Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn are both in top form.
It might be the last contest in a contest left in football, but it’s shaping as a titanic one. Melbourne, having won six in a row, and Collingwood, who have seven wins from their last nine games, square off at the MCG on Queen’s Birthday Monday in front of what Magpies captain Scott Pendlebury hopes is a crowd of more than 90,000.
The occasion is all the bigger for the sides’ respective form, which has led the Demons to third on the ladder, and the Pies’ seventh. Then there is the fourth instalment of the Big Freeze, with all 18 senior coaches this year sliding into an icy pool of water at the 'G to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease research, a cause led inspirationally by former Dees coach Neale Daniher.
For all that there are no official championship belts up for grabs. Unofficially is another matter. After an injury-riddled 2017, Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn is firing, with the 2016 All-Australian big man among the favourites for this year’s Brownlow medal. His Magpie counterpart Brodie Grundy is also enjoying a stellar campaign, setting the scene for an enthralling duel on Monday.
“It’s probably the No. 1 versus No. 2 ruckman in the comp. It’s an exciting battle,” Pendlebury said on Thursday.
“The ruckmen do have a legitimate contest. Forwards these days rotate so heavily through the midfield, defenders pick up certain guys depending on where they go. Brodie versus Gawny will be a legitimate fight for that crown so to speak.
“We all know that I’ve got Brodie at [number] 1.”
Dees co-captain Nathan Jones agreed it was a compelling match-up.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Maxy versus Grundy and I think it’s going to be an exciting battle for our midfield group as well. I think both teams have got some depth in there,” he said.
Jones, who played his 250th games last weekend, hasn’t played in a final since 2006, and had never won five straight games until the win over Adelaide a fortnight ago.
He said Monday’s blockbuster was "definitely" the most significant meeting of the clubs in his 13 seasons in the AFL.
“When you look at the form of both teams that obviously creates more excitement around the game, and then you add that next layer that’s been in there over the last three or four years with Big Freeze, and particularly with the coaches heading down the slide this year, I think this one’s going to be a special one," Jones said.
“It should be an awesome day, and I think something that both teams that are young, up and coming, trying to gain experience on the biggest stage, will really relish that opportunity come Monday.”
Both ruckmen are firmly in All-Australian calculations.
The occasion has extra significance for Jones, whose grandfather George died from MND.
The Demons will have to make do without star defender Jake Lever for the rest of the season following his season-ending knee injury sustained against the Western Bulldogs.
Jones said it was a bitter blow for player and club, but said Melbourne were better placed than previously to cope without Lever given their improved depth. Jones said "four or five" players could fill Lever's spot.
“First and foremost we were pretty shattered and disappointed, and I guess heartbroken to a certain degree, because he’d sort of found some real form over the last five weeks," Jones said.
"Footy’s tough. It’s brutal at times, but you’ve got to be able to move on quickly and I think we’ve done that this week.”
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