Alex Neal-Bullen and Jake Melksham. (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Alex Neal-Bullen and Jake Melksham. (Photo by Scott Barbour/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Picture of efficiency: The surprise Dee among AFL’s best

WHEN Melbourne officially confirmed its interest in Jake Melksham in 2015, it received mixed reviews, to say the least.

Melksham had a reputation as a flaky player - one who could rack up plenty of the ball, kick winning goals and take games by the scruff of the neck, but also one who had games where he was barely sighted bar a few turnovers.

So the decision to pay up pick 25 for his services shaped as an interesting one.

It didn't help that he spent his first year in red and blue on the sidelines, missing the entire season as one of the suspended Essendon 34.

Last year, he started the season in defence, while also spending time on run-with roles through the midfield. But after a difficult opening month, Melksham was dropped.

Upon his return, he started spending time up forward, and repaid the faith, booting 21 goals across his final 12 games. He didn't go goalless once in that time.

"I have been played in a few certain roles in my career to date," Melksham said on Monday.

"But it came probably halfway through last year, Goody just threw me forward in one game and I looked dangerous and I've sort of stayed there since.

"And I've really enjoyed it, it's given me the freedom that I sort of haven't had before.

"I've always been worried about my opponent getting a kick or trying to stop someone so it's been quite good having the roles reversed."

Jake Melksham. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Jake Melksham. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

This year, Melksham has been deployed as a permanent forward.

And it's paid dividends, big time.

While Melksham had a shaky start to the year goal-kicking wise, kicking seven behinds and no goals in the opening four rounds, there were promising signs in Melbourne's Round 5 loss to Richmond.

In that game, Melksham was a shining light, booting four goals from 10 disposals. A week later, he chipped in with two classy majors against old side Essendon.

"He doesn't (get much of it but) he makes the most of the opportunities and those sorts of guys are valuable because they're never out of a game," Tom McDonald said after Melbourne's win over Essendon.

"They can be quiet for three quarters and then just pop up. And he doesn't waste opportunities. He kicks goals from 50 so he's an efficient player."

Now, as part of a mobile, versatile forward line, Melksham has booted 12 goals in nine games, while averaging 15.4 disposals, seven score involvements, four marks, 4.6 inside-50s and 1.4 marks inside-50 per game.

Jake Melksham. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Jake Melksham. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Melksham also leads the AFL for goal assists, with 14.

Across his past two weeks alone, he's averaged 21 touches, three goals, three goal assists and seven inside-50s.

On Sunday, against Carlton, Melksham offered his biggest contribution yet, booting a career-high five goals to lead the Demons to their first 100+ point win since 2004.

Melksham also collected 21 disposals, had three goal assists and recorded a further four inside-50s.

According to the AFL Player Ratings, it was a career-best game, with his 40.4 rating points ranking him No. 1 in the Blues-Demons clash. It was also one of the five best-ranked games since 2010, according to those same rankings.

Those ratings also show he's in career-best form. Melksham is ranked 3rd in the AFL (of 367 players) for his average form (20.9) over the past month. For the record, teammates Max Gawn (21.8) and Alex Neal-Bullen (14.8) are ranked 2nd and 41st respectively, while Angus Brayshaw (14.0) is ranked 56th.

In recent weeks, Melksham has also showcased his ability to kick difficult goals at clutch times.

The 26-year-old says he drew on his experience playing in attack in his younger days, while a steadily growing confidence has made things easier.

"When I was a junior I played a bit of forward and I played quite a bit of forward or mid at Essendon as well but it was a lot more defensive stuff," Melksham said.

"It's funny how I've suddenly started kicking goals the last couple of years but once you get a sniff at it you start to work on your craft and my goal kicking set shots have been decent last year and you just build on that and your confidence grows and you go from there.

"So things have changed a little bit but I was a goal kicker when I was a junior."

But most importantly, Melksham is playing a part in a Demons forward line that is full of players capable of contributing to a winning score.

Against Carlton, Tom McDonald (four goals), Alex Neal-Bullen (four goals), Bayley Fritsch (two goals) and Mitch Hannan (two) also troubled the scorers on multiple occasions.

Alex Neal-Bullen. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Alex Neal-Bullen. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

This season, Jesse Hogan (21 goals), McDonald (13 goals), Melksham (12) and Neal-Bullen (11) have all hit double figures, while Fritsch (nine), Hannan (nine), the out-of-favour Jeff Garlett (nine) and Max Gawn (seven) also offering big contributions.

It's the type of mix that has the Demons poised nicely approaching the halfway mark of the season.

"That to me has been the best thing to come out of this," Hawthorn great Jason Dunstall said.

"When you look at the performances of (James) Harmes, Melksham and Neal-Bullen, they're the peripheral players, your depth players that are starting to take bigger roles.

"That makes them a powerful team, they get momentum and I reckon they're ready to take on one of the top teams now."

And based on current form, you can be sure Melksham will be right in the thick of things.