nd half of the year it looked decidedly questionable. But with extra size on his frame, greater confidence that comes with experience and getting used to the pace of AFL, 2009 should be a productive one for Cale.
Jamie Bennell- Pick 35 from last year’s draft will receive a lot of game time this year in a role similar to injury prone hard-nut Matthew Whelan. While not as hard as Whelan Bennell packs a punch, while offering greater speed, aerobic capacity and better foot skills. He reminds of a much younger Shaun Burgoyne who began his trade in the back pocket.
Stefan Martin- 200cm goliaths that can run like the wind are a rare find. That is Stef Martin. Coming of an impressive debut season where he came along in leaps and bounds, 2009 is all about cementing his spot. He will play full back and he will contain that dieing breed known as the gorilla. He’s only 21 but weighs 97kg. In 12 months he will supersede Matthew Warnock as full-back. Possessing the requisite physical attributes, he must learn to back himself to be more than a negator, but as a defensive weapon the Matthew Scarlett plays.
James Frawley- He is another young defender who has had 2 years in the system and has added considerable bulk to his frame. I have doubted his ability to match it with opposition forwards but his 2 games thus far in the pre-season have given rise to new hope. And besides, he’s training the house down. All jokes aside improved kicking skills, greater body strength to match it with the opposition’s key forwards will hold him in good stead. He appears to have also gained greater awareness on field which has allowed better decision making.
Jake Spencer- The revelation of the game against Hawthorn. Contested strongly with a good leap in the ruck and had a presence around the ground by gathering a fair few possessions. The other notable change was the quality of his disposal and decision making which has markedly improved since his debut year at Sandringham and what I saw during pre-season training. ‘The Spence’ is the only rookie listed but expect to see him the first rookie promoted this year as the sun sets on Mark ‘The Russian’ Jamar’s career.
Four of the seven listed players above are defenders. Although Melbourne leaked an insipid 127 points per game last year, this is without doubt their most promising area of the field. Let’s be honest they’ve had enough practice. A defense is only as good as the pressure provided by those up-field and Melbourne’s last year was pitiful. Melbourne fans, sign up. Expect improvement but not miracles. 2008 began with Melbourne a long way back. 2009 has begun with the Demons at least being competitive. That’s the best we could have hoped for.