Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn put on a midfield masterclass and Kysaiah Pickett emerged as a potential star of the competition to help Melbourne defeat an undermanned St Kilda at Marvel Stadium in a match that served as a fitting tribute to former St Kilda great Danny Frawley.
Spud would not have liked seeing his beloved Saints overwhelmed in the second half but he would have approved of the occasion as ‘Spud’s Game: Time 2 Talk’ ebbed and flowed due to momentum shifts.
Kysaiah Pickett kicks for goal during a starring display for the Demons on Saturday night.Credit:Getty Images
The match started with an immediate goal when Jack Viney kicked accurately from the opening bounce via a handball from ball magnet Oliver.
Viney’s willingness to push forward signalled the Demons’ intention to run at St Kilda’s defence, putting them on their back foot at every opportunity, charging at them like children on an easter egg hunt.
The approach worked early with the Demons kicking three of the first four goals as former co-captains Viney and Nathan Jones kicked straight.
But it wasn’t long before St Kilda settled, with the young aerial heir to Nick Riewoldt’s throne, Max King, getting the ball rolling when he took a mark over Steven May and found Tim Membrey in front of goal.
A soft free kick on the quarter-time siren gifted King his first goal for the season, having missed the opening round when he headbutted a golf ball before his friend could yell fore, to draw the Saints within two points.
St Kilda’s Zak Jones is tackled by Melbourne’s Christian Petracca.Credit:Getty Images
King’s presence appeared to inspire St Kilda as they won the ball repeatedly at the start of the second quarter, parking the ball in their forward half and denying the Demons the run they require to create scoring opportunities.
Christian Petracca was trying too hard to have an impact, three times kicking the ball over the boundary on the bounce when trying to produce a miracle.
At the other end King was playing smart and Melbourne looked adrift when May, Gawn and Jake Lever all flew for the ball as the young Saint waited to crumb and goal.
In the past two seasons that might have been it for Melbourne but they are made of sterner stuff in 2021 with the May-Lever defensive combination giving them faith to work on their system rather than worry about the margin which had blown out to 16 points in St Kilda’s favour.
The Demons kicked the next five goals with the second in the sequence a special effort from the exciting Pickett. The small forward crumbed a ball in the middle of a pack then danced his way through the bodies as though his opponents were statues to snap a goal over his head.
Pickett has pace and in a five-minute patch the game was his as he created opportunities but was unable to convert. Unfortunately for Melbourne, he wasn’t alone as they dominated play but could only stretch their lead to 20 points, kicking inaccurately and wasting chances.
So when Lever, then Luke Jackson dropped relatively simple marks and Jack Steele pounced to kick two captain’s goals the contest was alive with the possibility Spud’s Game promised when former Melbourne champion Garry Lyon gave a moving speech about the importance of sharing your feelings before the first bounce.
But Melbourne steadied, with Petracca becoming more team-oriented, Brayshaw and Langdon winning on their wings and Adam Tomlinson solid in the air.
On the back of that defence and Oliver constantly raking up the ball from a stoppage Melbourne were too good as St Kilda wait for the return of key players.
St Kilda Steele, Howard, Gresham, Ross
Melbourne Oliver, Salem, Gawn, Tomlinson, May, Langdon, Pickett
Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) 8
Christian Salem (Melbourne) 7
Max Gawn (Melbourne) 7
Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne) 7
Dougal Howard (St Kilda) 6
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