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Melbourne youngster Jacob van Rooyen has kicked three final quarter goals to help lift the Demons to an 18-point win over Richmond on Anzac Day Eve at the MCG.
The Demons trailed by as much as 25 points in the second term before van Rooyen led the last quarter blitz that lifted his side to a 15.6 (96) to 11.12 (78) victory.
In front of almost 84,000 fans – Melbourne’s biggest home crowd since 1964, the Demons trailed at every break before taking the four points by full time.
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The Tigers were fast out of the blocks with a five-goal opener their best first term of the season. But they managed just six goals from the rest of the match.
Melbourne won every quarter from that point as Clayton Oliver drew the Dees within two points after the three-quarter time siren.
And from there, the game belonged to Melbourne as the Dees piled on five unanswered goals in the final term.
Only a late goal to Dustin Martin got Richmond on the board in a dirty night for the Tigers’ superstar who had 0.3 and one out of bounds on the full up until the dying seconds.
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QUARTER BY QUARTER MATCH REPORT
After the incredible pre-match Anzac tribute that silenced the MCG crowd, Melbourne’s Kysaiah Pickett got fans to their feet with a high fly early.
But it was Alex Neal-Bullen who got the first cheers as he snapped truly from 15m out directly in front.
Kade Chandler was front and centre as Tylar Young brought the footy to ground, and it was Neal-Bullen who cashed in.
“Just a soft kill there from Tylar Young to the front,” commentator Matthew Richardson said.
“Melbourne just had the numbers.”
But the Tigers had the immediate reply with Trent Cotchin setting the footy up for Jack Riewoldt and Noah Cumberland doing the work on the deck.
“It was a great contest from Riewoldt to bring that ball to ground,” commentator Daisy Pearce praised.
“Being able to hit the ball at ground level when Richmond do get it to that level is going to be so important tonight.”
A turnover at half back saw the Tigers stream forward and find Riewoldt. But he couldn’t convert from 40m out as the Dees dodged a bullet.
When Max Gawn came leading out from the square, the Demons faithful were up and about, but his set shot crashed into the post.
He had a second mark inside 50 in a matter of minutes, but once again his foot skills let him down as he missed Bayley Fritsch.
Richmond coughed up the footy repeatedly trying to go inside 50, in frustrating scenes for coach Damien Hardwick.
“You can’t let Melbourne intercept there,” Richardson said.
And Jack Viney made the Tigers pay with Melbourne’s second of the match.
Some ill-discipline firstly from Judd McVee gave Cumberland a shot on goal – despite Steven May having the mark covered.
Cumberland was then gifted the goal when Jake Lever was deemed to enter the protected zone when he tried to put the Tiger off his set shot.
“Never seen one of those paid like that!” Richardson said.
“He’s behind the mark though!”
Steven May was heard asking the umpire what Lever did wrong, and was told “he’s inside the five”.
Cumberland kicked his third moments later as suddenly the Tigers were out to a 12-point lead.
Dustin Martin almost produced a moment of magic with a brilliant on the run banana from the boundary, but hit the post.
“They looked dangerous in the forward line,” Richardson praised.
“There’s a real intent to try and win that ground level ball,” Pearce added.
By quarter time, it was the Tigers with the 18-point lead 32-14.
The Demons dodged another bullet early in the second when Riewoldt sent his set shot wide after May’s “little tug” on the jumper was spotted by the umpire.
The intensity lifted from both sides in the second term, with Maurice Rioli Jnr involved in two big moments.
He wore a shot from May and then held Neal-Bullen long enough to turn the footy over at half-forward.
When Riewoldt caught Jake Lever cold, the margin was out to a game-high 25 points.
The Tigers veteran then brought up goal 400 at the MCG, becoming just the third player to do so behind fellow Richmond great Matthew Richardson (464) and ex-Bomber Matthew Lloyd (461).
But as the Tigers looked to pull away, Harrison Petty brought the Dees back on the scoreboard with some great bodywork on Noah Balta.
