A huge top-of-the-ladder clash between Melbourne and the Brisbane Lions gets round 15 of the AFL underway and the Demons are in desperate need of a win under the lights at the G.
All was going swimmingly for the reigning premiers as they remained undefeated in 17 games before slipping to defeat against Fremantle. That sparked an alarming run of form and they have now lost three on the bounce.
Brisbane are level on points with both Melbourne and Fremantle, but hold top spot due to a better percentage. They now have an opportunity to open up a gap on the Demons if they can pick up the win on Thursday night.
So there is plenty at stake in a huge game for both sides.
What: Melbourne v Brisbane Lions
Where: MCG, Melbourne
When: 19:20 (AEST), Thursday 23rd June, 2022
Odds: Melbourne 17/25, Brisbane 6/5
Melbourne looked invincible following a strong start to the 2022 AFL campaign and many were predicting more grand final success as they continued to sweep aside all that was put before them.
The defeat against Fremantle was brushed off as a minor setback. No team goes through the entire campaign undefeated and it was seen as a blip.
But then defeats against the Sydney Swans and Collingwood followed and some Demons members will be reaching for the panic button.
Issues away from the field have not helped matters. The well-documented bust up between Steven May and teammate Jake Melksham could have destabilised the group.
The incident left May suspended by the club and Melksham ruled out with a hand injury that required surgery.
Such turmoil can go on to galvanise clubs and the team-spirit of the Demons will now be tested to the max. There is still plenty of time to bounce back but it needs to start soon. And there is no better place to start than a home clash against fellow flag hopefuls Brisbane.
The run of fixtures over the next few weeks could be worse. After the Brisbane game they face Adelaide before games against Geelong, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs. All very winnable of course if the Demons can get back in form.
When it rains it pours though and Melbourne have also been rocked by the news that star ruckman Max Gawn is facing at least a month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
The injury could not come at a worse time and coach Simon Goodwin is now trying to work out how to replace one of the most influential players in the competition. It is almost impossible.
However Goodwin says he has every faith in Luke Jackson. The 20-year-old has done a great job when deputising for Gawn but will now take on a bigger responsibility as Melbourne’s first-choice ruck option.
The Demons are also boosted by the return of May following the club-imposed one-match suspension.
May is hugely influential and it is no coincidence that Fremantle got a grip of the game after the star defender was forced off the field through concussion. He has not played since and again Melbourne have lost all games with him out of the side.
Brisbane have not won at the MCG in eight years and may not get a better opportunity than this one, although coach Chris Fagan is expecting a response from Melbourne.
Speaking ahead of the game he said he expecting to see the “best version” of the Demons and his side will have to be at their best to end the MCG drought.
The Lions have a 10-3 win-loss ratio for the season and two of those defeats have come in recent weeks. There was no shame in a narrow loss to high-flying Fremantle in Perth, but the defeat against Hawthorn was a big surprise.
Fagan’s men have responded well though and got back to winning ways with a 21-point win over St Kilda before the bye.
They now return from the break fresh and raring to go. They will be without captain Dayne Zorko however as he continues to battle back from a hamstring issue.
The 33-year-old suffered the injury against St Kilda but he hoped to play against Melbourne after coming through training on Tuesday.
However the Lions are taking no risks and will look to bring him back in against the Western Bulldogs the week after. Zorko is key to their chances of launching a premiership push and they want him right for the business end of the season.
The Lions could also be forced into one more change as Darcy Gardiner is a big doubt. The player spent time in hospital after the St Kilda game with fluid on his lungs.