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Will a Melbourne power challenger please rise?
In a development not unexpected, the Demons are the last team standing, the only club that remains undefeated after four rounds, and with a healthy 140 percentage to go with it.
They are yet to put in a four quarter performance, have been solid but not spectacular, their best players have played in spurts, and even when coasting they look like they are miles ahead on the competition.
Three teams seemingly most likely to enter 2022 were hampered on the pitch in the final two weeks of last season.
Port had the ugliest performance of these three clubs, and they still haven’t recovered. They are 0-4, desperate and lost, soon to be forgotten as final contenders, if they aren’t already. Psychological scars often linger after a final belt, and there’s no better example than what Power is going through right now.
Geelong are Geelong. They will look good sometimes. They will look old and sluggish at times. And they will finally be discovered in the final as they are every year.
Last year’s beaten big runners-up, the Western Bulldogs, sit 1-3 and at no point did they seem to have the kind of pace that took them to 9-1 last season, and ended up runners-up . They couldn’t touch the water from a boat as far as their goal kick was concerned. Only time will tell if they can come back up.
None of the three teams above will prevent Melbourne from winning the premiership.
Brisbane are clearly the most likely team. They have finished in the top four in the standings three years in a row, they are second at the moment and are playing well.
The Lions have the required experience in the final, defend firmly and attack with determination, and above all have firearms on every line. The only question left, to be answered with Finals wins, is their ability to clutch when their season hangs in the balance. They need to win the Finals. They just have to do it.
You have to rake wide enough to find another team capable of going to the Dees.
Fremantle are about as ordinary a 3-1 side as we have seen, having beaten nothing of any consequence in their wins and losing to the only half-decent opposition they have played.
St Kilda were that half-decent opposition and certainly fit the profile of fairy tale teams like Richmond and Melbourne, given that they made finals, then missed out, and may be ready to play now. They just look a little too vanilla on the floor – Max King might be the one who can challenge that.
Carlton’s bubble burst against Gold Coast on Sunday night, but they looked electric in the opening two rounds. It’s too difficult to play at this level for a whole season, including the finals, when they’ve never managed to do it before. They will take steps forward this year, but cannot stop the Demons.
Sydney is the maybe. They have won the same number of home and away games as Brisbane and the Dogs last year, and only two less than Melbourne. They have a good mix of experience and youth, but maybe not star enough.
That won’t happen for this iteration of Greater Western Sydney, even when Toby Greene returns. The west coast was torpedoed before leaving the gates. Essendon is far from it and it is far too early for Collingwood.
That leaves us with Richmond. What about Stems?
They are in the middle of the road at 2-2, having beaten two of last year’s finalists in the Bulldogs and GWS, while losing to in-form Carlton and St Kilda. But they have been ahead in three quarters of the four matches.
Richmond’s pressure and ball movement in game-winning games against the Giants and Dogs was much like the “Tigers of old” who won three top spots. They sit in the top four in points scored, so offense isn’t the issue.
The problem Damien Hardwick has to solve is the defence, which has conceded great scoring streaks. The resilience in midfield and defense disappeared too quickly. The Tigers have new faces like Robbie Tarrant, Josh Gibcus, Daniel Rioli and Hugo Ralphsmith playing this season, but will be welcoming Nick Vlastuin back in the near future.
If this team within a team can solidify quickly and keep the opposition at manageable scores, it may be that Richmond can rise again. Dynasty could have one more chapter, and if not, maybe they can at least be more than a speed bump to get Melbourne back on track to back-to-back flags.
Oh, and they might have a certain three-time Norm Smith on their side, too.