Bayley Fritsch thought he was going to line up for goal 20m out directly in front after a big pack mark, but the free kick was paid instead to Nick Vlastuin.
Pearce praised Richmond’s ability to embrace “the chaos ball” going inside 50 as they opted to go low rather than give the Demons backline opportunity to intercept.
A late Ed Langdon goal brought the Dees back to within 14 points, as Richmond carried a 52-38 lead into the main break.
“It’s the Tigers of old … I think the Dees would be happy to be 14 points down – I think that flatters them,” Fox Footy’s Jonathan Brown said.
“It was all Richmond except for those last few minutes.”
Despite being outplayed first half, Melbourne were first on the board in the third term and narrowed Richmond’s lead to just six before Riewoldt gave his side some breathing room.
When the Demons stayed in touch with a goal to Chandler, again it was Riewoldt to respond.
“He’s still got a bit of spring in those legs,” Richardson joked of the 34-year-old Tiger.
The match was played at a “frenetic” pace for more than 10 minutes as both teams were guilty of “slingshot” footy.
It took a Clayton Oliver goal after the three quarter time siren to ensure Melbourne were right back in it – down by only two points at the final change.
Ben Miller had a chance to give Richmond some breathing room once again, but pushed his set shot wide.
And down the other end, the Tigers were made to pay when Chandler goaled from the square to give Melbourne the lead for the first time since early in the opening term.
Miller was subbed out moments later with Hugo Ralphsmith injected into the contest.
A big Jacob van Rooyen grab and goal extended Melbourne’s lead before he added a second moments later.
The dangerous Dustin Martin set sail from the arc but as was his tale of the night, it sailed wide – making it his third behind as well as one out of bounds on the full.
“It’s got harder and harder as the night’s gone on for Richmond,” Richardson said.
The Tigers just couldn’t get anything going forward, with Noah Balta sent into the ruck to allow Samson Ryan to go forward.
But he couldn’t convert his set shot, summing up Richmond’s second half.
When van Rooyen added his third for the term, the match was done and Melbourne were home.
It was a disappointing finish for Richmond who managed only six goals after quarter time in worrying signs for coach Damien Hardwick.
3. DEES YOUNG GUN ‘STANDS UP’ ON BIG STAGE
When Melbourne needed someone to step up, Jacob van Rooyen answered that call.
The young forward exploded with three huge fourth-quarter goals to help get the Demons over the line, delivering on the big stage.
It started with a monster contested grab in a pack before taking another minutes later as ‘Roo’ chants perforated throughout the MCG, adding one more major in the final five minutes.
“He’s been big in the last 90 seconds, the youngster standing up,” Channel 7 caller Hamish McLachlan said of van Rooyen during the fourth term.
Tigers great Matthew Richardson noted how “there’s nothing better” than having a legion of fans cheering you on like the 20-year old was, adding “that’s why you play this game, and you never replace that”.
It comes as Melbourne has experimented with different tall forward setups, rotating between Ben Brown and Tom McDonald as it searches for its most effective formula.
Coming in to make his AFL debut in Round 3 and playing every game since, it’s fair to say van Rooyen’s fourth-quarter heroics have consolidated his spot in the side.
“A lot of Melbourne fans felt like he was worthy of a debut last year. They (the Demons) made him earn it, he kicked 36 goals in the VFL (in 2022), he got some valuable experience,” Channel 7’s Luke Darcy said of van Rooyen, not it was a “name you’re going to hear a lot about in the future”.
“The boy from WA … he’s taking contested marks and kicking big goals in front of 80,0000+ (people),” the Western Bulldogs legend added.
Darcy said after the 20-year old’s third goal: “You just feel like he’s the type of player they‘re looking for, a tall forward option who can take a strong mark.
“He just looks at home on the big stage.”
2. RICHMOND’S MASTER AND APPRENTICE DOUBLE ACT UP FORWARD
Even if they couldn’t ultimately lead Richmond to victory, a master and apprentice double act of Noah Cumberland and Jack Riewoldt up forward was huge, combining for seven of the club’s 11 goals on the night.
