Whichever way you look at it, today is an absolute must-win for North Melbourne against Gold Coast at Etihad Stadium.
A loss would leave North a game out of the eight, with Sydney, Collingwood and West Coast to come in the next three weeks.
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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Will North have learned from Round 1?
Despite the conditions in Cairns, the loss to the Suns revealed a key point about North’s midfield – if the unit isn’t working hard enough to get to contests over and over again, the opposition will be able to play the game on their terms.
The potential midfield rotation has been beefed up again this week with Ben Jacobs and Cam Zurhaar coming in for Mason Wood and Tom Murphy; perhaps an indication North’s coaching staff has zeroed in on an area where they believe they must improve the most.
Was last week an aberration?
If North chooses not to look to Round 1 for learnings, there are plenty to take out of last week’s loss to Essendon.
As was covered in last week’s wrap, the midfield structure was far away from what it had been so far in 2018, not being able to cope with Essendon’s aggression from stoppages and contests.
Even though Jacobs is just one man, at times his absence felt as if North was missing half a midfield, such is the work he covers. Although Gold Coast doesn’t have an A+ midfielder for Jacobs to tag, the structure he brings to North’s setup is invaluable. If he returns today it’ll go a long way towards helping atone for last week.
What will North’s forward setup look like?
With just Ben Brown and Jack Ziebell as marking forwards, this is the smallest North attack in many, many years.
Assuming Ziebell has Steven May as an opponent, North has to look to the captain as often as possible going forward, purely to make May accountable. Rory Thompson has all the tools to frustrate Ben Brown, even before his Suns teammates look to zone off and chop out Brown’s space.
With such a small forward line, perhaps the plan is to push plenty of numbers up around the ball and look to isolate Brown as much as possible. Then if the big man isn’t an option, the secondary play will be to run and carry the ball within scoring range.
Is a late change in the works?
Alex Morgan was withdrawn from the VFL yesterday to be a game-day emergency today, which suggests – at the very least – that one of the small or medium defenders has a question mark over their availability.
Whether it means there’ll definitely be a late change remains to be seen, but this emergency change means there has definitely been some contingency planning carried out. If the change does occur, it should mean North is well prepared for it and there should be no visible adjustment period on-field in terms of matchups and structures.
Why has North struggled against Gold Coast?
Fun – or not so fun – fact, depending on which way you look at it: Gold Coast has a better winning percentage (50%) against North Melbourne than any other team, including five victories from the last seven outings.
Being the only team with a losing record against Gold Coast probably isn’t a record for North to possess. Hopefully it’s not in their hands by tonight.