The battle sets up a game within a game, with Gawn used to shouldering the load as Melbourne take him into a match once again to virtually play a lone hand.
In the same round last season Gawn’s treatment at the hands of Port Adelaide made headlines when Power recruit Scott Lycett, who played in the Eagles’ 2018 premiership, and his Port teammates buffeted the likeable 208-centimetre ruckman at every turn.
The tactic replicated what West Coast pair Nathan Vardy and Lycett had done in the 2018 preliminary final at Optus Stadium when they blanketed Gawn, restricting him to just 11 disposals in a season when he was so dominant he earned 20 Brownlow votes.
Gawn said, despite people remembering those two matches, he was used to being targeted and would continue to rise above the attention as he has in the past.
“It must not have looked like I coped very well because we lost and my numbers were bad,” Gawn said.
“I am very prepared for it. It happens a lot. Lycett and Vardy played a very negative role that day and did their job really well and then again Port Adelaide last year, when Lycett rucked round one, they thought it was a chance to do the same thing again.”
He also suspects that on Sunday such negative tactics are more likely to be employed against Naitanui than by the high-leaping, free spirited 29-year-old.
“I think Goody [Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin] might be tapping me on the shoulder and tell me to go to him,” Gawn said.
The coach won’t be telling Gawn to go to Vardy however as the West Coast have selected Tom Hickey as Naitanui’s back-up. That’s disappointing because the Demon would not have minded the chance to get even with the former Cat, who played in a flag with the Eagles.
Although he says he moved on quickly from the unsportsmanlike (and uncool) spray Vardy delivered when his teammate Liam Ryan took a screamer over Gawn in the goal square under lights last year, there is no doubt he wants to perform well at Optus Stadium even if there is no crowd to watch.
“I said straight after that anything that happens in the game happens in a game. I was a little bit angry at the time but I get over things pretty quickly,” Gawn said.
What he can’t get over is getting no reward for playing a key role in “Flyin’ Ryan” winning mark of the year.
“I think Liam Ryan actually owes me half of a TV because I did put in a fair act for that mark. I got horizontal so I am a little bit disappointed I did not get half a TV,” Gawn said.
He’s joking, as is often the way with Gawn, but when he runs out against West Coast on Sunday for the last game of this historical round he will be all business.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.