Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin has talked up a growing rivalry with the Western Bulldogs before their monster grand final rematch to open the AFL season.
The Demons enter Wednesday’s blockbuster at the MCG with bragging rights after breaking their 57-year premiership drought last September.
Luke Beveridge’s Bulldogs have had all summer to stew on how a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter of the grand final turned into a 74-point loss.
The Demons and the Bulldogs entering the 2022 campaign as the top-ranked teams is a far cry from the days when the clubs battled for relevancy on and off the field.
The Bulldogs only broke their own premiership drought in 2016, when they ended a 62-year barren spell to claim the club’s second flag.
Goodwin is excited about Melbourne unfurling the flag in front of a crowd of up to 80,000, which would be the largest attendance for a football game in Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both teams are expected to come at each other hard in a fiery affair.
“I think that’s what rivals do with each other,” Goodwin said.
“We had three cracking contests last year, and there’s a rivalry that’s starting to build so it’s going to be another cracking game.
“It’s going to be a special night (with all the premiership celebrations) but as a playing group we can’t focus on that, we’ve got to focus on playing a really good footy team.”
Bulldogs coach Beveridge conceded there could be added spice in the contest than a regular home-and-away game.
“It will be up to the players,” he said.
“There’s no doubt the boys have said there’s a healthy rivalry, and it’s good for the competition, great for both clubs being in the spotlight.
“Most (of the spice) will be generated by the playing groups, I’d say, but they’ll want to frank their successes and start the year well.”
Demons veteran Michael Hibberd (calf) has been ruled out of the game, joining fellow flag defenders Trent Rivers (knee) and Harrison Petty (calf) on the sidelines.
Petty stepped up in magnificent fashion last season when replacing Adam Tomlinson in the back-six.
But Tomlinson has recovered from his ACL injury and will likely return to the field, less than 10 months after suffering the devastating blow.
“(Tomlinson) is just a really special individual,” Goodwin said.
“It’s actually quite an incredible story.
“He’s come back within eight months and into full training and playing games of footy and he’s nine months in.”
The Bulldogs will be able to call on key defender Alex Keath, who pulled up well after a concerning knock to his shin in the club’s final pre-season game.