Melbourne Demons find their round one groove but Kysaiah Pickett faces likely suspension

“If there’s any doubt on any of them they won’t play,” Goodwin said of the premiership quartet. “We’re really conscious with our group to make sure we’re healthy through the whole season, and we don’t need to take risks with our playing group.

“They’ll have to rain well and train fully through the week.”

Petracca and Oliver answered the call when the Demons were under the pump in the second quarter and challenged in the third.

With the assistance of sublime tap work from Max Gawn, their capacity to break through the front of the stoppage in the centre square was instrumental to the Demons’ match-winning burst of six consecutive goals either side of half-time.

When the Dogs narrowed the margin to 14 points midway in the third term, it was Petracca and Oliver who again combined to load the ball deep into attack, setting up a goal for Ben Brown.

The star duo’s dominance in the middle presents a conundrum for the Demons, who want to spread the midfield load more evenly to avoid entering September banged up like last year but have a centre square one-two punch the envy of the competition.

It is no coincidence the Dogs’ best period of the game, in the second term, came when Petracca and Oliver, who combined for nine of the Demons’ 15 centre clearances, were not together.

Brodie Grundy battles with Rory Lobb.Credit:Getty Images

The ruck combination of Gawn and Brodie Grundy passed their first test with flying colours. Grundy improved as through the match, signing of his debut in the red and blue with a goal in the last term, while Gawn was influential in the ruck and up forward.

The Dogs won the contested game, but unable to move the ball with any fluency their play lacked Melbourne’s fizz.

The much talked about four-pronged tall timber forward line turned into triple towers with Aaron Naughton, Rory Lobb, Sam Darcy and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan rarely in the front half together. The quartet produced only two goals between them.

Dogs coach Luke Beveridge said it was too early to give up on the forward experiment, which he said had little chance for success against the Demons given their 52 per cent kicking efficiency.

“We were a bit disjointed. These are some of the teething problems with the two young bucks (Darcy and Ugle-Hagan),” Beveridge said.

“We need to work through it and work out if we persevere with that approach.

“We’ve had two games, it’s a very small sample size. We’ve played one of the teams that everyone’s tipping to be there at the end of the year.

“We’ve got to process that. We’ve got to build confidence and belief in the boys who didn’t have the best nights. They’re better and more capable than what we gave tonight. We didn’t help them too much with the way we used the footy at times.”

The Dogs’ inability to stymie the Demons’ ball movement raises questions whether Beveridge’s men have solved the issues that impeded their campaign last year.

Beveridge said the Dogs were buried by a “landslide” at centre clearance, which they lost 15-8. Leading in the second quarter, they were outscored 13 goals to four.

“The disappointing thing was definitely the drop-off and the scoreline late in the game,” Beveridge said. “It’s flattening. I think if you ask all of our people, we have been working really hard and quite diligently over the preseason period, we’d hope that’s an anomaly.

“That’s something that coming up post round one that doesn’t happen again. So that’s one of the deflating things about the game. We have to give the opposition credit. We’ve just got to be better and more consistent through the different stages.”

After a year out of the game for his non-compliance with the league’s vaccination policy, Liam Jones’s first game back in the red, white and blue was shortlived. The former Blue copped a knock to the neck in the second quarter, and was in clear discomfort as he was helped off the field, appearing to favour his left side. He was subbed out at half-time and sent for scans on his neck, though the Dogs are hopeful the injury is minor. It capped off a forgettable return for Jones, whose only disposal was a clanger.

It seems being part of a drought-breaking flag is not enough to protect a player from being booed when he changes clubs. Lachie Hunter, a member of the Dogs’ 2016 premiership team, learned that when his first touch was resoundingly jeered by the Dogs faithful. Fans in the red and blue backed him up a minute later by theatrically cheering his next touch, then went a step further by booing Dogs recruit Oskar Baker, even though his move was forced by his delisting from the Dees. Though quiet with 12 possessions on a wing, Hunter shapes to be an important acquisition for Melbourne.

MELBOURNE 3.3 9.4 13.8 17.13 (115)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 2.4 5.9 8.10 9.11 (65)
Melbourne: Brown 4, Pickett 4, Spargo 2, Gawn 2, Chandler, Grundy, Neal-Bullen, Sparrow, Melksham.
Western Bulldogs: Ugle-Hagan, Naughton, Macrae, Bontempelli, Williams, Liberatore, Treloar, Johannisen, Baker.
BEST – Melbourne: Petracca, Oliver, Gawn, Pickett, Lever, Brown, Petty.
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Daniel, Richards, Treloar.
CROWD – 48,103 at the MCG.

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