Regular readers will remember last year’s consistent proclamations of how trading Ben Brown had significant dangers.
Strictly from an on-field perspective, his departure – without being replaced it must be said, which is just as vital a point for this discussion – has caused a flow on effect which makes North Melbourne’s restart a level or two tougher to analyse.
There are a number of ways to approach the angle, which we’ll do using Saturday night at Metricon Stadium as the vehicle.
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Let’s step away from the football field for a moment. Every day, whether it be at work, social circles, spare time, or anything in between, we’re all aiming to achieve something. Whatever that may be has just popped into your head right now as you’re reading this.
To achieve it, we need to work at it. But if we get two thirds of the way there before being met with a brick wall, we’ll become dispirited in quick time. Confidence dissipates, followed by effort. Soon if we’re still stuck trying to achieve the same goal with no light at the end of the tunnel, everything becomes half-hearted, clock-in-clock-out type of behaviour.
This is what it’s like for North Melbourne without a functioning forward line at the moment. Most of their good moments count for nothing, players naturally drop off – which is easy to understand, it’s human nature – and opponents get on control.
It’s not a coincidence North have been outscored 14.4 to 2.4 in second quarters this season. Relatively promising first quarters in each game, but then Port Adelaide and Gold Coast make the most of their chances in the second term, and it’s off to the races.
To stop and pause here before heading into specific examples, it’s important to remember this is a forward line – and system – very much in the embryonic stage, both in personnel and style. Let’s keep that in mind before going over the top with criticism.
Here North have built play up well as Luke Davies-Uniacke puts it into a dangerous spot – and then Josh Walker and Cam Zurhaar spoil each other in a simple mistake.
In this example, Lachie Young has won a one-on-one, has time and space, looks up, and has next to nothing on offer both short and long.
At this stage, those who read last week’s piece will recognise a similar theme starting to emerge, where one key moment undoes the good work prior.
The third clip of the series comes after arguably North’s best ball movement of the night, going from side to side and shifting the Suns’ defence.
Jared Polec marks and looks for a target, but instead he sees those that are moving are getting in each other’s way, or into dead space, or towards other defenders. He’s more or less forced into a long shot, which then sails wide. Watch this a couple of times to get the full picture:
These types of occurrences are nearly unavoidable, in the short term at least, with North in experimentation mode.
The intangible is how these breakdowns affect mindset and the ability to keep working on the new, aggressive ball movement. Players can retreat into their shell, taking the safe option and looking after themselves rather than committing to what’s needed. As Sam Gibson once told me:
“Usually when you’re not doing too well you sort of internalise and worry about yourself, years of evolution have taught us that way, which means you can go away from your role.
“For instance you might be supposed to press up on a player but you decide to stick on your guy so he doesn’t get a stat. That’s the hardest thing to try and keep doing the things you would do if you were 10 goals up as opposed to 10 goals down.”
Without the personnel in the forward line, a true number one key option who can act as a fulcrum and that defences respect can do significant damage, it’s going to be a constant battle to get reward for effort.
To be fair, when planning for 2021 North wouldn’t have expected Charlie Comben to suffer a long term injury before the season started, and Tristan Xerri to only just be returning to full fitness a fortnight in.
It’s put a dent in plans, systems, and getting games into players which will pay off down the track. To talk hypotheticals, with a healthy Brown available the picture would be much rosier, especially with this ball movement North’s trying to implement.
Without him, and with the aforementioned injuries to Comben and Xerri, Nick Larkey is pushed into a clear cut number one role and Walker the stop gap understudy. Add Zurhaar’s form slump, Tarryn Thomas’ increased midfield minutes, plus games into the first year players, and naturally the forward line is going to look a little dishevelled.
The key for those further up the field is to trust the process and keep faith. As wishy-washy as those terms sound, it’s the only way to get results long-term.
Five Miscellaneous Thoughts
– Tom Powell’s handballing is already a standout. Coupled with his composure, it leads to the right choice more often than not. There’ll be a highlight video during the week expanding on this topic
– While Jaidyn Stephenson didn’t have the same eye catching numbers this week as last, he continues to show signs of being a valuable winger/outside midfielder for the long-term
– Another game, another strong outing from Ben McKay. Of Ben King’s 3.1 and a goal assist, only 1.1 can be attributed against McKay, which must be frustrating for him
– While it’s yet to be seen whether the current backline is the right mix long-term – it’s very ‘big’, for lack of a better term – in the meantime it’s promising to see Lachie Young and Aiden Bonar flashing showing signs
– Ben Cunnington back for Good Friday, thankfully. Maybe the injury list is starting to shrink, he says as he wonders how quickly he’ll regret typing the sentence