If Christian Petracca isn’t the hottest player in the AFL right now, he’s not far from it.
The powerful ball-winner has been at the forefront of Melbourne’s revival as they chase a third straight win for the first time in almost two years when they take on Brisbane on Sunday.
Petracca is fuelling expectation as he surges into Brownlow Medal reckoning, and coach Simon Goodwin’s message to his star utility is a simple one: Embrace the hype.
“He’s a terrific player and he’s worked incredibly hard on his game,” Goodwin said.
“That doesn’t mean he can’t get better and he is going to get better, and he’s got some more challenges ahead as teams start to put a little bit more time into him.
“But Christian thrives off his ability to perform and ability to handle moments and he’s just developed himself into an exceptional player.”
Goodwin said Melbourne fans had not seen a more “dynamic” player in years and would reap the benefits from the 24-year-old’s ability to push forward and run through the midfield.
“We’ve just got to embrace it as a footy club,” Goodwin said.
“The noise, people see what they see, and they see someone that’s pretty special in contest areas and ability to impact games.
“We’re hoping that we’ll see that for a long time to come.”
Petracca averages 24.5 disposals and a goal per game this season and hasn’t escaped Brisbane’s eye ahead of the Metricon Stadium clash.
But Lions skipper Dayne Zorko is wary of Melbourne’s entire on-ball division as his side prepares for life without first-choice ruckman Stefan Martin, who will miss up to eight weeks with a back injury.
It means back-up Oscar McInerney and youngster Archie Smith will share the monumental task of quelling the influence of three-time All-Australian Max Gawn.
“Gawn’s in fantastic form but their midfielders have been fantastic as well,” Zorko said.
“Petracca, (Jack) Viney, (Clayton) Oliver have all been able to find the ball over the past month, so it’s not just focusing on Gawn.
“It’s going to be a heavy part of what we can do to minimise his impact on the game, but their on-ballers have been superb.
“They’re playing some really good football and we’ve got to be ready for everyone on the park because they’re all in really good touch.”
Melbourne have recalled former captain Nathan Jones to replace Aaron vandenBerg (cheekbone), but left out Tom McDonald and Adam Tomlinson as they strive to find the right team balance.