WHEN it comes to the AFL’s night of nights, expect the unexpected.
The Brownlow Medal is the league’s top individual honour, with the umpires voting at the end of each home and away game to determine the best three players on the field.
Come the end of the season, on the eve of Grand Final Week, the votes are tallied, and the best and fairest player is crowned.
And no matter how much footy you’ve watched or research you’ve done, the outcome is never sure.
The umpires have a mind of their own, making this award the most unique in the game and as unpredictable as they come.
So, will Lion Lachie Neale do what most expect him to and claim his first ‘Chas’, or will an underdog pinch it during Sunday’s vote count?
A stellar campaign for the minor premiers leaves Travis Boak in the running, while Jack Steele’s rise in status came out of the blue.
Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield are eyeing No.2, while Nat Fyfe has somehow snuck under the radar again, and remains a chance to go back-to-back this year.
Dogs duo Marcus Bontemptelli and Jack Macrae are both known vote getters, Taylor Adams was Collingwood’s most consistent and All Australian ruckman Nic Naitanui had a career best season for the Eagles.
But it’s Melbourne’s No.5 who is in the conversation, after claiming the club’s Best and Fairest Award in an outstanding individual season.
Christian Petracca averaged 23.5 disposals in his first year as a midfielder and was third in the competition for contested possessions.
There’s no doubt his name will be called a few times throughout the night, and he may just push Neale at the pointy end of the count.
But the 24-year-old has only polled five votes in his career to date, so it’s hard to know if the umpires will reward his campaign.
Max Gawn and Clayton Oliver are the other Demons likely to feature throughout the night, having polled 37 and 25 votes respectively over the past two seasons.
Recap all 17 of the Dees’ games in 2020, with those in the mix for votes highlighted below.
West Coast 12.6 (78) def Melbourne 7.9 (51)
On a numb day for the AFL, with the season already postponed, Melbourne struggled to keep up with the Eagles in Perth.
Jack Viney (34 disposals) and Ed Langdon (31 disposals) – who was on his Demon debut – were the standouts for their side, but the 27-point margin could hurt their chances here.
A number of senior Eagles did the damage, with Andrew Gaff, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed and Shannon Hurn in the conversation for votes.
Carlton 7.11 (53) def by Melbourne 8.6 (54)
After 83 days between games, the Demons took to Marvel Stadium, getting their season properly underway.
A blistering five-goal to none first term nearly came undone, but some familiar names stood tall, with Max Gawn (34 hit-outs and 21 disposals), Christian Petracca (24 disposals and two goals) and Clayton Oliver (28 disposals) among the best.
Although Marc Pittonet was able to slow the Dees’ skipper slightly after half-time, that shouldn’t hinder his chances, but some wayward kicking from Blues star Patrick Cripps may cost him votes in this one.
Melbourne 6.8 (44) def by Geelong 7.5 (47)
Coming off an unforeseen bye, the Demons struggled to take the ball off the uncontested marking Cats.
It was one-way traffic for most of the day, but Melbourne fell just three points short of victory after a long-range attempt from Adam Tomlinson at the death.
Despite just 67 percent game time, Angus Brayshaw was crucial with two big goals, while Max Gawn (34 hit-outs and 17 disposals) and Jack Viney (20 disposals) were in the Dees’ best once again.
Melbourne 8.4 (52) def by Richmond 12.7 (79)
The Demons were unaware at the time, but Round 5 proved to be their last game on home turf for season 2020.
It wasn’t the farewell they were after, with Richmond proving too good across four quarters, but Max Gawn (35 hit-outs and 22 disposals) and Christian Petracca (27 disposals – 20 of which were handballs) gave it their all.
After being left out of the side in Round 2, Michael Hibberd (25 disposals) starred across half-back in a return to form, but an even spread from the Tigers makes votes hard to pick.
Melbourne 12.8 (80) def Gold Coast 9.9 (63)
Entering the hub with a 1-3 record, Melbourne secured a crucial win over the Suns, kicking three late goals at Giants Stadium.
It was the same stars for the Dees, with Max Gawn (15 disposals and 30 hit-outs), Christian Petracca (25 disposals and two goals), Jack Viney (21 disposals) and Clayton Oliver (24 disposals) getting the job done, but some young Suns won’t be far away from the votes.
Izak Rankine shone on debut, while Touk Miller, Hugh Greenwood and Charlie Ballard showed they are no easy beat this year.
Hawthorn 7.6 (48) def by Melbourne 14.7 (91)
One of Melbourne’s most dominant displays of the year saw it even the ledger at 3-3.
Christian Petracca had the footy world talking with another sensational 29-disposal display, while Max Gawn (27 hit-outs and 29 disposals) and Clayton Oliver (29 disposals) continued on their way.
Sam Weideman was the star up forward with three goals, as Jack Viney, Ed Langdon and Steven May rounded out the dominance across the field.
Melbourne 7.7 (49) def by Brisbane 7.11 (53)
Brisbane was the better side in Melbourne’s first clash of hub No.2, but things got close at the end with just four points the difference at the final siren.
