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Burning questions for 2013: Melbourne

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Can Chris Dawes regain his mojo?

The Collingwood premiership forward had a year to forget in 2012, troubled by injury and confidence issues as he struggled to establish himself under coach Nathan Buckley. With a renewed assurance that he will play as a permanent forward, rather than dabbling in art of relief ruck work, Dawes is hoping to rekindle his form from the first 15 rounds of 2011 when he formed the league's premier forward pairing with Travis Cloke.

Dawes' success depends largely on whether Mitch Clark recovers from the foot injury that ruined the second half of 2012. Clark proved himself an A-grade key forward in his first 10 games at Melbourne and will remain the Demons' prime go-to guy in the forward 50, leaving Dawes to play the second-string tall role that he mastered in 2011. But if Clark goes down again - or heaven forbid, fails to recover from his foot surgery - Dawes will be thrust into the unfamiliar No.1 forward role. That would leave both he and the Demons in uncharted territory.

Are the players and the coach on the same page?

For most of 2012, it was clear that not all the players had "bought in" to Mark Neeld's methods. Reigning club champion Brent Moloney was going through the motions, Cale Morton was played sparingly and the oft-injured Jordan Gysberts got one grudgingly offered game despite being fit for the last six weeks of the season. Melbourne's performances did not speak of a team that was wholly committed to the cause, either. Lapses were both too often and too great; teams in which everyone is pulling in the same direction don't fall apart as often as the Demons did. It was no surprise that a quarter of the list was shipped off at season's end - and some for a bargain price.

Now, Neeld cannot argue that he does not have his own playing group. The dissenters are gone, as are those who did not suit the former Collingwood assistant's vision of football in 2013. Strong bodies, quick feet and minds, and good kicks topped the club's wishlist, while leadership in the form of Dawes, Shannon Byrnes and David Rodan was bought at the trade table. Pre-season training reports suggest the mood is good at AAMI Park - better than it has been for years. If the Demons struggle again this season, it won't be for a lack of effort. The same couldn't be said last year.

Is Jack Viney the messiah?

No, but neither is he a very naughty boy. Much has been made of Todd's son's potential since he committed himself to Melbourne at the end of 2010 and he is a very talented young footballer. But Viney's style of play is not necessarily that of a match-winner. He is a gritty inside midfielder who hunts the ball and his opponent with uncommon fervour. While not slow, pace isn't among his chief assets and his disposal by foot won't leave spectators waxing lyrical. However, he will have an immediate impact on a midfield desperate for good players and together with fellow young mids Jimmy Toumpas, Dom Barry, Josh Tynan and Rory Taggert, Melbourne can expect a significantly different output from an engine room that misfired too often in 2012.

Is Aaron Davey done and dusted?

Any player with Davey's experience and sublime kick should be able to hold a place in an AFL team, with one important caveat - they must be able to remain fit. Achilles and ankle problems have robbed the player nicknamed 'Flash' of the blinding pace that gave him his moniker. Without it, he has had to change his approach - a difficult task when it was such an important part of his game. Davey was never a strong overhead mark, or able to break tackles, or confident about putting his body on the line. Now, at least some of those traits must become key parts of his contribution given his declining speed. Davey appears to be in good nick heading into 2013 and he remains one of the smarter players on Melbourne's list with plenty still to offer the side. He just has to work out how - and he only has one more season left to do it.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.

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