For the second consecutive week, Sydney will be without Lance Franklin and Dan Hannebery.
Handily for North Melbourne, this means there shouldn’t – shouldn’t – be any element of surprise in how the Swans play at the SCG on Saturday night.
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What does Sydney’s team look like?
It’s essentially a team of mid-sized, versatile players. There are only two true key position Swans in Saturday’s 22; Heath Grundy, who is surely a lock to play on Ben Brown, and Callum Sinclair, who will ruck one-out for the entire evening.
How do the Swans play with such little height?
Here is where North will benefit from Sydney’s trip to Geelong. It was clear how the Swans wanted to play when they were in possession.
It was based around short ball movement, with a lot of lead-up play, handballing and avoiding as many multi-man contests as possible. By using the whole field – switching play often – it opens up the opposition defensive setup. This play encapsulates their general method:
If the concept of short ball movement, lead-up play and handballing sounds familiar to anyone who was at Etihad Stadium last week, it’s because it looks eerily similar to plenty of Port Adelaide’s play.
How can you stop it?
As usual, it starts at the contest and stopping Sydney from winning the ball.
If Sydney wins clean ball from a stoppage it often will move quicker from the break to get one-on-ones in its forward half.
The Swans will commit plenty of numbers around the ball attempting to dictate terms – this has to be matched otherwise you’re pushing uphill in that area all night.
When Sydney wins the ball in their back half, North has to press high to keep the ball pinned in the forward half. If the Swans are allowed to move the ball from side to side coming out of defence, they will find either the corridor or a kink in North’s setup – they’re too good a side not to.
The risk of North pressing higher is conceding goals over the back, but it’s a necessary one to take given the alternative is allowing Sydney to control the tempo.
How does Sydney defend in the air?
With Grundy likely to go to Brown, Dane Rampe will almost certainly go to Mason Wood; the latter in for his first game of the year.
Sydney’s defenders are elite at reading the play and peeling off their direct opponents to intercept mark, which makes Wood’s role one of the most important on the field.
Wood must make his direct opponent accountable by demanding the ball on the lead, and his teammates have to use him early to establish the pattern. Even if the first couple of kicks towards him miss the target, it’s all about making the Sydney defensive unit aware North’s forward setup isn’t one dimensional and Brown-focused.
By stretching Sydney’s defensive focus across several forwards, it should – in theory – stop Grundy, Rampe, Marsh and co. from chopping off inside 50’s the way they like. At least Sam Reid isn’t playing. Remember last year at Etihad Stadium when he played loose in defence and took approximately 62 marks?
We’ll be back on The Shinboner on Saturday morning with our Five Questions preview piece, before the Sunday morning review. Until then you can find me on Twitter @rickm18.