Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning question following Melbourne's triumph in the 2021 Grand Final.
Will Melbourne become the AFL's next dynasty team?
Rohan Connolly: We seem to suggest this with any premiership side now, probably fair enough seeing Geelong, Hawthorn and Richmond all delivered one over the past 15 years or so. Melbourne's list ranked sixth for age this year and seventh for games experience, and its premiership 23 had an average age of 24 years 306 days, the youngest flag side since the Bulldogs in 2016. That could suggest either they have the time they need to build an era, or that their youth might make it harder (as it did for the Doggies). The talent's there to do it, no doubt. But in this incredibly even competition, you need a lot of fortune as well. I'd say the odds are still against it.
Jake Michaels: I'm going to hold fire here. The Dees had a sensational season and a brilliant finals campaign to break their premiership drought but I'm not prepared to call them a future dynasty team. Not yet, anyway. We tend to get far too ahead of ourselves with these types of labels and don't consider how difficult it is to not only win a flag, but back up year after year. Remember all those nuffies who thought the Giants would win five flags in a row? Where's that 'shaking my head' emoji...
Matt Walsh: We've seen a few dynasty sides since the turn of the millennium, but given the equalisation measures in place with the league, it's unlikely. It's also very, very hard to win a flag - just ask Chris Scott and Geelong! The fact that Richmond was able to win three in four years is remarkable, so if the league transitions from one dominant team to another in the space of a year, I'd be really surprised - as promising as the Dees look.
Jarryd Barca: There's no doubt labelling Melbourne the next dynasty team is premature, but there's clear merit in the suggestion. They were the most complete side this season, finding ways to win games when they seemed dead and buried, as top tier teams do, and they have hardly a weakness from defence to attack. Eight of Simon Goodwin's premiership players aged 21 or under on the weekend, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca just 24 and 25, respectively; yeah, these Demons are going to be around for a while.
Is Christian Petracca now the best player in the league?
RC: Not on the basis of one (admittedly spectacular) Grand Final performance, or even two full seasons for that matter. That's no disrespect to him at all, but the likes of Dustin Martin, Nat Fyfe, even Marcus Bontempelli, have been producing at that level for longer. Another year or two at the sort of level he's at now and I'd make the comparison. Having said that, though, even at this stage he's probably at worst in the top half-dozen. And he's still only 25. Plenty of time for him to stamp his name as one of the best of all time.
JM: Call it recency bias but I really think he has taken the unofficial title of the AFL's best player from Dustin Martin. Not only was his performance in the Grand Final the greatest we've ever seen (yes, Champion Data agrees) but his whole year was sensational, averaging 29 disposals, six clearances, seven inside 50s and over a goal per game. Martin and Patrick Dangerfield are the only players as destructive as Petracca, but the Melbourne bull is considerably younger than both and only getting better. He will enter the 2022 season as arguably the competition's No. 1 player. By the end of the year, you won't be able to argue it.
MW: He played possibly the best Grand Final performance I've seen. It was the complete game, and that's no disrespect to three-time Norm Smith medallist Dustin Martin. He's explosive, damaging, and hits the scoreboard. But like Rohan, part of being labelled 'the best' comes down to longevity and consistency. He's well on his way.
JB: In no way is this a knee jerk reaction to a phenomenal Grand Final, outstanding finals series and an all-round consistent season, but I think Petracca is right now the best player in the game. Now before everyone makes a mountain out of a molehill - who has had a better career? Dusty. Who has accomplished more? Dusty. But If you were picking a team today to play tomorrow, you're picking CP first and anyone else would be the wrong decision.
What do the Bulldogs need to do to go one step better in 2022?
RC: Not much at all, really. The No. 1 priority would probably be at least one more key defender, as the reliance upon Alex Keath was heavy, and you do need to ask whether the likes of Zaine Cordy and Ryan Gardner are good enough against quality opposition. It's time for Jordon Sweet to have a real crack at the ruck, as valiant as were the efforts of Stefan Martin in supporting Tim English. And the forward set-up can improve, and probably will as Jamarra Ugle-Hagan gets more experience and Josh Bruce returns. Even then, the Dogs were the No. 2 ranked team for scores this year. They'll give the flag a serious crack again in 2022, I think.
JM: Let's be honest, the Dogs could very easily be holding the premiership cup right now and were clearly one of the two best sides throughout the whole season. With that said, I don't think they need to do too much. Luke Beveridge's side is still relatively young, they will welcome back key forward Bruce and we all know how much midfield depth they have. But to go from an A-grade team to A+, they probably need to find another key defender to assist Keath. At times they looked incredibly vulnerable in the backline and compared to, say the Dees, they are lacking significantly.
MW: They need to start playing Ugle-Hagan. We know how deep the midfield bats -- and another year into English will be good, though his bonafides as a No. 1 ruck is still in doubt -- but another forward to support Aaron Naughton (who works up the field really well) and Josh Bruce (who'll be out for most on 2022) would be much appreciated. Their defence was second only to the Dees in 2021, so we know that system holds up pretty well against most opponents. Sam Darcy is an interesting prospect, too. They have options - which is good.
JB: It's not back to the drawing board completely, but I think they can do worse than bolster their tall timber stocks. We know how deep their midfield bats - it's stacked, and I think they have the right mix of dangerous forwards and small/medium defenders, but it's obvious their key pillars need some help across the field. A developing Ugle-Hagan, the inevitable drafting of Darcy and a hopefully early return for Bruce covers the forward 50, but with Easton Wood -- who has for years now played taller than he is -- at 32, the Dogs need to rely on Keath and Cordy to stay healthy to compete again. Do they give Daniel Talia's management a call? Is Peter Ladhams the help English needs when when Martin hangs 'em up? Those questions do need to be asked.
Are we convinced a night Grand Final is the way to go?
RC: I'm certainly not. On what basis? Some fireworks and whizz-bang lighting? Unless you're a TV executive, why would you care how much higher the ratings might be for a night game? I love the rituals and tradition that surround Grand Final day, I hate the long wait for the game, and I don't like the rush to wrap it all up once it's over. I've always thought there's something particularly romantic about the last rays of sunlight setting on the "G" as the winning teams does its lap of honour and we bid farewell to another season. And given it seems every other major sport has its biggest fixture at night, how about retaining an important point of difference for ours?
JM: I've always said I prefer sport at night to sport during the day, and the AFL Grand Final is no exception. But I must say, waiting around for the game to start is a tad annoying. Maybe a proper twilight start (I'm thinking on the east coast) is a happy medium.
Is Melbourne's Oliver-Petracca combo the best 1-2 punch in the AFL?
ESPN's Jake Michaels believes the Demons' heavy-hitting midfield duo of Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca is the best combo in the league by some distance.
MW: Nah. Many of the names on social media hailing it as a success had obvious agendas, and from my perspective -- and the many I've polled (admittedly, also on social media!) -- a 2.30pm or 3.20pm bounce is the way to go. Why copy other codes and ideas now?
JB: Not so much, I prefer footy during the day. Having to wait hours and hours before the first bounce was absolute torture on the weekend, admittedly though being in lockdown doesn't help. The word out of Optus Stadium was that it was a brilliant spectacle, and coupling that with the commercial importance of TV ratings, I think we should be bracing for a twilight start next year. I can cop that. But the game and its players are more important than pre-game or half time entertainment, so back to 2:30pm, please.