For those who missed last week’s preview, the plan for this is to ask five questions, track them during the game and then answer them in our review the morning after.
We can actually do it this week, because it won’t rain, we’re not playing in a swimming pool, same thing I’ve typed 50 times in the last few days, etc.
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Can North hold its defensive shape?
Talking about defensive shape is something I’d expect to use when talking about a game of soccer, but here we are.
In yesterday’s look at St Kilda, we briefly touched on how the Saints like to move the ball after they win it in a contest.
It was a real problem for North last season in Round 12, and it was almost like a broken record watching the same thing happen time and time again. The Roos players kept getting drawn into the contest and the Saints kept their extra players out of the contest. Then once the Saints won the ball, they’d flick it out to their wide, wide open teammates and off to the races they went. One clip of many:
It caused a chain reaction as the defenders saw what was happening and attempted to cover for those mistakes further up the field, and eventually the result was St Kilda having an overlap within range of goal. Surprisingly, it didn’t end well for North.
It takes discipline to snap out of the ‘see-ball, get-ball’ mentality because, quite simply, it’s a player’s natural instincts. But it’s what separates teams and North’s on-ball unit will have to follow instructions today.
For a more detailed look at the ball movement St Kilda wants to use, take a look at this Twitter thread from someone you really should be following for any AFL analysis. (Not me, just for the record)
How will North use the ball?
With an unchanged line-up from the season opener, it means Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite are the marking forwards – depending on what the decision is for Jack Ziebell’s role.
I can’t imagine Ziebell will be a permanent forward, which will leave North with only two marking players down there at times.
This is a roundabout way of getting to my concern of the matchup for Dylan Roberton. In recent times he’s been relatively quiet against North because he’s had to play against a forward who can hit the scoreboard and he’s had to forego his offensive capabilities.
What happens when there’s no third tall down there to make Roberton accountable? Is he going to be free to roam and cut off forward 50 entries at will?
Can St Kilda momentum be halted in-quarter?
Think about recent North Melbourne matches you’ve watched where the opposition has had the momentum turned around inside a quarter. It’s hard to think of many – just as hard as it is to actually change momentum on the field.
Last week we saw moves made at half time which had their desired effect in the third quarter. Now the coaching staff has that up their sleeve to deploy immediately, it’ll be intriguing to see whether that is their go-to in a tight spot, or whether other options are tried in an attempt to build up a variety of choices over the course of 2018.
Will the structure hold up across four quarters?
In the wash from last week in Cairns, we looked at how the work rate fell at times, and as a result the stoppage structure fell to pieces.
Structure and work rate are often linked together. For example, you can’t outnumber your opposition around the ball if your midfielders don’t have the capability to drag themselves from contest to contest.
The issue at Etihad Stadium compared to Cairns is the margin for error being thinner than other grounds because it’s a faster track and perfect conditions for football. A quarter like the second or fourth against Gold Coast and the end result is going to be seven or eight goals plus for St Kilda and the game will be over.
What will the crowd be?
My guess: 40,094. Hopefully I’m way under.
Fingers crossed for an entertaining game and a positive result. We’ll be back on The Shinboner on Saturday morning with a look at how it all unfolded.