Of the 22 North Melbourne players who ran out onto the Gabba on Monday night, 10 are out of contract at the end of this season.
Given the game played out largely to expectations – Collingwood’s strong defensive setup making it tough for North to score, North’s defence holding up well against an experimental forward line, and the match being decided by moments of class from the Pies’ stars – today’s post will be a little different to normal.
Instead of overarching team themes, the focus will be on six* of the 10 individuals who took the field against Collingwood without a contract for 2021.
(*We won’t look at Tristan Xerri, Josh Walker, Jed Anderson and Bailey Scott because obviously their respective deals should only be a matter of time.)
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These were supposed to be in alphabetical order, but I couldn’t wait to write about Vickers-Willis.
When fit and healthy, there’s a reason Vickers-Willis has been selected at every chance; blocks of seven consecutive games in 2017 and 2018, before starting 2019 in the side.
Before his return against Brisbane, I must confess I was worried whether the constant injuries would take too much away from his play. Can he still be a plus AFL defender?
Even though EVW has been accident-prone rather than injury-prone – there’s a difference, think about it – a body can only take so much before it starts losing the attributes needed to play elite-level sport.
Based off his performances against Brisbane and Collingwood, I was foolish to worry. For all the physical traits needed to survive at AFL level, there’s something to be said about the importance of ‘footy IQ’. It gets talked about a lot, sometimes devolving into a cliché, but this man is exhibit A of it.
If we ever get to watch matches in person in Victoria again, keep an eye on Vickers-Willis. It’s an uncanny knack of suddenly appearing in the right position, a spoil here or there, a well timed block, filling the correct space when defending.
Most of those things don’t lead to stats, but they do make Roos around him better. Now we all cross our fingers for no more accidents, and he can establish a place as that tweener-type of defender.
Ahern’s talent hasn’t deserted him despite a seeming inability to kick on from his breakout in 2018, playing only 12 games in the following two years.
Some players are flexible; Shaun Higgins playing in just about every non-key position this year is a prime example.
Others need situations to be set up for them to excel. It’s not meant as a knock, but rather just how it is sometimes. Imagine if Ben Cunnington played as a winger rather than a clearance machine or pinch-hit forward. Not getting the most out of him that way.
There’s now enough data and time to suggest for Ahern to play influential minutes, it has to be as an on-baller.
But consider that currently all of Cunnington, Jed Anderson, Trent Dumont, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin and Higgins are ahead of Ahern in said role, not to mention the likelihood of this year’s first-round draft pick (either one) being used on a prime mover.
How does Ahern get his chance without taking a significant leap forward? There’s still a clear place on North’s list for him at this stage, but at the moment he’s projecting as a backup.
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The conundrum when deciding Lachie Hosie’s worth on an AFL list – can his offensive talents outweigh what he gives back without the ball, to the extent where he’s worthy of a spot in the best 30-32 players at a club?
The work without the ball was glaring against the Pies, with two moments in particular standing out. First was the inability to block Levi Greenwood, instead preferring to slip out for a potential handball receive – leaving Jack Mahony open to be crunched.
Moments before this, Hosie had his head on a swivel looking at surroundings, so there was no excuse for failing to see Greenwood.
Then in the third quarter, Hosie found himself with Scott Pendlebury as a responsibility at a ground ball.
He trails Pendlebury to the contest and then gets caught in no-man’s land, allowing him to receive possession and link up in a clearing chain.
To be clear, there are positives to Hosie’s game. This isn’t a roast session. The question is whether more exposure and another pre-season can improve the work without the ball – eliminating these sorts of basic errors – to an extent where he can be a valuable mid-sized forward on the list.
Considering Murphy’s best area of his game – kicking skill – is one his side also lacks a lot of, it’s only fair for him to get opportunities.
It appears Murphy is being groomed to play slightly higher up the ground, different from the standard medium defender type before Rhyce Shaw took over.
He spent large parts on the wing against Collingwood, and the theoretical outline of a rebounding half-back is there considering the skill set.
Murphy deserves further looks given what his kicking can provide, but it’s up to him to push on and do everything possible to make sure he becomes more than someone like Brad McKenzie – an elite kick, but only that with few other areas to his game at AFL level.
Over on Stats Insider, I took a look at how fine lines made all the difference in the Western Bulldogs’ third quarter run against Melbourne.
Six consecutive goals – four starting from the defensive half – came despite having fewer inside 50s for the term than Melbourne.
And remember, their shot charting tool is an excellent complement to match up on goal kicking eye tests.
When it comes to pure defending, Williams is better than all but Robbie Tarrant on the North list.
Working from the dual assumption that Kyron Hayden will continue to be developed down back and that Joel Crocker’s spot on the list may be in trouble, there is most definitely a spot for Williams to continue.
Hayden learning the finer points of defending from Williams can only help in the long run and even if the youngster is first choice as the lockdown, it opens up the possibility of progressing further up the field, knowing Williams can quite easily step in to fill the hole.
After eight years and 62 games on North’s list, there doesn’t appear to be another level for Wood to go to.
It’s tough to watch a player so low on confidence, knowing what he’s capable of. But if at this stage of his career it only appears sporadically, at some point the list management team will ask the question – can we get more out of him, or is this our finished product?
The answer seems to become clearer with each week.