Ladder-leaders Melbourne were unexpectedly tested by bottom-of-the-pile North Melbourne on Sunday and although the Demons managed to win, their victory came at a cost, with defender Adam Tomlinson likely tearing his ACL.
Tomlinson went down early in the first term, which closely followed the pre-game withdrawal of former captain Jack Viney (toe), who will be out for two to three weeks.
Kysaiah Pickett and the Demons are undefeated at the top of the ladder.Credit:Getty Images
Despite this, and North Melbourne’s best half of football under David Noble, the Demons turned the screws to overcome a three-goal deficit at half time and win the game at Bellerive Oval in Hobart.
Six goals from Bailey Fritsch, a match-changing stint in the ruck by youngster Luke Jackson in the third term, and the hard running and sublime skill of Kysaiah Pickett were crucial to Melbourne maintaining their perfect start to the 2021 season in the end.
In the third term, trailing by eight points, Pickett initiated an attacking chain on the wing. He was involved seconds later in the chain via handball and run, then he kept his charge forward going, eventually crumbing a marking contest in attacking 50 and finishing easily.
Earlier he stepped around Jack Ziebell on the boundary line to assist one of Fritsch’s third-term goals. Pickett’s gut-busting run and finish cut the lead to two points, which Melbourne turned into a lead of four points when Ben Brown goaled soon after.
Bayley Fritsch starred for the Dees but will come under scrutiny from the MRO.Credit:Getty Images
And it wouldn’t be a Sunday afternoon of footy at Bellerive Oval without local boy Brown lining up for goal off a longer run up than Brett Lee.
With 35 goals there in 18 games for North Melbourne, he added two to that tally in his first game for Melbourne. With Tomlinson out and Tom McDonald moving into defence, Demons fans may get to see the debut of Brown and Sam Weideman in the Demons attack next week. Brown did go down the race groggy late after a head clash.
Meanwhile Jackson went into the ruck more in the third term and was able to help get the Demons back on top in the midfield, with Goldstein beating Max Gawn prior to that change.
The win put Melbourne one game clear atop the AFL ladder.
North Melbourne kicked the first two goals of the game through big man Tom Campbell and then Shaun Atley.
Melbourne kicked the next three goals to take the lead and the feeling was that North had fired their shot, and the Demons machine had just been a little slow to warm up.
But what happened in the rest of the first half showed the engine hadn’t even been turned on, let alone got into gear.
North Melbourne kicked six goals two from stoppages in the first half. Melbourne, with the likes of Gawn, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca hold stoppages as a strength, but they were obliterated by the likes of Ben Cunnington, Goldstein and Kayne Turner.
Nick Laarkey celebrates a goal for North.Credit:Getty Images
The underdogs moved the ball aggressively, not recklessly, and by bringing it through the corridor so boldly they would have even surprised themselves at how fluidly they were allowed to move at times.
And if not for a series of first-quarter defensive errors, mainly around how they defended the ball when it was in the air, the Roos could have been more than 19 points ahead at half-time.
Fritsch was best on ground, but he did get Tom Powell with a nasty elbow in a tackling contest.
Powell looked out for the count and came off spitting blood. But he went back on, presumably having past a concussion test, and played out the game.
The elbow looked accidental too. But there was serious potential for injury and even though it was likely not on purpose, at best careless or reckless, it will be looked at by Michael Christian.
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Hall, Turner, Ziebell, Simpkin, Ziebell, Powell.
Melbourne: Fritsch, Pickett, Jackson, Langdon, Salem, Petracca, Oliver.
B Fritsch (Melbourne) 8
B Cunnington (North Melbourne) 8
K Pickett (Melbourne) 8
A Hall (North Melbourne) 7
L Jackson (Melbourne) 7
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