Round 4 v Hawthorn: Grinding to a halt

Sometimes there’ll be games with plenty happening both on and off the ball with plenty to discuss and dissect.

On other occasions – Sunday night for instance – it’s all quite simple.

North Melbourne couldn’t move the ball after winning it. Whether it was contested or uncontested possessions, the result was the same; slow and static until it was too late. Desperate defending and a misfiring Hawthorn forward line kept the scoreline from blowing out before the final stages made for a flattering scoreline.

That could theoretically be the end of this post, but if you’d like to keep reading there’s further explanations to come.

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Previously in North Round Reviews: Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3

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It took North until the last five minutes to score a goal from a Hawthorn turnover. Until then its first six goals were from stoppages – four of those from the centre bounce.

While North was also winning more than its fair share of clearances around the ground, it was simply unable to move it cleanly when there were more numbers at the ball.

Once upon a time when I had access to Champion Data stats, there was one which laid out what happened after a side won a clearance, i.e. turnover, mark, inside 50, etc.

An analysis of Sunday night would make for interesting reading because normally when a side is edging a contest and clearance count – disregarding the final quarter flurry which skewed the overall numbers – it tends to be reflected with the inside 50 count.

But with about eight minutes remaining in this game, the tally was 45-21 Hawthorn’s way. It’s because many of North’s around the ground clearances played out in one of two ways:

1
Win ball, pressured into turnover, repeat
2
Win ball, rushed kick, turnover, repeat

When North did manage to get the ball outside during the first three and a half quarters, it simply couldn’t find a way through Hawthorn’s defence.

There were handballs, there were short kicks, there were long kicks, but the common theme amongst all three methods was a distinct lack of incisiveness. Which is how you manage four goals in three and a half quarters.

Here would normally be the part where we’d see vision of just how Hawthorn was set up behind the ball to spook North into slow, tortured ball movement and an inflated uncontested possession count. Or perhaps there were opportunities to take the game on which went begging? We’ll never know.

3
Looking up the field at ???

Nevertheless, this on and off ball combination from Hawthorn more or less had the game wrapped up. If it wasn’t for a few missed chances and some desperate last-line defending the margin would have blown out much earlier.

After an interrupted start to his life at North – it turns out falling on your head minutes into your club debut is never a good idea – Josh Walker has settled in nicely over the last fortnight.

As a plug-and-play second tall he’s shaping up to be exactly the complement to Robbie Tarrant that North hoped. The Hawthorn marking forwards were largely unsighted and given the barrage of ball coming into 50 at various points it’s all you can hope for.

It’ll be a different type of task for them against the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night, but as previous games between the sides show, it’ll likely come down to whether the Bulldogs midfielders can spread on North’s.

That’s largely where games for North against a Beveridge-coached side have been decided, even in last year’s clash which turned out to be Brad Scott’s last hurrah.

And after a very real chance to go 4-0 has been squandered over the last fortnight, there’s every chance North falls to 2-3 unless it rediscovers the type of all-round play which served it so well against the Giants.

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