Round 5 v Geelong: Focusing on individuals

For regular readers of The Shinboner, you’ll be familiar with the common refrain of how games at Geelong can’t tell us much about North Melbourne long-term, given the unique conditions of GMHBA Stadium, how it’s not replicated anywhere else in the country and only having to play there once a year.

With that in mind, today’s post is going to be focused on a handful of individuals whose games weren’t affected by the dimensions. Consider it almost like a progress report of sorts, and their current standing in the team setup.

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Ben McKay

From the moment McKay returned to the side in Round 7 last year, he’s looked right at home. It’s no surprise he hasn’t missed a game since, all while frequently tasked with the most demanding matchup.

He took the points in Sunday’s duel against Tom Hawkins, the Geelong forward’s 1.1 – the goal coming when McKay was stranded on a different opponent after a kick-in turnover – his lowest return against North since 2015.

McKay used a variety of methods to quell Hawkins, from playing in front, to reading the play first, and even battling one-out in a test of strength. A brief snippet of what was captured via broadcast view:

Those clips – and what we’ve seen over McKay’s last 15 games – are all sustainable areas of his game. It’s not as if he’s a forward continually slotting low percentage shots, or a midfielder propping up his disposal numbers with cheap receives and uncontested possessions which don’t threaten defences. McKay’s playing to his strengths and being rewarded for it.

It’s a shame North don’t play Carlton until Round 19, because the brother v brother matchup is going to be a lot of fun to watch. By then, if Ben continues on his current form trajectory, he’ll be rightfully commanding a long-term, lucrative deal as the centrepiece of North’s defence for a long, long time.

Atu Bosenavulagi

Someone wrote the following as a dot point after a pre-season game against Hawthorn:

“Maybe this is reading too much into it, but it’s an alarm bell for me that Bosenavulagi is traded in as a small forward and in a matter of a couple of months he’s already being tried down back. Hopefully a block of VFL games to start the year will allow him to find his feet there.”

That person looks to have been wrong about alarm bells based on Bosenavulagi’s performance against Geelong.

Although it feels like all VFL sides played 18 months worth of practice matches, it’s only been a handful of outings for Bosenavulagi as a defender and already he looks worlds more comfortable than at Arden Street in early March.

While it’d be premature to rush and anoint Bosenavulagi as the small defender for the next ten years, and Geelong’s style does make it a touch easier for those to settle in given the relative lack of speed on the game, there were still plenty of promising signs.

Perhaps most promisingly, Bosenavulagi didn’t have moments where he looked lost and slow to react with the general movement of a forward line. Aside from his confidence to intercept and take the game on, it’s that skill which needs to be repeated week after week as a small defender.

Melbourne in a fortnight is the game which Bosenavulagi should circle on the calendar. With the way the Demons have been locking it in their forward line with their smalls buzzing around at ground level, it’s going to be a level setter for his rate of improvement.

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For those who have missed any recaps from the first four weeks, you can catch up here:

Round 1 v Port Adelaide
Round 2 v Gold Coast
Round 3 v Western Bulldogs
Round 4 v Adelaide

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Jack Mahony

Given Mahony’s physical attributes, for him to become more than a player between 15-30 on a list, he needs to either be above average in a number of categories or elite in a couple.

For Mahony it looks like his disposal has to be the element which sets him apart, coupled with an ability to cover the ground and be in the right places more often than not.

In the latter two categories, both the eye test and the AFL’s tracking data suggests Mahony has the potential to do so. In four of the first five games, Mahony has ranked in the top five for average speed in attack, which matches what we’re seeing with the 19-year-old seemingly being around the play often. It’s a nice base to work from.

Where everything is falling down at the moment for Mahony is his disposal. He’s had 57 touches for 17 turnovers this year, a rate of 3.35 to 1. To compare that ratio to a handful of Kangaroos who are relied on to create or take distance, keeping in mind the higher the number the better:

Jack Ziebell: 4.47
Jy Simpkin: 5.64
Jaidyn Stephenson: 4.95
Tom Powell: 5.44

This is the type of area which has to be the goal for Mahony if he’s to be more than a fringe player long term.

It’s important to be clear Mahony is far from a lost cause, despite the general level of frustration there seems to be in the outer with his current level of performance. If Mahony wasn’t getting to the spots he’s finding himself in, and instead turning it over with inconsequential possessions in the chain, then there’d be giant worries.

But at this stage, it’s a matter of figuring out how to improve his disposal. Is it with a spell in the VFL ala Bosenavulagi with a clear directive on what to work on? Or does the VFL not allow the same opportunities for someone with Mahony’s role to improve at a quick rate? There’s plenty to consider.

Tom Powell

By the end of the year, Powell will have a 5+ minute highlight package of just his handballing and the football smarts it shows by association.

There was the assortment of skills on show against Gold Coast, and he’s consistently found his fair share of the ball – all five games have brought between 14 and 19 disposals.

Powell’s ability to know exactly what’s going on around him at all times is going to make him an outstanding first possession type of midfielder around stoppages and contests for more than a decade.

Here’s one play in particular. We’ll run through it twice, first at normal speed:

Now let’s break it down. As the ball tumbles forward, Powell spins off Stewart and uses that half a second to assess his surroundings:

By the time the ball gets to this stage, Powell knows exactly what should be done next:

Immediately after Thomas takes possession, Powell claps to let his teammate know he’s an option:

And once Powell gets it, he already knows he’s going to Young with the quick handball:

It’s a guy in his fifth game playing like someone with 100 to his name. Outstanding behaviour which will go unnoticed by many. To finish off, here’s how the play looks now you know everything:

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