Why Melbourne will play finals in 2018

MELBOURNE fans have endured more than a decade of pain since the club’s last finals berth in 2006 and were dished up some more heartbreak this year.

Favourite son Jack Watts has departed but there are plenty of reasons to get excited looking forward.

Here are eight reasons Melbourne can improve in 2018.

CULTURE CHANGE

Coach Simon Goodwin was sending a message when he pushed former No. 1 draft pick Jack Watts out the door and on his way to Port Adelaide over the trade period. The Demons went public in saying Watts’ consistency of performance had not been at the level they expected of him after it had been widely reported he had not turned up fit for pre-season training and the forward was dropped late in the season. Watts still had two years left on his contract and was a popular figure at Melbourne. But Goodwin said enough was enough and the move would have sent shockwaves through the rest of the playing group, who will now be in no doubt about their coaches’ expectations.

DANGEROUS DUO

Melbourne played 22 home-and-away games this year but star duo Max Gawn and Jesse Hogan played a combined 23 between them. Both missed about half the year through injury or illness, and it hurt their team. Key forward Hogan kicked only 20 goals for the year from 10 games after outputs of 41 and 44 majors the previous two seasons. Meanwhile, towering ruckman Max Gawn had half the hitouts of his All-Australian season of 2016 after being restricted to 13 games by a hamstring injury. As a result of Gawn’s absence, Melbourne was ranked 17th in the competition for hitouts. If both Gawn and Hogan can get back on the park for full seasons in 2018, the Demons will be a lot more dangerous.

JAKE LEVER

The Demons threw everything at luring Adelaide defender Jake Lever home this year. They effectively gave up two first-round picks in the trade with the Crows and handed Lever a lucrative four-year contract worth about $750,000 a season. Melbourne is confident the signing will pay off, with the 21-year-old one of the most promising young talents in the competition. Lever played 20 games for Adelaide this year including the Grand Final, averaging 16 disposals including 9.5 intercept possessions as well as more than six marks. He will have an immediate impact next year and his arrival is likely to free up Tom McDonald to spend more time forward.

CHRISTIAN PETRACCA

This kid is going to be a star and 2018 could well be the year he takes the next step. Petracca played every game last year, averaging almost 19 disposals and kicking 26 goals while splitting his time between the midfield and forward line. It was certainly an eye-catching season from the 21-year-old, who oozes talent and now has 39 games under his belt. But he has far more to give. Finding greater consistency this year will be the aim.

PAIN OF 2017

Who could forget the horrible way Melbourne missed finals last year? The Demons could have locked away their first September appearance since 2006 with victory over Collingwood in the final round but shot themselves in the foot by losing a game they were favoured to win by 16 points. A day later, the Demons then watched on as West Coast upset Adelaide by 29 points in the final game of the regular season to squeeze Melbourne out of the top-eight by 0.5 per cent. Surely that disappointment will not be forgotten as the Demons embark on their 2018 campaign and should prove a motiv

BRAND OF FOOTBALL

Melbourne might have only won 12 of 22 games last year but its game style is one that stacks up in finals. Ferocious at the footy, Goodwin’s side was ranked second in contested possessions, first in loose ball gets and second in tackles. If it can get to September it should be primed to take it up to the big boys.

YOUNG MIDFIELD

There is a lot to like about the Melbourne midfield. The club was ranked fourth for clearances and inside-50s last year and there is plenty of upside to come. Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and Dom Tyson are all competitive beasts and are often joined by the likes of Petracca and Christian Salem. All of those players are 24 or under. And don’t forget Angus Brayshaw, another young rising star who was unfortunately restricted to just five games this year due to repeat concussions.

SCORING ABILITY

Melbourne kicked 302 goals last year, the sixth most of any side. Yes, it has lost Watts (22 goals) but his contribution should be covered by more games out of Hogan. Melbourne’s spread of goalkicking power is one of its biggest strengths. Excluding Watts, the Demons had six players kick 20 or more goals — Jeff Garlett (42 goals), Petracca (26), Tom McDonald (23), Mitch Hannan (22), Jake Melksham (21) and Hogan (20). Most of those players have significant upside, too, most notably Petracca and Hannan who are 21 and 23 years old respectively.