What do you look for while you’re watching a pre-season game?
The result is irrelevant unless it’s embarrassing, ala 1993 in Adelaide. An extended match day squad and no interchange cap makes it next to impossible to determine rotations, and the individual game time isn’t something which will carry over to the regular season.
With that in mind, you’re left with a handful of trends and individuals to keep an eye on. A great way to start is to look at small things and then attempt to identify what that means in the bigger picture.
Let’s start with an individual – Ben Jacobs. The midfield is likely going to look different from quarter to quarter in 2018, let alone game to game as the aim is to regenerate the mix over the year. Having Jacobs in there as the constant not only opens plenty of possibilities for the remaining midfielders; it gives them much more room to play their own games.
His time on Clayton Oliver on Saturday was limited to just the first quarter, the coaching staff likely looking ahead to the Round 3 matchup and not wanting Oliver to be exposed to the tag for too long on an afternoon where the result was inconsequential. Jacobs kept Oliver to just two disposals before moving onto a series of other matchups and by the looks of it, getting through the afternoon unharmed.
Arguably the most important part of having Jacobs on the best opposition ball winner is that it allows the remaining midfielders around the stoppage to concentrate on a task more in their wheelhouse.
Ziebell, Cunnington, Higgins, Dumont, the youngsters – asking them to contain the likes of Oliver, Dustin Martin, Dangerfield, Pendlebury and company – it’s not putting them in the best possible position to succeed, which is obviously the main goal you’re looking for when you’re setting up your side. We’ll track it more together and go in-depth as the year progresses.
Moving away from the individual, on to two team structure areas which are no doubt going to be a main point of focus.
Firstly, stopping the ‘45’. Every team looks for it when they’re on a flank and coming off half back. It’s a simple short pass on a 45-degree angle into the corridor, hence the name ‘45’.
On too many occasions Melbourne was able to find that pass, which frees up the whole ground. When you have uncontested possession from essentially the centre circle looking forward, the options are plentiful and it’s so hard for the defenders to cope with the supply coming in – even more so when you’re experimenting down back as North was on Saturday.
Here’s one example of many:
From Nathan Jones, it went directly to Bayley Fritsch, who found Tomas Bugg inside 50 and then to James Harmes for a set shot 20 out, directly in front. A variation of the above happened too frequently for North’s liking, and it led to a Melbourne shot chart as you see below, via the Footy Live app. Again, it’s something to keep an eye on as we progress through the JLT and into Round 1.
Finishing up, let’s look at why winning clean contested possession is so important.
In today’s game, with waves of pressure and huge numbers pushing the ball forward like a rugby scrum, being clean under pressure – especially with hands – is shaping as the most important way to stem the tide.
If you’re not clean, it’s a snap of the fingers and you’re conceded possession, chasing in vain as opposition numbers stream away from you. Example number one comes from the first quarter, when North had first hands from a centre bounce but was swarmed quickly and lost possession. Here is a screenshot moments after losing possession:
Example number two comes from early in the last quarter and illustrates the significance of being clean. You can see Bugg in the centre square, already floating forward even though it’s Vickers-Willis who’s in possession momentarily, and a number of North midfielders ready to receive the handball over the top.
Instead Petracca does some excellent work to smother the handball, and all of a sudden Melbourne is off to the races.
This isn’t intended as a knock on Vickers-Willis, it’s a look at how structures in the current game are set up. If your skills are good enough to overcome pressure, you’re a step ahead. However, that’s easier said than done, as we’ll be able to watch in JLT 2 against Richmond at Ikon Park on March 7.
Until next time.
For those of you stumbling across this blog, a quick backstory on how it came to be and what to expect from it.
This is its second iteration; the original form was way back in 2011. Largely from the blog I was fortunate enough to earn a job at North Melbourne from 2012 until halfway through 2017 as part of the media crew, largely running the social media channels and writing a lot of the content for the website.
It’ll mean from time to time on here you’ll have insights from my time at the club, and how that influences what I’m writing.
Overall, my goal here is for you to finish every post feeling like you’ve learned something. Even when you disagree with me – which, let’s be honest, will happen often because we’re talking about football – hopefully this at least makes you think about the opposing viewpoint and how it’s come to be.
And of course, I’m more than open to suggestions and requests for posts. No doubt there’ll be questions out there about happenings that were normal to me on the ‘inside’ but would be news to others. Although come to think of it, maybe someone can explain why wearing an orange Flyers jumper is newsworthy.