So starts a last month of the season with North Melbourne still holding its final hopes in its own hands.
Win all four matches and the Kangaroos are in. Win three and they’ll likely have to rely on other results. Two and it’ll require a minor miracle.
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 watch today’s game.
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Is North a midfielder too light?
Shaun Higgins has been replaced by Jarrad Waite, in what isn’t exactly a like-for-like swap.
The forward line now looks formidable, but in what is forecast to be a 26-degree, sunny day at the Gabba, running power could arguably be more important.
Countless times this year we’ve discussed the midfield issues when a piece is missing, and now there’s two in the continued absence of Ben Jacobs.
We could see players getting more midfield minutes than normal to make up for the differently structured team.
Can Waite and Mason Wood play higher up the ground?
Both have spent time further up the ground this season, occasionally spending time on the wing.
As a flow-on from the previous point, it’d make sense for the two to rotate up higher, leaving Ben Brown and Jack Ziebell as the two closer to home.
It also has the added benefit of stretching the Brisbane defence out, creating enough space for more one-on-one’s inside North’s forward 50.
Does perception equal reality?
It’s funny how as soon as most North fans – me included – see Brisbane at the Gabba on the fixture, the immediate reaction is ‘danger game’. The Lions are also favourites at the bookmakers.
Yet North has won its last three games in Brisbane by an average margin of nearly nine goals. Brisbane is a much better side than last year, but then again so is North.
Brisbane is a dangerous side at home, as evidenced by the thumping of Hawthorn and close losses to a couple of good sides. Yet North’s last two away interstate matches – against Sydney and Fremantle – were two of the best wins of its season.
Can North defend to an acceptable level?
The last five weeks have been up and down for North in terms of defensive output. Three games have seen scores conceded of 104+. Yet the other two have been only 58 and 41 respectively.
Given everything points to a rapid, up-and-down game today, holding Brisbane to 80 or 90 may be good enough, and defensive success may be judged on how North stops ball movement in transition.
Who wins the uncontested ball?
Ryan Clarke has had an excellent last fortnight in this regard, with 25 uncontested possessions against Collingwood and 20 against West Coast.
But to touch on the Higgins absence once again, North will need more to step up to help with the run, carry and link play. Luke McDonald could be one entrusted with more wing time after spending most of last week in a half back role.