Finally we’re back in action after the bye, resuming against the Western Bulldogs in a rare away game at Etihad Stadium.
It was always weird wandering into the away change rooms pre and post-game; because everything is in the forward pocket at the other end of the ground, it felt like you were in a mirror. The amount of times we’d all walk out of the post-match media conference and instinctively turn towards the home change rooms before doubling back were too many to count.
For any new readers on The Shinboner, the game day preview pieces are a primer for the action. It’s a series of questions and potential storylines to ponder as you head into the ground today.
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How will the selections affect proceedings?
The Bulldogs’ selections have been intriguing, and could dictate the game flow to a large extent.
Of the four inclusions –
Iron Man Dale Morris, Marcus Adams, Aaron Naughton and Josh Dunkley – three are key defenders with only one (Easton Wood) dropping out to make way.
The more I look at selected teams, the more I believe the Bulldogs are going to use the Port Adelaide theory of putting Jackson Trengove in the ruck against Todd Goldstein, with Tom Boyd spending most of his time forward.
If that doesn’t happen, one of those three tall inclusions – likely Adams – will swing forward. Because if they don’t, the Bulldogs will have a key defensive unit of Trengove, Adams, Morris and Naughton (plus Zaine Cordy at a stretch) against Ben Brown, Mason Wood and Jack Ziebell. I doubt Morris has the lateral movement in him at this advanced age to successfully play on either Shaun Atley or Kayne Turner, but then again, he may actually be Superman so it could work.
But overall those matchups don’t seem to work on paper, and will significantly play to North’s advantage if it can win clean ball out of stoppages and contests – clearly a focus given the inclusions of Jed Anderson and Nathan Hrovat.
Who takes Hartung’s role on the wing?
It appears Luke McDonald will take up more of the slack left by Hartung’s omission, continuing a role further up the field since Tom Murphy’s introduction into the side across half back.
I’d also expect Nathan Hrovat to spend some time around the ball in his return to the AFL side. It’s an important game for the former Bulldog. He appeared to be overtaken by Cam Zurhaar in the pecking order but good VFL form has earned a recall – now to back it up.
Will North be switched on from the start?
North’s record in recent years has been poor in the match after a bye, losing each of its last three.
There has been a common trend across all three losses, with the defensive pressure around the ball not up to the expected standard.
While those teams had less margin for error in that area of the game due to personnel, it appeared there was a general mindset of not returning with appropriate focus playing out on-field.
No doubt there would have been a re-evaluation of the team during the time off, and a genuine attempt at a finals berth will now be the goal. A loss against the Bulldogs – a game which North, by all rights, should win – will immediately put it behind the eight-ball.
Which side takes advantage of their momentum?
For all the external disappointment about the Bulldogs’ season – which is weird for the record, I’m not sure what people were expecting with their current list profile and lack of experience – they’ve had periods where they’ve been all over their opposition.
Against Collingwood it was the whole first quarter (five unanswered goals), against Melbourne it was the first 20 minutes (3.2 to 0.1), and even against Adelaide they had more than enough chances throughout the entire evening.
The flip side has been entire quarters – and sometimes longer – where the Bulldogs have completely gone to sleep. They went goalless in the second half against Collingwood, trailed by 34 points at quarter time against Port Adelaide and conceded 11 out of 13 goals in a period against Melbourne.
Will the VFL side kick a goal in the first half?
In all seriousness though, it’s been so tough to get a read on the VFL side and the last three matches before the bye are the perfect summary of why.
However, with Jarrad Waite out indefinitely at this stage due to his calf strain, all eyes will likely be on Nick Larkey. If he produces another solid performance and it’s combined with frustrations with the forward setup at AFL level, he’ll be every chance to come in against Essendon next week. All the more reason to get to Etihad Stadium early to watch the curtain raiser.