Five Questions: Round 12 v Geelong

Game day in Geelong, and North Melbourne’s first trip down there since 2015. On that day we spotted them a four-goal start, and then kicked 12 of the next 16 to win comfortably.

By many measures today is a battle between the best two defensive sides in the competition, so in theory we should be seeing a dour struggle. Let’s look at topics to watch for this afternoon.

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How do you score on Geelong at Alphabet Stadium?

To be honest, half the reason for this topic is so I can say Alphabet Stadium, instead of whatever collection of letters its named as at the moment.

With the exception of Sydney, no opponent has cracked 90 for three years on the narrow ground which makes you feel like you’re playing on a bowling lane.

The benefit of narrow dimensions is that it all but eliminates the switch as a way around Geelong’s defensive setup. And with the Cats not having to commit as many numbers wide, it’s easier to force sides into a corner, while also being able to keep extra numbers deeper to intercept the long balls into the forward half.

Much like a few weeks ago, where we discussed how you’re never going to beat the Swans in an open encounter – because they simply won’t let you score that much – the same rules apply here in Geelong.

Which is why I believe North will take some of the lessons learned from the win at the SCG in Round 7 and apply it today. Considered ball movement, potentially using some forwards as decoys at various stages and doing everything possible to not play into Geelong’s hands, even if it means sacrificing a little bit of attacking flair at times.

Is this the 2019 forward setup?

North will go into today’s game with much the same forward setup as that evening in Sydney, and it occurred to me that it could very well be the first-choice forward line for 2019 and beyond.

There is the anchor – Ben Brown – and the two extra marking options who can play tall but are also capable on the ground – Jack Ziebell and Mason Wood. Shaun Atley and Kayne Turner are the smalls buzzing around at ground level, while if there is the option for a sixth forward it rotates between half forwards who spend minutes in the midfield.

Of course a lot can change between now and next year – there’s a fair chance I’m kicking myself for writing this even at some stage in the next six weeks – but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Can North expose Geelong’s midfield?

It seems silly to have any thought of ‘exposing’ a midfield which contains three of the best ever to play in the position.

But, as we’ve seen at various points in 2018, Geelong’s ability to win clearances has been poor. Perhaps it’s because the talent in there is so geared towards an offensive mindset that it becomes weighted too heavily towards winning the ball rather than defending it.

Nevertheless, in what I expect to be a territory game, winning the ball from stoppages is going to be vital – not necessarily to score directly from – but to get the ball inside the forward half as quickly as possible to then lock it in.

What will the defensive mindset be?

Last week was the most open game North has played in for a long, long time. Combine that with the absence of Anderson and Waite and it being the last match before the bye, and there are a number of excuses for the performance to not be at the level of the first 11 matches.

So the way North performs today will say a lot about what to expect post-bye. As underdogs in a foreign environment with a couple of key players missing, rising up to the occasion – even if it doesn’t result in a win – will be a measure of the belief and confidence in the way the team is playing.

Is it humanly possible for Ablett to be quiet against North Melbourne?

These may not look like real numbers, but I assure you they are. Here are Gary Ablett’s averages against North from the eight times he faced them for Gold Coast:

– 35.3 disposals per game
– 9.1 clearances per game
– 6.1 inside 50’s per game
– 5 tackles per game
– 2.1 goals per game
– 2.1 Brownlow votes per game (seriously)

His ‘worst’ game from that time yielded just 28 disposals, six clearances and a goal. Just one quiet game today please, for my sanity as much as anything else.

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