Is a Luke Hodge-style Jack Riewoldt retirement just what Melbourne needs?

“We need to maximize our ability to use the ball in front of the middle and have a greater impact on the scoreboard.

“We leave the door open too often. This is an area where we need to improve. This is a vulnerability. We raised our hand for this.”

Sound familiar? That was Simon Goodwin.

Not this year, but last year – after Melbourne lost to Brisbane in an MCG semi-final.

“Obviously there was a pattern throughout the year in the issues we faced,” he continued.

“We will unpack all of this as a club. We’ve been trying to address the issue on the run throughout the season… but in the finale, your vulnerabilities are discovered once again. And if they are not corrected, they will continue to find you.

“We need to go away and fix the problem.”

Melbourne had 29 shots on goal but lost by 13 points to the Lions last September.

Against Carlton on Friday night, the Dees mustered 26 shots to 18, only to lose that one too.

The cold reality is that they didn’t “go away to fix the problem.” The problems that persist in 2022 will persist in 2023.

Melbourne’s problems weren’t just execution or the lack of a crucial striker. The star-studded midfield should bear some blame, but no more.

No, for some time now the Demons’ problems have come down to a combination of all of these factors: personnel, panicked execution and poor connection between on-ballers and forwards.

Put them in a melting pot and what do you get? Consecutive eliminations in the finals.

“Ultimately it was just our efficiency with the ball that cost us,” Goodwin said Friday night.

“We failed to do that twice in the final, so we need to get better at that. We will work on it.

“What I can guarantee our fans is that we will continue to find ways to get better… we will be a club that strives to get better.”

As Melbourne discovered in last year’s trading period, it is one thing to say you will improve, but another to do it.

Lachie Hunter and Jacob van Rooyen of the Demons celebrate a goal.

Lachie Hunter and Jacob van Rooyen of the Demons celebrate a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

There were strikers available – Jack Gunston went to Brisbane, Dan McStay ended up at Collingwood and Rory Lobb eventually joined the Western Bulldogs – but Melbourne opted to hitch their $600,000 wagon to Brodie Grundy instead.

The Demons can rely on Jacob van Rooyen to enjoy a great summer or Harrison Petty to continue his development as a forward. They might even hope that Tom McDonald regains the form he showed in 2021 as an athletic, big attacking player.

But they have to be braver. Think outside the box: Just like Grundy, only better. Grundy didn’t work, but I don’t blame Melbourne for trying something different.

Certainly, if you are in the middle of the phase in which a premiership should take place, you must aggressively and uncompromisingly look for solutions for the present. Another flag with the current group is all that really matters: replenish the roster, yes, but focus on 2024.

Melbourne could wait 12 months and face Oscar Allen, Aaron Naughton, Ben King, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan or Logan McDonald this time next year.

Even if everyone is out of contract at the end of 2024, there is no guarantee anyone will heed the Demons’ call, let alone agree to a move.

And the reality is that Melbourne has to be better by then anyway. Waiting twelve months could mean wasting another year.

Another option for them is to put together a bunch of top 2023 draft picks — say picks 5, 15, 24 and whatever they get for Grundy — and offer them to West Coast for Allen.

Knowing their only missing piece is a weapon key for the forward, they could try to get Allen out in a deal the rebuilding Eagles couldn’t refuse.

If this fails, what is left – apart from organic, internal growth?

Two players: Tom Hawkins and Jack Riewoldt.

Jack Riewoldt from the Tigers celebrates a goal

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Riewoldt has retired while Hawkins has not yet re-signed with Geelong.

I know they’re both long-shot attempts, but if you’re really in the mood to win the Premier League, then why not pop the question?

Luke Hodge retired and then continued playing in Brisbane. Why couldn’t Riewoldt?

The three-time Premier League winner was a smart footballer until the end. Yes, he had faded athletically.

But at 35 in 2024, in a worst-case scenario, he would help teach Petty, van Rooyen and Fritsch the craft of a striker. At best, he would be a target himself.

He would fix Melbourne. Tasmania could wait another year.

Don’t think Riewoldt is the right option? Don’t worry – I understand. Maybe he isn’t. So what about Hawkins?

Put the Geelong vibes aside for a moment. He’s exactly what the Demons need: a strong body who can be on top most of the time and really kick.

Maybe he never wants to leave the cats. But who could have predicted that Sam Mitchell would spend a year on the West Coast? Or should Doug Hawkins spend a year at Fitzroy?

Their legacy will not be tarnished at all by a second club, nor will Hodge’s. They will be remembered as Hawthorn and Bulldogs champions, just as Riewoldt and Hawkins will be remembered for their achievements with the Tigers and Cats, even if they played a year with the Demons.

Even if the answer is a resounding no, Melbourne should explore all options. It costs nothing to ask the question.

In 12 months Hawkins could take on a coaching role and continue to support the development of van Rooyen and Co. By then, Melbourne could have a better look at King, Naughton, Allen or other key forwards testing the market. Van Rooyen could even be poised to become Goodwin’s No. 1 target.

And time is of the essence – by the beginning of next year, Max Gawn and Steven May will be 32 and Christian Petracca will be 28. Jack Viney is a warrior, but he turns 30 in April.

Two things can be true at the same time: They all still have good football left in them, but the clock on their careers is still ticking.

“I’m not necessarily saying the window is closed for them, but their time is running out,” retired Demon Nathan Jones said on Seven after Friday night’s defeat.

“Gawn gets a little older, Petracca and Oliver, and then where’s the next layer of talent?”

Regardless of which approach you think is most promising, the Demons are in dire need of a refocused forward setup.

There are no easy solutions here, but there are possibilities.

It is up to Melbourne to explore each and every one of them. Is a Luke Hodge-style Jack Riewoldt retirement just what Melbourne needs?

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