It is a move Melbourne has contemplated this week. Doubtless in doing so they debated the idea of to what degree do you tinker with what is working in one part of the ground to try to fix what is not working in another?
The answer to that is that it is actually not working that well anywhere on the ground. Yes, the attack has fallen away, but so too has the midfield. They are now being beaten around the ball.
In the first 10 rounds Melbourne was the top-ranked side for contested possession differential. In the rounds since, they are 13th. For 10 rounds they had the best differential for getting the ball inside 50 more than their opponent, now they are 10th. And for 10 rounds they were the side that had the best differential for clearances. In four rounds since, they have been the third worst.
OK, those figures would suggest that this is not the time to be taking a star in Petracca out of the midfield, especially with Gawn, the best ruckman in the competition, already out. But Pavlov and his dog would never have made good coaches. What they have been doing has not been working, so it is worth trying something new.
Those midfield numbers are worrying but the game is about scoring and the most alarming point is Melbourne can’t kick a winning score. The Demons were mid-table for converting a forward-50 entry into a score in the first ten rounds. In the rounds since, they are last. That’s right, worse than North Melbourne.
Petracca is an extremely difficult player to match up on. If he plays from the goal square and the Lions put Harris Andrews to him, what is the flow-on effect? Who takes the Browns, or Weideman if he comes in? Can they force a mismatch?
Steven May returns, which is a welcome relief not only for Melbourne’s defence but diners in Melbourne’s French restaurants on Thursday night.
Melbourne were the league’s stingiest team when it came to conceding scores. In the last four rounds, they have slid to 12th.
May’s return gives them defensive ballast. Jake Lever is better with him in the team, and May helps bolster that important intercept-marking ability to Melbourne’s game.
Angus Brayshaw’s move to the half-back line has been an outstanding success – Melbourne has scored 52 points from his intercept possessions, ranking him third at the club behind May (59 points) and Clayton Oliver (65).
Given that impact the Demons would be loathe to move Brayshaw, but he does present as an option to move on the ball were they to shift Petracca forward. Trent Rivers, dropped after the Freo loss, has shown better signs in the VFL and could come back in on a half-back line, so too could Jayden Hunt, dropped last game.
The midfield issues are not isolated to around the ball. The drop in form of one of Melbourne’s most damaging and hard-running players, Ed Langdon, has coincided with Melbourne’s losses. Teams had long known Langdon was a good player, but now they are putting more work into him and it has dulled some of Melbourne’s attack.
“I think any opposition that plays against Melbourne sees Ed Langdon’s hard running and ability to get back and support and we were really conscious of that,” Collingwood coach Craig McRae said after his Queen’s Birthday upset win.
“I learnt a bit off what Hawthorn did. I spoke to Sam Mitchell he told me what they did.”
The answer to that most likely relies on Langdon having to work through it.
Melbourne’s season is not at a crossroads. You can’t go from the reigning premier and unbeaten for ten rounds then suddenly be easy beats. They are not that. But they do need to confront their problems, confront their injuries and confront the idea of change.
Petracca as a player is a disruptor. A move forward might be the key to unlocking their game.
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