It’s so relaxing being able to sit back and enjoy the last quarter with a result already in hand.
Even with Carlton being significantly off the boil and turning in their worst performance of the year, North Melbourne made some tweaks to their structure which had the effect of simplifying roles.
If you missed the last post during the week, it was all about what to gain from the rest of the year, and looking at everything through that lens.
It’ll be the theme for today’s post as well. Consistent story telling hopefully … coincidentally if anyone from the WWE is reading, I’m available.
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The Team Changes And Their Effects
The four changes were effectively Marley Williams for Luke McDonald, Shaun Higgins & Taylor Garner for Nathan Hrovat & Aaron Hall, and Jy Simpkin for Luke Davies-Uniacke.
There was some consternation around Davies-Uniacke being omitted, which is understandable given how important he is long-term.
Upon watching some tape, his influence over the previous fortnight was considerably less than the first month of the season. It was his longest stint of consecutive AFL games, so no harm in sending him back to the VFL for a week or two to reset while rewarding Simpkin’s form at the lower level.
Williams’ much-needed return was a boon for the defensive unit, but it was the Higgins & Garner inclusions – combined with the Hrovat and Hall omissions – which had a ripple effect through the rest of the team.
It was most pronounced in the midfield.
Simplifying The Midfield Mix
If we go back to the JLT 1 post, I mentioned how a first-choice wing combination of Jared Polec and Trent Dumont would be quality, and one to look forward to.
Through circumstance and rewarding form of others, we haven’t seen as much of it as we would have liked. Yet by dropping Hall, and with Bailey Scott in the VFL, it left Dumont (38 disposals) and Polec (22 disposals, 7 marks) free to play their natural roles in a North structure.
The two took turns beating up on poor Lochie O’Brien, who was probably wondering what he did to deserve such punishment. Ultimately it was a case of North putting players in a position where they can help the team the most, and leaving them there all day. Sometimes football is simple.
While it’s hard to read too much into Jack Ziebell’s midfield time last week given Higgins’ late withdrawal, obviously this week it was a conscious decision.
Many, many words have been written about where the skipper should play. Although I’m in the camp which prefers mostly forward with minor stints on-ball, the tweak made against Carlton was intriguing.
Ziebell’s on-ball role was defence first, assigned the task of nullifying Patrick Cripps. It’s not a role which he’s had to carry out often over his career, but it had the effect of balancing out the midfield mix between attack and defence.
Ziebell’s role in the midfield and at centre bounces had the effect of pushing Higgins out; he didn’t attend one until the last quarter. I don’t mind the decision though. The centre square balance tilts too far towards ball-winning when Cunnington and Higgins are in there at the same time, and Ziebell’s role against Cripps balanced it out.
Is it a role which can be replicated every week? Most definitely not. But if used with the correct matchups and in appropriate doses, it means extra flexibility for North’s midfield options.
The Influence Of Multiple Marking Options
Taylor Garner’s resurrection from the dead was my personal highlight of the day, and strongly influencing the contest was a cherry on top.
It’s easy to forget the qualities Garner brings to the side when healthy, and it only takes an instant to remember them when he’s on the field.
Garner can play as a target – he essentially replaced Ziebell’s role in the forward line. He’s also a threat at ground level, spending most of the afternoon on a seek and destroy mission for anyone in a Carlton jumper. Add in the burst of speed plus strength, and all the ingredients are there for a well-rounded player, as long as he stays on the park.
Because Garner is dangerous enough to provide a threat as a target, it’s tough for opposition defenders to peel off him – in this case Jacob Weitering – and move in front of Ben Brown.
Weitering was trying to zone off Garner early on, but the Blue had to respect the movement by the Roo, helped to no end by Garner being used by his teammates when going forward.
The end result was Brown getting off the chain for those first half goals. Don’t forget the work of Nick Larkey in all this as well. While the stat sheet looks pedestrian – scoreless from 10 disposals – sometimes your role is to create space for others, which is exactly what the youngster did.
To look at Sunday’s forward mix as a whole, there was a nice mix of marking targets (Brown, Larkey, Wood, Garner) and ground pressure (Zurhaar, Thomas, Garner again). Add in Simpkin and Higgins floating through, and there are the potential pieces for an intriguing forward line.
Now it’s just a matter of patience to see whether it develops against far stiffer competition.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. The biggest drawback from Carlton being so far off their best – or even a below-average AFL output – was North being able to handball their way through under minimal pressure.
It’s all common ground we’ve covered plenty of times before with when and where to handball, plus how often. The intensity North is set to face next week against Geelong will be levels above what they faced on Sunday.
The same quality of ball use won’t fly against the Cats.