Round 5: Peak North Melbourne

Whenever you wonder how North wants to play, how it wants to move the ball and how it wants to defend, roll the tape of the first half against Hawthorn on Sunday.

20 scoring shots to three at half time. They’re supposed to be video game numbers, not what you produce against a side which has had your number for the better part of the decade.


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North saw a vulnerability and attacked it ruthlessly in the first half. For the Hawks’ good form in 2018, there has been the ability to score on them in waves – Geelong and Richmond both cracked the century, while Melbourne kicked 5.5 in the first quarter before it forgot how to football.

So the evidence was there North could score if it earned the opportunities. Now, down the other end there is usually the high-pressure stylings of Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo to rush disposal and force turnovers. No disrespect to Ryan Burton and James Cousins, but they ain’t Rioli and Puopolo.

It meant North had an opening to possess the ball in the back half and control the tempo, knowing they wouldn’t experience the same Hawthorn pressure it was accustomed to. The general equation looked like this:

– Prevent Hawthorn winning clean ball around the source
– Force any inside 50 entries to be slow and preferably from a long kick
– Use the aerial dominance to win possession
– Patiently move the Hawthorn defence around when in possession
– Find the opening in the zone
– Profit

The benefit of the triple talls down back – Majak Daw, Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson – become evident when North pressures well up the field. If a side is going slowly inside 50 against those three, when will they be out-marked?


When North had the ball, it was +22 in uncontested marks in the first half, an extraordinary number given Hawthorn’s love of doing the exact same to its opposition. Offensively, it had the obvious benefit of controlling the ball, but it helped just as much defensively. Because everything was measured, if there was a turnover it wasn’t as if Hawthorn had half a dozen players waiting to stroll into goal. Watch this passage of play:


None of those kicks are risky – even the worst case scenario for the entry inside 50 is a boundary throw in 20 metres out from your goal. If it did come to that, you rely on your forward pressure to lock the ball in and generate a scoring shot in that fashion.


I’m very excited for the extra post from yesterday’s win, which will come later today. It’s about coaching, Todd Goldstein, Tom Mitchell and exploiting tendencies. Think of it as a Part 2 to the ‘What happens at centre bounces’ post we had a few weeks ago between JLT 2 and Round 1. Stay tuned!

Update: You can check out the post right here


It was the forward pressure which gave Hawthorn zero time on the ball in the first half and no way to move the ball smoothly out of its back half. This would change after half time as Clarkson made some adjustments, combined with the slightest drop off in intensity from North.

Clichés are clichés because they happen often, and all the cliché talk about only needing to be a fraction off to suffer consequences was on display in the third quarter. North was slower in setting up behind the ball; combine it with Hawthorn looking to move the ball so much quicker by foot and what you had was the Hawks getting into the corridor too easily and generating scoring opportunities.


Hawthorn’s initial spurt – before the double concussion – consisted of two quick snaps and a free kick set shot, so it wasn’t as if everything completely broke down straight away, but there were signs. The stoppage in play allowed North to regroup and break even for the next few minutes, but as the third term drew to a close you could see the run disappearing at a rapid rate.

It felt like close to a 50-50 game at the final break; North’s 27-point lead negated by the two-man disadvantage and Hawthorn’s significant momentum.

In the first 6:30 of game time in the last quarter, Hawthorn had approximately 117% time in forward half, but it was in this period where North’s defensive setup was so important. The Hawks generated a total of:

– One Jarman Impey shot rushed through comfortably by Tarrant
– One Liam Shiels set shot from 40 metres out on a 45-degree angle which missed
– A Jack Gunston goal after a preventable Billy Hartung turnover

Nothing came easy, and its draining on a side to keep pushing and get so little in return. North fans will remember a final quarter against St Kilda in 2011 when we had what felt like 600 inside 50’s, and the Saints couldn’t get the ball out of their back half for minutes at a time. But because there was no return on effort, North was out of ideas by the end and resorted to just bombing it in there time and time again.

A 50-metre penalty against Howe shortly after the Gunston goal acted as a circuit breaker for some of Hawthorn’s momentum, coupled with a renewed final push from North to control the tempo. The Hawks had four inside 50’s between Gunston’s goal and when Zurhaar kicked the sealer with 5:40 to go. Here’s how they went:

– Thompson intercept mark
– Tarrant intercept mark
– Tarrant spoil (and Thompson free at ground level)
– Jacobs spoil out of bounds

To hold a side to only three (non-junk time) scoring shots in a final quarter they started with all the momentum, all while two men short on the bench, is almost herculean.

It makes for a 3-2 record after five matches, with statistically speaking the best defence in the league. It’s a handy confidence boost for the structures which have been set up, and gives the players a positive mindset in times of struggle that what they’re doing will work if they do it right.

Next up is Port Adelaide on Saturday afternoon at Etihad Stadium. You’d imagine there’ll be a couple of changes after Higgins’ and Vickers-Willis’ concussions, and it’s a shame Lindsay Thomas won’t be available to play after his adventures at Adelaide Oval. He deserved a good reception from North fans for all he contributed to the club.

4 thoughts on “Round 5: Peak North Melbourne

  1. One last comment. Jacobs owned Mitchell, but also got a lot of it himself. He often seems to surprise himself when he gets the footy, so I think, he is not a great user of the ball. But that’s not his job. How might the second half of 2016 gone, had he stayed fit….

  2. Wow, what a game. We were on the ground level among the hawks supporters. That was fun. It was very silent for the first half. Majak continues to improve, and clearly he belongs down back. Masterstroke offering Scott D another year, this is probably his best form since being AA. I really liked Zurhaar’s game. Not sure if he will go for a week, he did bump him on the playing field. I see that Ahern and Neilsen were best afield in the VFL, so they might be like for like swaps for Higgins and EVW.

    I watched Turner more closely this week, gee I can see what people are talking about.

    1. Kayne’s been great the last two weeks, you can tell the difference he adds when he’s up and about with his pressure. Add Zurhaar to the mix, and hopefully Garner in a couple of weeks and it looks good.

      1. Yes, I almost had a line through him, as he wasn’t delivering on the scoreboard. That side of his game seems to have faded a little. Jed was fantastic, again. Going to be interesting to see how he goes against port’s midfield.

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