MELBOURNE has made a winning start to 2018 as it chases a return to the finals, beating Hawthorn by 10 points to take out the second AFLX tournament in an entertaining clash at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
The Dees were the most attacking and physical team across the night in front of 22,585 fans, going unbeaten through their two pool games before accounting for the Hawks 3.3.8 (56) to 1.5.6 (46).
It was a high scoring night of the shortened format, with North Melbourne setting a new top score for the competition (83), while 43 10-point 'Zooper goals' were kicked across the seven matches.
Things tightened up in the decider, however, as the Demons and Hawks lifted their intensity in a spirited clash that went down to the wire, with the Hawks peppering the goals late before falling one 'Zooper goal' short.
"We wanted to have a game style and a strategy that allowed us to play the Melbourne way and I was really pleased with the boys," coach Craig Jennings said after the match.
"We had a strategy so the players would run a certain amount of kilometres and we had the teams mapped out so everything went according to plan.
"(But) there's a bigger mindset for me and that is having a will to win.
"I don't care if the AFL organises a backgammon tournament. If you go out there, you go out there to win and I thought you probably saw that a little bit tonight."
Melbourne won its way through to the Grand Final with big wins over Carlton and North Melbourne, playing a committed defensive style on the converted rectangular pitch at Etihad Stadium.
The Hawks beat Essendon comfortably and then came from behind against St Kilda in the final pool game to qualify for the decider on the back of some magnificent long goals from Daniel Howe and James Sicily.
The Demons fielded their strongest possible line-up in the decider, with Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca and Angus Brayshaw all lining up against the Hawks.
Melksham was magnificent in the forward line, where he has been training all pre-season, kicking six goals across the three matches, including five 'Zooper goals'.
Defender Josh Wagner was also impressive across half-back, where he combined well with captain Neville Jetta, while James Harmes was a strong presence in attack.
Hawthorn coach Max Bailey said the Hawks enjoyed the physicality of the shortened format, but a few more players on the ground and the introduction of stoppages in certain situations could improve the game.
Carlton and Essendon both went winless on Friday night, while North Melbourne and St Kilda finished the night 1-1.
The inaugural year of AFLX will conclude in Sydney on Saturday night when Greater Western Sydney, Richmond, the Western Bulldogs, Sydney, Brisbane and Gold Coast clash.
Melbourne 3.3.8 (56) def Hawthorn 1.5.6 (46)
Game 1: Melbourne 7.1.6 (82) def Carlton 2.5.4 (54)
Game 2: North Melbourne 5.4.9 (83) def Carlton 5.2.6 (68)
Game 3: Melbourne 1.9.6 (70) def North Melbourne 3.2.4 (46)
Game 1: Hawthorn 3.6.7 (73) def Essendon 3.3.6 (54)
Game 2: St Kilda 2.5.2 (52) def Essendon 2.2.5 (37)
Game 3: Hawthorn 4.5.7 (77) def St Kilda 2.5.5 (55)