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2017 Melbourne season review

Ben Guthrie  September 7, 2017 9:56 AM

In a nutshell

It was a season of missed opportunity for Melbourne. Heading into the final round of the year, the Demons just had to beat a depleted Collingwood line-up to book their first September appearance since 2006. They failed to do so and missed the top eight by 0.5 per cent.

What we said in the pre-season  

Melbourne, along with St Kilda, was expected to be the big improver in 2017. Ten out of 17 AFL.com.au reporters had Melbourne in the eight in their pre-season predictions. There were some of us who couldn't quite trust the Demons, with five reporters correctly predicting a ninth-place finish.  

What worked 

Melbourne's lengthy injury list gave a number of players an opportunity to step up, with Alex Neal-Bullen and James Harmes among those to cement themselves in the side. The good form of Tom McDonald and Cameron Pedersen made the Demons a more versatile team, while the breakout season from second-year midfielder Clayton Oliver was another major positive. Michael Hibberd's All Australian selection more than justified his recruitment from Essendon.

What failed

The injuries to key personnel forced various reshuffles to the side throughout the year. Jesse Hogan experienced one of the most challenging seasons from an individual standpoint. Melbourne was the least disciplined team in the League, with a total of 14 games missed through suspension. Missing the finals in such heartbreaking fashion was a sour way to end the year. 

Overall ratingB

A season that promised so much ended too quickly. Despite that, the Demons will learn plenty from 2017 and there's little doubt the club is on an upward curve.

The coach

Simon Goodwin was met with a number of challenges through 2017 – a decimated ruck department, Hogan's cancer diagnosis, allegations of ill discipline, and losing several games the club was expected to win. Goodwin handled himself with grace during tough periods and he regularly fronted up when he needed to. It's hard to argue that he doesn't have the Demons on the right track.

The leaders 

Goodwin's decision to name Jack Viney as co-captain alongside Nathan Jones was met with some controversy, but ultimately proved a correct call. With both Jones and Viney spending time on the sidelines through injury, the Demons were better able to develop the depth of leadership at the club which will help them in the long run.

MVP

Clayton Oliver: Oliver was desperately unlucky to not make the All Australian squad of 40 after a breakout season, in which he averaged 30 disposals per game. Notwithstanding that disappointment, the second-year midfielder looks set to win his maiden best and fairest award following a standout year.

Oliver was a notable omission from the 40-man All Australian squad. Picture: AFL Photos
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Surprise packet

Alex Neal-Bullen: This could easily be Oliver, but Neal-Bullen's development throughout the year – for a player not considered a walk-up start – was impressive. Established himself in the all-important high half-forward spot, playing 19 games and averaging 18.9 disposals per game.

Get excited

Christian Petracca: Petracca displayed some impressive signs throughout 2017, but you get the feeling he has only really just scratched the surface in what he has been able to produce. The No.2 pick from the 2014 NAB AFL Draft has all the tools to be one of the League's best players in the coming years.

Disappointment

Jack Watts: Dropped in the pre-season for not meeting training standards, Watts returned ahead of round one and had a solid first half of the season. A hamstring injury suffered in round 13 kept him sidelined for a month and he failed to rediscover his best form. Was axed again after the club's loss to Greater Western Sydney in round 20. No longer a definite best 22 player.

Watts dropped off significantly after a mid-year hamstring injury. Picture: AFL Photos
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Best win

Round eight: Melbourne 17.5 (107) def Adelaide 9.12 (66) @ Adelaide Oval

After learning of Jesse Hogan's cancer diagnosis just days before, it was an inspired Melbourne that went to Adelaide and comprehensively beat the ladder-leading Crows in a rousing 41-point victory.

Low point

Failing to beat the Magpies in a game the club was expected to win in the final round was incredibly disappointing, as were the losses to Fremantle in round four, Hawthorn in round seven and North Melbourne in round nine and 19.

The big questions

Can Melbourne finally make the finals in 2018? 
Whichever way you spin it, the Demons should be playing finals football this week. What they learn and how they respond from the bitter disappointment will be telling in the evolution of the club's quest for sustained success.

Is Simon Goodwin's game style sustainable?
The Demons have made no secret that their game style is predicated on winning the ball at the contest and pressuring the opposition. As injuries and fatigue mounted late in the year, the Demons experienced a noticeable drop-off in those two areas. The question remains – can the team consistently execute those two things across the course of a season?

Can Melbourne discover a way to win the games it is expected to win?
Whether it's an alarming trend or not, the Demons' inability to win the games they were expected to win cost them substantially in 2017. Goodwin has said previously that losing those games would be a key learning experience for the players but Demons supporters won't tolerate that reasoning anymore, as their expectations of their team increase further.

Season in a song

Wake Me Up When September Ends – Green Day 

Premiership window

Depending on the strength of the breeze, either wide open or slightly ajar. 

Who's done?

Retirements: Heritier Lumumba (delisted) will be officially scratched from the club's list. There are not expected to be any other retirements this season.
Delistings: To be announced.
Unsigned free agents: Jack Trengove, Jake Spencer

How should they approach trade and draft period?

Melbourne is aggressively pursuing out-of-contract Crows star Jake Lever and appear in the box seat to land him should he leave Adelaide. The Demons will look to add more midfield depth in the upcoming draft periods. 

Early call for 2018

Finals. Anything less would be a failure – particularly considering how close the Demons came this year. 

Demons fans: what's your season verdict?

Share your views via the form below and we'll publish the best responses on Sunday, September 17.