Round 8 v Collingwood: A monthly player check-in

A few weeks ago there was a handful of individual player progress reports in lieu of a big picture team structure dive.

That proved to be popular, and since then I’ve had a few requests to talk about particular players. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to make it a monthly feature.

Given eight weeks = two months, more or less, it makes sense for the second instalment to be today. Anything to distract from some of the officiating decisions.

Has this been timed specifically so I’ll have something to write about in Round 12 when North Melbourne have the bye? Possibly.

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Aiden Bonar

“It’s safe to say he won’t be out there next week … Bon’s probably out for a few, I think.”

Given those comments from David Noble in his post-match press conference, this may be the last chance to chat about Bonar’s progress before the mid-season bye.

As an out-of-contract player at the end of 2021 and one who, it’d be fair to say, didn’t light the world on fire in limited opportunities last year, Bonar seemed to be floating around a little bit.

Deployed as a mid-size defender, Bonar’s gone on to flash some impressive tools in his seven games this year. Although he’s listed at 188 centimetres, he can play taller and impact in the air:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

He also shows some impressive closing speed on the lead:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

That combination has led to Bonar being entrusted with the tweener-type opponents, which had gone relatively well until being left on an island against Jordan de Goey for much of the first half on Saturday.

While that didn’t go well, he wasn’t helped by those further up the field and how they allowed the delivery to be as easy as it was at certain stages.

Nevertheless, there are definitely tools to work with for Bonar as a defender. The question of how he fits as a puzzle piece in the unit is a valid one, considering you wouldn’t expect Robbie Tarrant, Aidan Corr and Ben McKay to be going anywhere anytime soon, and those three will ideally take the lion’s share of marking forwards when fit.*

While it’s probably unlikely we’ll get any definitive answers on that front this year, hopefully this latest setback isn’t a major one and Bonar can return for at least another seven or eight games this season.

*I’m aware the concept of ‘being fit’ and ‘not injured’ is more of a wistful dream as a North Melbourne player at this stage, but just roll with me for now

Jack Ziebell

Before Round 1, I said the following about the skipper:

“He’ll have to unlearn a few traits, namely when to hunt the ball and when he’s best at home on his opponent. There were quite a few positives … there were also moments which snap you back to reality. These are the sorts of simple errors which happen at the beginning of a process. If these types of moments are still in Ziebell’s game through a month of the season, then it becomes a worrying discussion.”

Good News: Those ‘rookie mistake’ moments are continuing to space themselves out, getting fewer and further between as we go. Ziebell, for the most part, doesn’t look lost in the defensive 50 anymore.

The Caveat: Recently those moments have been replaced by a growing tendency to over-commit in helping, like this:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

Important Note: The risk-reward in these decisions is what separates great defenders from the rest. This isn’t intended to make a direct comparison between Ziebell and Jake Lever, but no-one questions the latter when he peels off his opponent to be a third man up – because he knows exactly when to go and when to stay home.

Ziebell actually ranked sixth in the league for intercept possessions heading into the weekend, which should be interpreted as a good sign that he’s reading what’s up the field well and making smart decisions based on that.

The next step in his progress as a defender is using that knowledge from reading the play and picking the right times to use it. For instance in the above clip, Ziebell’s read the play well and knows what Melbourne’s plan is. But he either hasn’t seen McKay being in a good position to deal with the threat, or he’s decided to try and impact the ball regardless of what’s in the way, depending on your interpretation of the play.

Some of that will come with a couple of wins and a bit more confidence across the defensive unit as a whole. Overall, things appear to be trending in the right direction unless he keeps being penalised for a smother.

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For those who have missed any recaps from the last month, you can catch up here:

Round 4 v Adelaide
Round 5 v Geelong
Round 6 v Fremantle
Round 7 v Melbourne

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Tarryn Thomas

Thomas has been the most requested player to talk about – by a long way – since the first batch of progress reports.

Short summary: He’s really, really close. It’s important to remember Thomas has only just completed game 34. Is he ever consistently going to be a 25-30 disposal player? Probably not, but in my opinion his best role will eventually end up at an even split between midfield and forward, which would then make it next to impossible to rack up those numbers anyway.

When Thomas wins the ball in the midfield, he’s clean:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

And it’s not breaking any news to say Thomas knows his way around goals:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

Where I have seen criticism is for his defensive efforts. And while that can no doubt improve, it’s a good chance to briefly touch on the different types of mistakes that are made. Thomas hasn’t been making any more or less than most players, it’s just when he does make one it’s hard to miss – which then naturally catches the eye and leads to said criticism.

Plenty of players make plenty more mistakes, but because they’re more subtle to the naked eye they get away with it. For example, take this play from Collingwood v Brisbane in Round 3:

If you can’t view the video, click here to watch

McCluggage steaming away is entirely down to de Goey not putting in the effort to chase or hold him up, but it goes unnoticed in general play because it’s not front and centre, and attention is quickly diverted.

After the game against Collingwood, Thomas sits third for pressure acts at North this season behind just Kayne Turner and Luke Davies-Uniacke, and at a perfectly acceptable rate league wide as well. It’s important to not let one or two passages smack you in the face to the extent it colours the rest of a game. Thomas is tracking well.

Luke Davies-Uniacke

The man is 21 years old and just lost his father. Discussing his football is trivial and borderline irresponsible for the time being. Hopefully the football discourse gives him some space.

10 thoughts on “Round 8 v Collingwood: A monthly player check-in

  1. A few weeks ago there were (not was) a handful of individual player progress reports in lieu of a big picture team structure dive.

    respect to you regarding LDU

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