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Round 3 v Western Bulldogs: The anatomy of a 128-point loss

Where to start?

The short version is all the negative parts of the first two weeks coalesced into an unstoppable snowball.

The long version … well. Here we go.


A quick note about this post before we go on. Because what we’re about to go through are full ground issues, there’ll be no visual examples like normal; obviously that type of vision is inaccessible for all but a select few. As much as I dislike writing posts this way – I’d much rather map it all out so if people disagree at least they can see the reasoning behind it – unfortunately there’s no other way today so bear with me.

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For those who read last week, it was all about how an ill-functioning forward line affects everywhere else on the field:

“…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 take control.”

North’s adjustment from Round 2 to Round 3 to help out the forward line and get higher quality entries was an attempt to control the tempo when in possession, reflected by the sharp increase in uncontested marks. 71 against Port Adelaide and 74 v Gold Coast became 116 on Good Friday.

It makes sense on the surface – after all, more control theoretically buys time for those further up the field to get into the right places. In turn it minimises risk when there is a turnover, those arriving either in a place hard for defences to counter from or when plenty of players are around the ball.

Here’s where the fork in the road arrives. The plan won’t work if the forwards aren’t getting to the right places or the ball use progressing up the field isn’t up to scratch.

If the forwards aren’t getting to the right places, those tasked with the responsibility to get it to them are stuck in no man’s land. They’re not supposed to bomb away – they know bombing away isn’t going to achieve anything – and the remit is to maintain possession when possible. The result is a lot of possession with negligible achievement.

If the ball use progressing up the field isn’t up to scratch, the forwards don’t – or won’t – know how or where to present to actually get their hands on the ball. Their running patterns and channels disintegrate and the ball which does manage to get through is haphazard at best.

Most people still reading will fall into one of those two camps. As usual the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but the inescapable conclusion for everyone is that regardless of where you sit, the end result wasn’t pretty, and things went downhill quickly.

The other side of the equation to consider is as the game wore on, the Bulldogs knew exactly what North wanted to do. And just as importantly, they knew North’s forwards couldn’t hurt them in the air.

It meant the Dogs’ defence – Easton Wood, Alex Keath and the like – were able to set up comfortably behind the ball to nullify anything long, while the remaining players were free to squeeze higher up the ground to prevent North’s attempts at shorter, sharper movement and constrict the space.

Add it all up and this is what you’ve got:

– North’s ball use being questionable at best
– North’s forwards not being able to continually present to the right areas when needed
– Bulldogs’ marking defenders comfortably able to mop up high balls
– Bulldogs’ smaller defenders able to squeeze up and close open space

Not exactly the greatest recipe for a young, rebuilding side against probably the best midfield in the competition and a key forward who turns into a Wayne Carey-Tony Lockett-Matthew Lloyd hybrid whenever he sees royal blue and white stripes.


A lesson for everyone:

Sometimes your attempted jokes can make you richer – if you actually decide to follow through on them, unlike me.


We arrive at the situation where the side with top four and premiership aspirations know there is nothing the bottom four and rebuilding side can do to hurt them.

99 percent of the time a side will attempt to maintain a structural balance between attack and defence whether in possession or not.

(The one exception is Collingwood who seemed uninterested in defending dangerous space while clinging onto a lead in the dying stages, but that is a story for Monday’s Notebook)

The Bulldogs – with Dunkley, Macrae, Daniel, Treloar, Smith and Liberatore all racking up disposals for fun – had no need for such things like ‘defence’ and ‘opposition’ and ‘safety’. Why would you when there are no consequences for making a mistake?

So it was floodgates open for the final term, with North incapable of doing anything as the Bulldogs poured on 10.7; their best last quarter since 1985, their best of any variety since 1998 and North’s heaviest loss since 1984. To parrot a line from David Noble’s post-match press conference, it was ‘unpalatable, but understandable’. And unfortunately not a match anyone at North will forget any time soon.

After all that, where does it leave North for next week against Adelaide at Marvel Stadium?

Ideally there is a short-term temporary fix devised for the forward line – whether it be personnel, structure or something else – to give greater confidence for those delivering it in there.

A handful of players returning for season debuts would be handy as well, namely Luke McDonald, Trent Dumont and Tristan Xerri.

The intangible is how players react to a game against Adelaide compared to the first three of Port Adelaide, Gold Coast away and the Bulldogs. It’s eminently more winnable even though North will still rightfully be outsiders. How does it change mindset and mentality?

One last note

To finish off last week’s post, I wrote this:

“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”

Since then:

I feel like these are all my fault. I apologise.

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