Today starts a three-game stretch North Melbourne must win at least one of to keep any finals chance alive.
The Swans are today’s opponent, at a ground (Etihad Stadium) where they have an excellent record. 14 wins from their last 16 matches include some very high scores, and in many ways their game style is actually more suited to Etihad than the SCG.
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 does North score enough to win?
It’s an arbitrary number for sure, but the last time Sydney conceded 100+ was all the way back in Round 5, 2017. That’s 34 matches ago.
The last time Sydney lost while scoring 90+ was even further back; Round 8, 2016.
The purpose of these numbers is to illustrate there’s a very slim margin for error for any side to beat Sydney, and North’s lack of available forward options means it’s using just about all of that margin before it takes the field.
If we’re to operate under the assumption Majak Daw will stay back, it means Jack Ziebell has to have his best game of the season as a forward. Otherwise the trio of Heath Grundy, Dane Rampe and Aliir Aliir will be able to play Ring a Ring o’ Rosie around Ben Brown all day and there’ll be very few remaining options for North to hit the scoreboard with.
Which side has the better inclusions compared to Round 7?
There are a host of different faces in both teams compared to what took the field at the SCG in Round 7:
In: Aliir, Franklin, McCartin, Newman, O’Riordan, Robinson
Out: Jack, Marsh, McVeigh, Mills, Rohan, Towers
In: Ahern, Daw, Hrovat, Morgan
Out: Hartung, Vickers-Willis, Wood, Zurhaar
Sydney is a much taller side than Round 7, while North is even smaller compared to the night at the SCG. Which strategy pays off remains to be seen.
How will Alex Morgan be used?
The match committee clearly have a lot of faith and confidence in Morgan to be comfortable giving him an AFL debut in a match as important as this.
Morgan will likely be used alongside Luke McDonald and Ryan Clarke as the trio entrusted with running, carrying and breaking lines through half back and the wing if they get the opportunity.
It’ll be intriguing to see how much workload Morgan receives. Each of the first three debutants this season – Luke Davies-Uniacke, Paul Ahern and Tom Murphy – has been eased into AFL life, although in Ahern’s case it’s easy to forget he hasn’t played 100 games already.
Does Robbie Tarrant take Lance Franklin?
Tarrant has played Franklin well – or at least as well as anyone can play someone like Buddy – in recent outings.
With Tom McCartin showing promise, he’ll likely be Scott Thompson’s responsibility for the afternoon while Majak Daw potentially plays as the seventh defender.
I wonder whether Daw may take Franklin at stages when the Swan stays close to goal; almost like a tag-team effort with Tarrant, if purely in an attempt to confuse Sydney’s forward structures.
Given the way North was able to adapt on the fly at the SCG, it feels like they’ll have something else up their sleeve ready to try.
Is North starting to run out of legs?
This is a complete hunch, and it’s impossible to quantify from the outer without access to all the fancy stats (which I miss so, so much).
But to me, something has seemed off over the last handful of weeks. To the eye test it appears the all-ground pressure – which was a hallmark of early season surprises – has waned ever so slightly.
Sometimes being a fraction of a second slower is all it takes for a noticeable dip in performance. That’s also all it takes for Sydney to exploit your defensive structure.
It’s a huge game today, and I can’t wait. Get along to Etihad Stadium for what could be a season-defining afternoon.