Revisiting the pre-season depth chart

A lot has changed in 12 matches.

For those who were reading in pre-season, I attempted to establish a depth chart across each position, with the thought process being that we check in on how it’s evolved at various points in 2018.

Coming out of the mid-season bye is the perfect opportunity to look back, laugh at how far off some predictions were and re-evaluate for the second half of the season.

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V01 Depth Chart

That’s how the (anticipated) depth chart looked pre-season. Let’s look at the major surprises, before re-emerging with the adjustments for the rest of 2018.

  • Jed Anderson’s midfield rise

Imagine not even listing Anderson in the midfield rotations. Who would be silly enough to do such a thing?

Wait, that was me. Moving on…

Anderson was starting from a low base after his first couple of seasons at the club. Then he didn’t play any pre-season games due to injury. All of a sudden, he was placed in the midfield in Round 1, straight into the midfield rotation, played well enough to cement a spot and then excelled to such a degree it allowed Jack Ziebell to play almost permanently as a forward while all but sealing a new contract for himself.

In just 12 rounds. Impressive.

  • Majak Daw’s defensive abilities

It’s amazing what a bit of continuity with fitness can do for a player’s confidence. Eight games out of the last nine is the best stretch of Daw’s career to date, and he’s added plenty to North’s aerial presence in the back half.

With Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson alongside Daw, it’s meant less pressure on him which in turn has allowed the big man to settle into his role easier than he would have if there was no experience to work with.

He’s another who has improved in his role rapidly. From looking all at sea in the first pre-season game against Melbourne to being an important part of a defensive unit which is one of the best in the competition at the moment.

And another player who was ranked way too low in the pre-season depth chart. I’m going well here.

  • Billy Hartung’s contributions

Almost ever since he came into the league, Hartung’s strengths and weaknesses have been fairly apparent. So after he was delisted by Hawthorn and North picked him up for a packet of chips at the National Draft, it was fair to question how he could help the side improve when he appeared to be at a stage where there was no more improvement left in him.

This is where playing in a system which amplifies strengths and hides weaknesses has helped Hartung, and in turn North Melbourne. No-one is asking, or relying on him to be a contested ball winner or to pierce through sides with A+ skills.

Most of what Hartung is being told to do is run, break lines and kick to gain metres. North’s more ‘traditional’ style, for lack of a better term – with long kicking and tall forwards – also helps Hartung in this regard, as quick decision making isn’t as important while he’s playing with these instructions. Once he’s in trouble there’s almost always a get out kick within his range.

  • The long-term absentees not missing a beat on return

After the better part of two years out of the game, few could have expected Ben Jacobs and Sam Wright to fit in so seamlessly on their returns.

Jacobs in particular has been an integral part of North’s midfield revamp which has allowed it to exceed expectations. Not only has he carried out his tagging roles to near perfection, he’s also started to win the ball as of late. He’s had 20+ disposals in five of his last seven games, by far his most prolific run since he moved into the midfield full time.

Wright hasn’t looked out of place since his return in the stirring win at the SCG in Round 7. His game time suggests he hasn’t been managed through games, and he’s been able to provide another sure ball user in the back half.

Now for the prediction at a second half depth chart.

V02 Depth Chart

Excluded due to injury and/or lack of exposed form: Ed Vickers-Willis, Declan Watson, Declan Mountford, Taylor Garner

Positional changes from pre-season

  • Anderson & Jy Simpkin moved from half forward to midfield
  • Ziebell moved from midfield to marking forwards
  • Ryan Clarke moved from half back to midfield
  • Kyron Hayden moved from midfield to half forward

Hopes for the rest of 2018

  • To be spectacularly wrong about any player low in their respective position

I’d love if someone like Josh Williams or Mitch Hibberd comes back from the bye and puts together VFL form which makes them impossible to ignore. Or Luke Davies-Uniacke progresses ahead of schedule and forces his way back into the AFL side. Because ultimately it all means extra options and players to choose from, which benefits the side long-term.

(And also, for anyone worrying about Davies-Uniacke – don’t. Be patient and let him develop, he’ll be fine.)

  • Clarke earning time in the midfield rotation

If we’re to use the VFL team as a guide of future plans in the AFL side, it appears Clarke’s way back into the side is through the midfield.

Since his AFL omission, Clarke’s most recent outings were squarely on-ball, and he amassed 63 touches in those two matches. Clearly the ball-winning part of the equation is at AFL standard, but consistently applying the required pressure without the ball appears to be a work in progress.

  • Not losing sight of the bigger picture

We’ve already seen clever team selections before the bye, opting not to risk Jarrad Waite and Anderson for the game in Geelong in favour of having them cherry ripe for the crucial stretch immediately after it.

It allowed Paul Ahern and Tom Murphy to notch another game under the belt and continue learning what it takes to play at AFL level. Almost half the list had played less than 20 games at the start of the year, which makes any opportunity to blood a youngster or two critical to take.

If the injury list stays in its promising state, and there’s the opportunity to rest an experienced player for a youngster, why not take it for a week dependent on the season situation? Balance the fine line between always playing to win and looking towards the future, which has been done masterfully so far.

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