CHRISTIAN Petracca streamed through the forward line, burst past his Richmond opponents and snapped a goal that sent the Melbourne fans into raptures. One minute into the final quarter of the clubs' annual Anzac Day eve clash, Petracca had all but sealed the Demons' victory.
Watching from the bench, having been ruled out in the third term with concussion, Tigers superstar Dustin Martin could only look on. On this occasion, the apprentice had trumped the master.
The same can be said of the clubs, with Melbourne's 34-point thumping of the reigning back-to-back premiers continuing its unbeaten start to this season. The Demons haven't begun a campaign 6-0 since 1965 and their 12.10 (82) to 6.12 (48) win was the vindication of their encouraging opening block of form. It is hard to think there are many Demon doubters left now.
But their demolition was also a Dusty deconstruction. In his milestone 250th game, Martin was kept out of the contest well before his night was officially ended in the middle of the third quarter.
Melbourne defender Michael Hibberd had limited the three-time Norm Smith medallist to just eight disposals before his injury, in a pivotal role in the Demons' victory. Martin, feted for his durability having only missed eight games of his career, is set to miss next Friday's clash with the top-of-the-ladder Western Bulldogs under the AFL concussion protocols. Premiership midfielder Kane Lambert is also likely to miss with a calf injury.
Petracca (38 disposals, 10 clearances, one goal) was best afield, but such has been the Demons' season, the load was evenly spread. Fresh from a five-year contract extension Christian Salem set up the game with 23 disposals in the first half (he finished with 39), while Clayton Oliver (36) and Ed Langdon (32) were also important in Melbourne's midfield mauling. Liam Baker and Shai Bolton were lone hands for the Tigers.
Tom McDonald's run of form continued with three goals as one of four multiple goalkickers.
The Demons had some early nerves but remained in touch in the first quarter before winning control of the contest in the second term. Despite the Tigers' red-hot opening, and a couple of costly fumbles, the Demons didn't wilt, instead working into the game as Kysaiah Pickett's brilliance helped set up a goal for returning forward Bayley Fritsch.
The belief Melbourne picked up out of withstanding Richmond's early onslaught turned into something far more tangible in the second term. The Demons booted four unanswered goals for the quarter to take a 17-point lead into the main change.
As Salem continued his dominance off half-back, Petracca lifted and Oliver had some key moments. When McDonald booted back-to-back goals the Dees had taken the ascendancy, and it was rammed home when athletic big man Luke Jackson converted a running goal from close range after more crafty work by Charlie Spargo.
The Demons weren't done there. Any sense they could get complacent, or open the door for the Tigers to reenter the contest, was put aside when Jackson soccered through the first goal of the third term, and Melbourne's pressure continued to overwhelm a side renowned for the same quality.
The Tigers eventually broke a seven-goal run from the Demons, but with Martin struggling with injury, there was little spark for the yellow and black who slumped to a 30-point deficit at three-quarter time. The game safe, Melbourne pulled out some party tricks in the fourth term to cruise to another win. This one, however, meant a lot more than the previous five.
Martin's muted milestone
After a week of celebration leading into Martin's 250th game, Melbourne had no interest in continuing the party. The Demons entered the game with a plan for the Richmond superstar, with dogged half-back Michael Hibberd deployed to shut down Martin's influence. Hibberd, who returned to Melbourne's line-up last week, restricted Martin to three disposals in the first term and only another three in the second, with the Tigers' match-winner getting frustrated by the close attention. After a heavy collision in the third quarter where he copped a knock to the eye, Martin was left grounded and trudged off the field and down to the changerooms for medical attention. He returned but could not break away from Hibberd's close attention and later that term was ruled out with concussion.
Nathan Jones, on the other hand…
As only the second-ever Demon to reach the magical 300-game mark, plenty of eyes were on Melbourne hard-nut Jones across the night. He was sent to the pre-game coin toss and, after calling correctly, he ran back to his side which was celebrating his early victory. Jones, who has taken on a revised role in the twilight of his career, was cheered for each of his 16 disposals and continues to play with the tough and tenacious approach that is embodying Melbourne's style this season. A career highlight could yet await the 33-year-old in what has been a perfect start to 2021.
Riewoldt's rare highlight
Lionel Messi, eat your heart out. Jack Riewoldt had booted 360 goals at the MCG before Saturday night, but none quite like the opening major of this clash. With the turf slippery after some pre-game Melbourne rain, the Richmond spearhead at first nutmegged opponent Adam Tomlinson by kicking it through his legs while they scrapped for the ball. But Riewoldt kept running and instead of picking the ball up, threw his left leg at the Sherrin from the boundary line and saw it skid through for a brilliant – and just as deliberate – goal for the three-time Coleman medallist. In a move that echoed Messi, the global soccer star renowned for his curling left-foot free kicks, it was the Tigers' only highlight of the night.
MELBOURNE 2.2 6.6 10.8 12.10 (82)
RICHMOND 3.3 3.7 5.8 6.12 (48)
Melbourne: McDonald 3, Fritsch 2, Jackson 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Petracca, Pickett, Salem
Richmond: Edwards 2, Riewoldt 2, Aarts, Bolton
Melbourne: Petracca, Salem, Oliver, Hibberd, McDonald, Langdon, Viney, May
Richmond: Bolton, Baker, Edwards, Houli, Nankervis
Richmond: Lambert (calf), Martin (concussion)
Melbourne: Chandler (unused)
Richmond: Ross (replaced Lambert in the third quarter)
56,418 at the MCG