First things first, an apology for no post last week. For those who missed my tweet, the coverage essentially made it impossible for me to provide anything useful.
As a comparison between last week and this week, on the top we have what most inside 50s looked like at Adelaide Oval. On the bottom is what most inside 50s looked like at Metricon Stadium.
No wonder I can provide a worthy post this week. And away we go.
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In the Round 9 review against Adelaide, I went through the reasons for dropping Ben Brown and Jared Polec. For those who missed the most important part:
“The key from here is now there’s a baseline, it has to be enforced with clarity.”
Add consistency to it and you’re left with reasons for most changes heading into this game. Aaron Hall’s role is to provide offensive run and carry. Didn’t do it? Out. Jared Polec’s role is to use the ball well, break lines with his disposal along with smart positioning on both sides of the ball. Didn’t do it? Out. And so on.
It’s a risky decision to make because if these players go out and the replacements don’t perform, suddenly a coach has few levers left to pull. Those who were dropped can rightfully feel they’re still the best person for their respective roles, while the ones who came in underperformed and start to second guess themselves.
However, if it works it underpins an entire coaching belief. These words from Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault can also be used to sum up Rhyce Shaw’s methodology behind recent team changes:
“I firmly believe that players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path to: ‘you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success.’ And you do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you.”
Shaw gave his team a path and most importantly, it worked. He was vindicated with everything but the four points against a premiership contender while playing half a team with less than 30 games to their names.
It will give Shaw an enormous boost in both his own confidence and that of the players. He made his statement, said this is the way it has to be, and then when the players followed along it showed with a much improved performance. The next time Shaw makes a major call, players will naturally follow along because they witnessed what happened against Brisbane.
And speaking of players with less than 30 games to their names, let’s shift from big picture team building to individual focus.
Will Walker’s wing
As youth is continually blooded through this North side, it’s quite easy to see the signs when Rhyce Shaw genuinely believes in a player, solely by the role he hands out.
For instance, Kyron Hayden was given a murderers’ row of opponents as a small defender and passed the test.
Here it was Will Walker, coming back into the side against Brisbane for career game number six (6) and immediately thrown onto a wing against Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson; a duo which when up and running ticks every box required for that role.
Before Walker’s untimely hamstring injury, he showed plenty in both ball-winning ability and smarts with positioning.
For example, here it’s easy for even experienced wingers to be sucked in towards the ball, but Walker stays out on the fat side where he’s supposed to be. Because of that McCluggage can’t squeeze in to protect the corridor and when North does win the ball, it’s straight through the middle for a quality inside 50 and shot on goal.
This type of composure and structure was on show from Walker from the beginning, which raises the question of whether Shaw sees a Walker-Bailey Scott combination as North’s long-term wing pairing.
Scott’s early signs have him projecting as an ultra-reliable player who can play a range of roles, so the gene must run in the family.
Luke Davies-Uniacke’s linear path
Normally a player’s improvement fluctuates, part of the typical ups and downs of AFL life. Not so for LDU. Consider this since his return:
- Game 1: Just gets through unscathed, all that was required
- Game 2: Finds more of the ball, a handful of ‘nearly’ plays, hits the scoreboard
- Game 3: Finds even more of the ball, increased midfield time
Which brings us to Saturday against Brisbane, where he truly showed the explosiveness he can bring to North’s midfield.
First there was the burst from a pack:
Then this beauty of a kick to Nick Larkey – note his starting position being in a place where he could also defend if the situation called for it:
And then perhaps the most promising sign of all, making up for a missed tackle early in the game with a splendid chase down in the last quarter:
That’s the type of mindset which is arguably more important than LDU’s skill set, the type of mindset which will get the most out of his game. Knowing he’d made the mistake earlier, there was no way Davies-Uniacke would miss another chance to tackle if he could help it.
More promising signs like this on the way to ending a season injury free is what everyone will be crossing their fingers for.
Larkey as the number one
Saturday was Nick Larkey’s first game as the undisputed focal point of North’s forward line, playing against probably the All-Australian full back too, just in case he was after a soft launch.
It shouldn’t be the norm going forward* but this small taste at carrying the focus should help to fast track Larkey. For all the positivity, it’s easy to forget he’s still only 22 and just 24 games into his career. He’s far from the finished article and there will be more ups and downs to come.
(*For the record, I believe trading Ben Brown would be utterly foolish, bar a godfather offer or complete relationship breakdown, and will not be entering any further correspondence on the matter unless necessary.)
Take this play from the second quarter as Larkey playing his part in maintaining forward structure.
It’d be incredibly easy for Larkey here to see a ball inside 50 as a ‘see ball, jump at ball’ situation.
But he holds back – much like Brown would in a similar situation – keeping Harris Andrews just far enough away from the drop so Tristan Xerri can fly and mark relatively uncontested.
Another promising sign in a day full of them for North Melbourne.
From here it’s set up for a relatively normal series of breaks on the run home – nine days to Collingwood, six to Gold Coast, six to Port Adelaide, seven to Fremantle and likely at least seven to West Coast.
That regular routine should help with the process of auditions and list analysis. Plenty to look forward to down the stretch.