Demons find their round one groove but Pickett faces likely suspension

Melbourne’s midfield magicians Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver reprised an old trick to sink a familiar foe who should have known better.

After paying the ultimate price on grand final day two years ago, the Western Bulldogs were punished again on Saturday night as the Demons bolted away in the second half to open their season with an ominous 50-point win at the MCG.

The Dees’ win was soured by the booking of livewire Kysaiah Pickett, who is facing a suspension after collecting star Bulldog Bailey Smith with a shirtfront in which he left the ground. Though Smith was not hurt by the bump, the grading for an intentional high hit with low impact would result in a one-match ban for Pickett.

Kysaiah Pickett was all smiles after booting a goal.Credit:Getty Images

Pickett was among the best players on the field after playing a pivotal role with four goals and 19 possessions in close to a career-best performance. Notably, the Demons were without key players Steven May, Bayley Fritsch, Jack Viney and Christian Salem.

Petracca and Oliver answered the call when the Demons were under the pump in the second quarter and challenged in the third.

With the assistance of sublime tap work from Max Gawn, their capacity to break through the front of the stoppage in the centre square was instrumental to the Demons’ match-winning burst of six consecutive goals either side of half-time.

When the Dogs narrowed the margin to 14 points midway in the third term, it was Petracca and Oliver who again combined to load the ball deep into attack, setting up a goal for Ben Brown.

The star duo’s dominance in the middle presents a conundrum for the Demons, who want to spread the midfield load more evenly to avoid entering September banged up like last year but have a centre square one-two punch the envy of the competition.

It is no coincidence the Dogs’ best period of the game, in the second term, came when Petracca and Oliver, who combined for nine of the Demons’ 15 centre clearances, were not together.

Brodie Grundy battles with Rory Lobb.Credit:Getty Images

The ruck combination of Gawn and Brodie Grundy passed their first test with flying colours. Grundy improved as through the match, signing of his debut in the red and blue with a goal in the last term, while Gawn was influential in the ruck and up forward.

The Dogs won the contested game, but unable to move the ball with any fluency their play lacked Melbourne’s fizz.

The much talked about four-pronged tall timber forward line turned into triple towers with Aaron Naughton, Rory Lobb, Sam Darcy and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan rarely in the front half together. The quartet produced only two goals between them.

The Dogs’ inability to stymie the Demons’ ball movement raises questions whether Luke Beveridge’s men have solved the issues that impeded their campaign last year.

Kysaiah Pickett faces a likely ban for his high bump on Bailey Smith.Credit:Fox Footy / Twitter

After a year out of the game for his non-compliance with the league’s vaccination policy, Liam Jones’s first game back in the red, white and blue was shortlived. The former Blue copped a knock to the neck in the second quarter, and was in clear discomfort as he was helped off the field, appearing to favour his left side. He was subbed out at half-time. It capped off a forgettable return for Jones, whose only disposal was a clanger.

It seems being part of a drought-breaking flag is not enough to protect a player from being booed when he changes clubs. Lachie Hunter, a member of the Dogs’ 2016 premiership team, learned that when his first touch was resoundingly jeered by the Dogs faithful. Fans in the red and blue backed him up a minute later by theatrically cheering his next touch, then went a step further by booing Dogs recruit Oskar Baker, even though his move was forced by his delisting from the Dees. Though quiet with 12 possessions on a wing, Hunter shapes to be an important acquisition for Melbourne.

Melbourne: Petracca, Oliver, Gawn, Pickett, Lever, Brown, Petty. Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Daniel, Richards, Treloar.

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