De­mons de­fence set to clip Ea­gles’ wings

The Northern Star - - SPORT - SAM LANDSBERGER

JOSH Kennedy and Jack Dar­ling be warned.

Fly­ing west for Satur­day’s pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal is the AFL’s No.1 de­fence. Three months ago the key ques­tion sur­round­ing Mel­bourne was whether they could win the pre­mier­ship with­out Jake Lever.

Over the past 10 weeks it has been an­swered with ex­cla­ma­tion points. Since the De­mons’ shock Round 15 loss to St Kilda, they are leak­ing just 69 points a game.

Un­der coach Si­mon Good­win the De­mons are 18-0 when they con­cede fewer than 75 points.

Rich­mond coach Damien Hard­wick says the Tigers are a de­fence­ori­en­tated side but even the reign­ing pre­miers are a shade be­hind.

Good­win de­cided to hand a few play­ers the chance to au­di­tion for Lever’s post.

Af­ter Joel Smith and Har­ri­son Petty had their cracks, Sam Frost re­ceived his op­por­tu­nity in Round 16 and hasn’t looked back.

He is the man to stop Kennedy at Perth Sta­dium with Os­car McDon­ald set for Dar­ling and Neville Jetta the ideal match-up for livewires Wil­lie Ri­oli and Liam Ryan.

Ruck­man Max Gawn will likely drift back to take a cou­ple of in­ter­cept marks in an­other in­gre­di­ent which has added to this back­line mix.

Since Round 15 only one team has kicked 100 points against the De­mons. That was Gee­long in Round 18 and it re­quired Zach Tuohy’s kick af­ter the fi­nal siren to cap a mas­ter­ful dis­play of goal­kick­ing – 16.4.

Fancy that, the only time the Dees have leaked 100 points came as they con­ceded just 20 scor­ing shots. Perhaps a pay rise is in or­der for de­fen­sive coach Troy Chap­lin. Ev­ery el­e­ment of the De­mon de­fence has lifted since Round 15.

Ask Hard­wick about of­fence and he will point out that the bulk of scores in the AFL come from creat­ing turnovers.

Well, Mel­bourne is giv­ing up 16 fewer points off turnovers since Round 15, slid­ing from 51 points to just 35.

Af­ter Lever went down, the De­mons in­ter­nally turned to the West Coast side of 2015 for in­spi­ra­tion.

The Ea­gles lost key pil­lars Eric Macken­zie and Mitch Brown to ACLs by the end of Round 1 and yet re­bounded to reach the grand fi­nal.

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