We’re back! Football is just a few days away, so it’s time to refresh our memory with what was learned from North Melbourne’s Round 1 win against St Kilda.
A housekeeping note before going on: there’ll be an increase in the number of non-North pieces during the season, assuming there are no further interruptions. However, it won’t affect the North-specific content, which will continue as normal and potentially with an added focus on video analysis.
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Now, onto the season-opening victory from March 22 before Round 2 is played on June 14.
Dealing With Pressure
Before we go any further, the obvious must be acknowledged: if it wasn’t for inaccurate St Kilda goal kicking, most of the second half was set to be junk time. Per Stats Insider’s excellent shot charting tool, the Saints undershot their expected total by nearly five goals, matching up neatly with the eye test.
Nevertheless, moving onto the story of St Kilda’s dominance was all about how North couldn’t deal with the pressure being thrown at it. The raw ball-winning numbers were essentially even in the first half – the Saints being +3 in contested possessions and +1 in clearances is nowhere near a notable disparity.
The difference was in how each side took advantage when they did win possession. For North, players were immediately set upon, forced into either a rushed disposal or a direct turnover. St Kilda’s pressure rating – however it’s worked out – was off the chain up until half time.
There are two main avenues to scoring: one from stoppages and the other from forcing turnovers. With North not being able to make anything from their clearances in the first half, it eliminated that area of the game while also giving the Saints plenty of opportunities by turning it over.
The inability to deal with pressure wasn’t confined to stoppages. It seeped into general play as well – with no time for North to be clean with ball in hand, 18 inside 50s resulted in only four scoring shots, an exceedingly low ratio. Meanwhile St Kilda had 25 inside 50s for 13 scoring shots, able to essentially play the entire half on their terms.
It’s evident in the following clips how North was unable to get anything going thanks to the combination of St Kilda’s pressure and not being good enough to work around or through it.
The general trend after a North contest win was > turnover > St Kilda spread, and then the tide turned.
It looked to be much the same once the third quarter started, as the first centre bounce showed. St Kilda had five of the first seven inside 50s, along with three of the first four scoring shots.
There were two key moments which turned the flow, both working hand-in-hand. First there was the courage and skill of Curtis Taylor (who gets his own section further down the page), picking off a tough inboard kick for anyone, let alone a third gamer in a team which had been beaten up and unwilling to deviate from straight line football because of it.
The second passage happened shortly after, involving a contest win. In the earlier clip, we saw how North was unable to gain any footing in contests during the first half, too often outhustled. Here the opposite happens, St Kilda gaining possession but forced into a turnover which ends in a Jy Simpkin goal.
Put the two together and it was as if a switch had been flicked. 12 of the last 14 inside 50s in the third quarter went North’s way, narrowing a 31-point deficit to four when the siren sounded.
Neutralising The Pressure
As regular readers on here know, I constantly bring up how important marks are to North so it can deal with pressure effectively.
In the first half, North had just 17. That more than doubled in the third quarter – 19 alone in the frame – before a further 15 in the last term.
Being able to find marks, whether by luck or skill, allowed North to reset the game. Where in the first half St Kilda was able to control tempo, the script was flipped afterwards, and no passage better exemplified it than the one which led to Cunnington’s first goal of the final quarter.
After Jasper Pittard’s mid-air hack found Simpkin, North marched down the ground without the ball ever being up for grabs.
This was also a key in being able to withstand a quarter and a half with only one rotation on the bench. There’s less running to do if you’re not constantly chasing opponents.
The numbers don’t jump off the page. 10 disposals, 3 marks and a goal in 81 percent game time.
But for someone in just his third match, Curtis Taylor had several influential passages during the second half to play a significant role in North’s comeback. In particular, look out for the first clip in the package as mentioned earlier.
With Taylor Garner out injured for the foreseeable future, one of those medium forward slots is now Taylor’s (of the Curtis variety) until he loses it.
Next month’s fixture offers both positives and negatives. Three consecutive games at Marvel Stadium are offset by a nightmare start, travelling to face a GWS side who looked ominous against Geelong in Round 1.
However, the real key is what North takes out of the win against St Kilda. Combine the performance with pre-season form and suddenly the second half against the Saints is an outlier, not the norm. Or is it a sign that things have clicked into place?
The game against the Giants will mark the first time Rhyce Shaw has coached against a side for the second time after losing the first encounter. Importantly, that afternoon in Hobart should be one learned from. The midfield – sans Shaun Higgins – was well beaten, Cunnington was tagged out of the game until hitting a single arm takedown on Matt de Boer, and overall too much was left to too few.
GWS will be well-deserved favourites, but what North offer will be a useful indicator of what to expect in the following three weeks.