It was all the more welcomed for a Tigers side missing star forward Tom Lynch and desperate for others to stand up.
While Melbourne great Garry Lyon said on Fox Footy he believes there’s a “changing of the guard” in Richmond’s attack amid Cumberland’s emergence, Riewoldt showed he mightn’t yet be ready to hand over the baton.
Cumberland was on fire early with three first quarter goals, joining West Coast’s Oscar Allen as the only other player to kick a trio of majors in an opening term this season.
“He’s in the zone. You’ve got to make the most of a hot hand, he knows he’s hot at the moment,” Tigers legend Matthew Richardson said of Cumberland on Channel 7 during the first term.
But Riewoldt, who was sporting a band aid on his forehead after requiring several stitches following a big head knock against Sydney, later ignited including kicking three-straight Tigers goals during the second and third quarters en route to a game-high four majors after kicking as many the week prior.
With it, the 34-year old Riewoldt moved into the 400-goal club at the MCG, joining only Matthew Richardson and Matthew Lloyd.
“He’s played 330 games and won three premierships, he’s done it all. And then it’s a Round 6 game in this stage of his career and he still plays with as much passion as anyone out there,” AFLW great Daisy Pearce said of Riewoldt on Channel 7.
“It’s brilliant … he’s just a competitor as well, how many staples has he got in his head?”
Channel 7 commentator Hamish McLachlan added: “He celebrates a goal as he would’ve a young kid in Tassie, the joy and passion is still there.”
The pair’s strong nights came after Cumberland surprisingly started the season outside the senior team before earning a reprieve against Collingwood in Round 3.
The 22-year old has gotten better each week, going goalless then kicking one and two majors before his three-goal haul against the Demons.
Richardson believes Cumberland was out of favour to start the season due to some defensive deficiencies.
“He’s a very natural forward, he knows how to lead and find the footy. I think it’s just some defensive stuff he’s needed to work on,” he said.
1. TIGERS’ PROMISING START SETS POTENTIAL BLUEPRINT TO THWART DEES
It was clear from the onset how Damien Hardwick wanted the Tigers to play – spread the ball wide and change the angles kicking inside 50 to ensure Melbourne’s defenders couldn’t play their natural intercepting game.
Channel 7’s Matthew Richardson noted Richmond’s “clear directive” was to not “bomb it in long” as it lowered its eyes and was selective with its kicking … and it worked for a large chunk of the game until Melbourne ran over the top in the second half.
Of course, it’s one thing to come up with a plan, and another to execute it over four quarters, but it still may have created a blueprint on how to nullify the Demons.
The Tigers were +10 in groundball gets in the first quarter as they opened up an early 18-point lead to take full ascendancy in the contest and look capable of pulling off an unlikely upset.
“That is a beautiful number, the simplicity of just getting the ball to ground – don’t allow Melbourne to intercept,” three-time All-Australian Garry Lyon said of Richmond’s groundball dominance on Fox Footy.
“Early on in the piece their ability to spread and get to the open side has worked so well.”
Even Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin flagged on Fox Footy pre-game he was weary of Richmond’s ability to get to the open side and attack the forward 50.
The Tigers’ star off-season recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper were crucial in setting up that play at the coalface in strong performances on the big stage to help Richmond win the contested possession count +9 (144-135).
Fox Footy pundits were full of praise for the duo, with Jonathan Brown highlighting it was a “good night to win Richmond fans over,” even if the Tigers didn’t get the job done.
“The two big recruits of the off-season Taranto and Hopper have gotten to work inside,” Nathan Buckley said.
Jordan Lewis said of Hopper: “He’s been outstanding, in and around the contest, it’s really nullified the Melbourne midfielders … he’s been everywhere.
“His and Taranto’s ability to get from contest to contest and create that outnumber, then allowing them to transition the ball. It’s been been huge.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for Richmond in the end, albeit against a very, very good side.
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