Brownlow favourite Lachie Neale should claim the three votes, but Christian Petracca continues to put pressure on with 24 disposals in this one.
Clayton Oliver (28 disposals) and Jack Viney (24 disposals) also found plenty of it, but may struggle to poll in the loss.
Melbourne 4.8 (32) def by Port Adelaide 12.11 (83)
The Demons’ darkest night of 2020.
Steven May held his head high, but not high enough to poll in a 51-point loss.
Port Adelaide’s stars, young and old, could raffle these votes, with Tom Rockliff, Dan Houston, Darcy Byrne-Jones and Mitch Georgiades all a chance to poll.
Adelaide 5.7 (37) def by Melbourne 13.10 (88)
Melbourne got back on the winners list with a triumphant second half against the Crows.
It was a Clayton Oliver demolition with 34 disposals and a goal, while Jack Viney chipped in with a pair from the midfield.
Inaccuracy in front of the sticks may cost Christian Petracca on this occasion, with Christian Salem, Steven May and Sam Weideman among the best.
Melbourne 13.14 (92) def North Melbourne 5.5 (35)
The second of a double header in Adelaide ended similarly to the first.
With no Jack Viney or Max Gawn, it was Christian Petracca (29 disposals), Clayton Oliver (31 disposals) and Angus Brayshaw (29 disposals) who did the damage in the centre, all pushing forward to hit the scoreboard as well.
Jake Lever had one of his best outings of the season, Ed Langdon was busy again, and Luke McDonald was North’s best, although his 33 disposals were inflated by kick outs from defence.
Melbourne 16.4 (100) def Collingwood 6.8 (44)
It was the win Melbourne fans were waiting for, in a dominant night at The Gabba.
The load was shared between Angus Brayshaw (23 disposals and a goal), Clayton Oliver (24 disposals), Ed Langdon (22 disposals and two goals), Christian Petracca (24 disposals and a goal) and Christian Salem (22 disposals), with a number of Demons in contention for votes.
Charlie Spargo booted three goals, Taylor Adams and Steele Sidebottom were the Pies’ best, but this 3, 2, 1 could go a number of ways.
Western Bulldogs 12.8 (80) def Melbourne 7.10 (52)
The Dees were outplayed at Metricon Stadium, with it all coming unstuck in a horror third term.
Steven May was Melbourne’s best competitor in the 28-point loss, but the Bulldog midfielders should clean up here.
Melbourne 8.4 (52) def St Kilda 7.7 (49)
A tumbling ball off Christian Petracca’s boot saw the Demons clinch victory in Alice Springs, and while Melbourne’s star midfielder took home the best on ground award from Channel Seven, Steven May had the right to feel hard done by.
The key defender kept Max King to just three touches and had 22 himself, intercepting everything that went his way late in the game, making this game the most intriguing of the season come Brownlow night.
Ed Langdon patrolled the wing with 22 disposals, but Jack Steele deserves to be recognised for the Saints.
Sydney 10.7 (67) def Melbourne 6.10 (46)
Three hours after landing in Cairns, Melbourne wasn’t ready for what the Swans dished out.
Ed Langdon was his side’s best with 26 disposals, but he missed an important goal late and the votes should swing in Sydney’s favour.
The household names did the damage for the Swans, but youngsters Nick Blakey, Justin McInerney (who kicked the first two goals of his career) and Ryan Clarke all performed well.
Melbourne 4.9 (33) def by Fremantle 6.11 (47)
Off a short break, the Demons failed to bounce back, with a season-defining loss to Fremantle.
Jack Viney recovered from an almighty hit to the head to have 27 disposals in a gutsy performance, but it was one-way traffic for the Dockers.
Adam Cerra was prolific, topping off his efforts with a miracle banana from the pocket, while a number of his teammates found plenty of the footy.
GWS 11.8 (74) def by Melbourne 12.7 (79)
With one last chance to keep the season alive, Melbourne did what it had to against the Giants at The Gabba.
Steven May was crucial on the last line of defence, Christian Petracca was back near his best with 22 touches and a goal, Ed Langdon continued his good form with 23 disposals on the wing, while Max Gawn stood tall in the ruck.
But some GWS names will be in the mix in a tight affair, with Josh Kelly, Brent Daniels and Tom Green the standouts.
Picking these votes is as tough a job as any.
Essendon 7.7 (49) def by Melbourne 10.8 (68)
Melbourne finished its season on a high, despite failing to clinch that final spot in the top eight.
Bayley Fritsch nearly tore the game apart kicking 3.4 while tagging Jordan Ridley, but it was Christian Petracca who led the way for one last time with 23 disposals and a goal.
Max Gawn was influential in the air and at ground level, Mitch Brown took 13 marks against his former side, but Zach Merrett may pinch a vote for the Dons.
Predicted Melbourne Leaderboard:
18 – C.Petracca
7 – M.Gawn
7 – S.May
7 – C.Oliver
5 – J.Viney
4 – A.Brayshaw
3 – E.Langdon
2 – B.Fritsch