Goodwin needs early results to keep critics at bay

    MELBOURNECoach: Simon GoodwinCaptain: Max Gawn What happened in 2022?At 10-0 the football world was having a serious debate about whether Melbourne could go through the season undefeated. They seemed to be in cruise control, playing at the level which saw them take the competition by storm the previous season. Then out of nowhere the Dees lost three games in a row and suddenly that air of invincibility was gone.Fatigue was clearly a factor. The team which had prided themselves on outrunning their opposition late in games — i.e the final 40 minutes of the 2021 Grand Final — simply couldn‘t do it anymore. In fact, the opposite was happening with the Demons lacking zip and flair when it mattered.Teams also figured out how to deal with the Demons’ strengths, in particular not allowing floating defenders Steven May and Jake Lever to dominate games. The final two games of the season summed up Simon Goodwin’s woes with two un-Melbourne-like MCG losses to Sydney and Brisbane.Oh, and having punch-ups between teammates at trendy restaurants probably doesn’t help the cause. Where do they finish in 2023?There’s a lot riding on this year for Goodwin. The pressure will be on to prove 2022 was a blip on the radar and that the Demons don’t have to reinvent themselves again to win a premiership. The loss of Luke Jackson has been off-set to a degree by the recruitment of Grundy, although how quickly he can form chemistry with Gawn will go a long way to deciding whether the Demons can bounce back. The move has certainly divided opinion given both are All-Australian ruckmen who prefer to play 80 to 90 per cent in the ruck, which means something has to give. Gawn as a more permanent forward sounds good in theory but it is certainly a risky move for the best follower in the game.Finding the right mix in the forward half will be the biggest challenge. Ben Brown is coming off an average year of 30 goals, the great white hope Sam Weiderman is gone and while Bailey Fritsch delivered again with 55 goals, you don‘t win flags relying on medium-sized goalsneaks as your No.1 forward. What you do win with is an elite midfield with Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney at the very top of the tree in the competition, which is why the Demons should again be top-four material with legitimate dibs on the big prize.Biggest improver in 2022While he didn’t play a game in his first season, the fact Jacob van Rooyen was being floated as a possible inclusion in a do-or-die semi-final tells you how much the Demons rate the 194cm swingman. While the Western Australian has played key position at both ends, the Demons will look for him to become a factor in the forward line. The 19-year-old was named as an emergency for the past four games of the season after being a consistent goalkicker in the VFL including a bag of six goals midway through the year.Goodwin said in September he would have “no hesitation” playing Van Rooyen, the Demons first-round pick in the 2021 draft, saying he played a combative style of footy.That should translate to early opportunities in the new season as the Demons look for some points of difference to elevate them back to premiership contender.X-factorLachie Hunter looms as the icing on the cake for the Demons. The shock last-minute trade for Western Bulldogs premiership wingman caught many by surprise but it could end up being a genius move.While he has had his share of injuries and personal issues in recent seasons, Hunter is still only 27 but brings a wealth of experience and leadership after 173 games in 10 seasons at the Whitten Oval.He’s also a smart footballer with exceptional footy IQ and with the Demons identifying connection inside 50 as a key area which needed improvement, the Dogs veteran ticks those boxes.Coach statusSimon Goodwin was understandably rewarded with a pay rise and two-year extension midway through the year off the back of his premiership win and a brilliant start to the 2022 season.He is now contracted through to the end of 2024 and seems to have ridden out some off-field issues which were raised throughout the year. In six seasons at the helm, Goodwin has guided the Demons to three finals series including the drought-breaking 2021 premiership victory.MELBOURNE BEST 23Who is in last year of contract?Jed Adams, Kade Chandler, Luke Dunstan, Michael Hibberd, James Jordon, Steven May, Judd McVee, Jake Melksham, Andy Moniz-Wakefield, Alex Neal-Bullen, Kysaiah Pickett, Oliver Sestan, Trent Rivers, Josh Schache, Deakyn Smith, Taj Woewodin, Will Verrall.Ins for 2023 Brodie Grundy (trade — Collingwood), Lachie Hunter (trade — Western Bulldogs), Josh Schache (trade — Western Bulldogs), Matt Jefferson (pick No. 15), Jed Adams (pick No. 38), Will Verrall (rookie draft pick No. 14), Oliver Sestan (rookie draft pick No. 28).Outs from 2022Majak Daw (retred), Fraser Rosman (delisted), Mitch Brown (retired), Jayden Hunt (free agent — West Coast), Toby Bedford (trade — GWS Giants), Luke Jackson (trade- Fremantle) Sam Weideman (trade — Essendon) Oskar Baker (delisted, picked up by Western Bulldogs).MELBOURNE 2023 FIRST SIXWatch every match of every round of the 2023 Toyota AFL Premiership Season LIVE on Kayo Sports. 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