MELBOURNE mature-age draftee Bayley Fritsch has emphatically boosted his round-one selection chances with a fine performance in attack in the Demons' comprehensive 53-point victory over North Melbourne at Kingston Twin Ovals in Tasmania on Saturday.
The word out of Melbourne is that Fritsch, 21, has been earmarked for an opening round debut after an impressive summer, and the spring-heeled forward gave every indication that that will be the case with an impressive first-up display.
Fritsch, drafted from VFL affiliate Casey, booted three goals and handed another to ruckman Max Gawn in the goal square in the final term, as the Demons romped to a 19.10 (124) to 11.5 (71) victory in the first JLT Community Series match.
The youngster kicked 42 goals in 19 matches for Casey last season and definitely looms as a round-one bolter for Melbourne.
Melbourne burst away from a young North Melbourne squad in the third term, splitting the contest open with seven goals to the Roos' one by using a stiff breeze and rapid ball movement to its advantage.
The Demons had 12 individual goal kickers as they displayed their ability to move the ball quickly from end to end and share the scoring load.
Melbourne's half-forwards ran amok for much of the contest, with Jake Melksham, James Harmes and Alex Neal-Bullen all prominent in the impressive win.
Melksham's sterling AFLX form translated to the JLT Series with the athletic forward racking up 19 disposals, five inside 50s and a goal.
Harmes bobbed up consistently with 18 touches and two goals and Neal-Bullen was busy with 19 touches, six clearances and two goals.
The Demons defence also showed itself to be well organised, with the inclusion of marquee recruit Jake Lever making a difference, while All Australian defender Michael Hibberd continued where he left off at the end of 2017 by gathering a match-high 27 disposals.
In the midst of a rebuild following the departure of a number of seasoned veterans in recent seasons, the Kangaroos were competitive for much of the first half and trailed by just 11 points at half-time.
Ex-Hawk Billy Hartung was excellent for his new club, particularly in the first half, kicking two end-to-end running goals and showing that he will fit in nicely to the Roos' lineup.
Hartung finished the day with 16 disposals and seven inside 50s to be one of his team's best players, while top draftee Luke Davies-Uniacke, pick No.4 overall, was not afraid to crack in and won 12 touches in an encouraging first-up effort.
Experienced heads Marley Williams (17 disposals) and Ben Cunnington (15) also tried hard for an inexperienced Roos outfit.
WHAT WE LEARNED
North Melbourne: We know North is in the rebuild stage, so it wasn't a huge surprise to see what transpired in the second half. However, the Roos were largely competitive up until half-time with Hartung and senior Roos Cunnington and Robbie Tarrant setting the example. With such a young side, the Kangaroos will need to learn to slow the game down and maintain possession to ensure they don't regularly give up such big blow outs.
Melbourne: The Demons will be extremely tough to beat this season because of their abundance of scoring options. They got three goals out of star forward Jesse Hogan, but don't rely on just one player. Harmes, Neal-Bullen and Melksham were all busy across half forward and have the ability to bob up when you least expect it, while Fritsch could be the surprise packet. The Demons also showed their willingness to change things up in attack, pushing Hogan into the midfield and Tom McDonald into the ruck at stages. It's difficult for opposition teams to plan for that unpredictability and it's what makes Melbourne so dangerous heading into 2018.
North Melbourne: Billy Hartung showed off his wheels in the first half with two brilliant end-to-end running goals. The ex-Hawk looked like a consistent threat whenever he had the footy in his hands. Top draftee Luke Davies-Uniacke won plenty of ball on the inside and looked right at home at AFL level, while former Bomber Alex Morgan worked hard at half-back.
Melbourne: Marquee recruit Jake Lever put in a typically composed performance across half-back and often got back to support his teammates. Lever's role as an intercept player for the Demons will be crucial in 2018. All the talk out of Melbourne is that mature-age draftee Bayley Fritsch is on track for a round one debut and the energetic forward displayed his talents against the Roos. Fritsch got on the scoreboard early with a clever snap off his left boot and appears to be well equipped to handle the step to the next level.
After their trip to Tasmania, both teams will return to Victoria for their final JLT games. North Melbourne will meet last year's premier Richmond at Ikon Park under lights on Wednesday March 7. Melbourne will host St Kilda at Casey Fields on Thursday March 8.
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.1 6.4 7.4 11.5 (71)
MELBOURNE 6.3 8.3 15.8 19.10 (124)
North Melbourne: Hartung 2, Waite 2, Brown, Turner, Ziebell, Zurhaar, Larkey, Brown, Cunnington
Melbourne: Hogan 3, Fritsch 3, Harmes 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Bugg 2, T McDonald, Vince, Petracca, Hannan, Melksham, Gawn, Maynard
North Melbourne: Hartung, Cunnington, Williams, Vickers-Willis
Melbourne: Melksham, Neal-Bullen, Hibberd, Harmes, Petracca, Salem, Fritsch
North Melbourne: Nil
Official crowd: 1957 at Kingston Twins Ovals, Tasmania