Round 11 v St Kilda: The halfway point

When you’re halfway into a season and the obvious topics to pop up from a game are ones already covered at length – ball use, stoppages and efficiency, to name a few – it feels like I’d be repeating myself by highlighting those things once again.

Instead, I’d like to focus on three separate issues which the game got me thinking about – Bailey Scott’s role, Tom Campbell v Tristan Xerri, and what the forward setup could (or should) look like down the road.

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Bailey Scott’s role on Brad Hill

For the record, I want to state that Scott can be much more than a pure lockdown/defensive forward; his skill set naturally lends itself to a greater role.

Nevertheless, holding Hill to four disposals in three quarters and forcing the Saints to move Hill for the last made for an excellent return to the AFL side.

Scott has all the physical tools for a midfielder when it comes to covering ground. To use Saturday as an example, he:

– Ran a further distance than anyone else
– Had only Trent Dumont and Hill ahead of him for distance covered at high speed
– Had only Dougal Howard, Kayne Turner and Hill ahead of him for a top speed
– Had only Hill ahead of him for total sprints (29 to 28)
– Had only Seb Ross ahead of him for repeat sprints

I envision Scott’s ideal role as a reliable, hard-running winger every week – not too dissimilar to Dumont really. The key point is Scott potentially adding this role as a lockdown forward to give him greater flexibility and earn future games at the level.

After the Adelaide game in Round 4, I showed the beginnings of a team being built with the ability to play in multiple positions if needed. Hopefully in a month’s time Scott can be looked at as either a winger or forward depending on matchups.

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Given there’s no game in Round 12 due to the bye, there obviously won’t be a match review post.

Instead what I’ll post on Thursday or Friday is a half-season review of some kind, likely taking the shape of what we’ve learned so far.

My initial plan was to do an updated depth chart, but quickly realised everything’s still in such a state of flux it wouldn’t actually teach us anything.

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Tom Campbell v Tristan Xerri

Xerri’s recent form is probably the first true instance of a Roo truly belting the door down for selection in David Noble’s time.

His 35 disposals (30 contested) and 10 marks last week against Essendon came after being one of North’s best the previous week against Box Hill, and his role plus age profile isn’t exactly in an area where North are flush with options.

From the outside, we’re all in the position of learning this coaching staff’s tropes and how they approach selection. It’s not too harsh to say that for all the benefits Campbell brings at being part of the system with his experience, he won’t be a long-term player at AFL level.

But by the same token, Campbell had also put in a solid stretch of form since his inclusion in Round 4, progressing from placeholder to useful. The question is how to balance things between rewarding form, looking long-term, and making players genuinely earn their spots.

Get the scale tilting too far towards the incumbent and you’re left with one of the main criticisms of the Brad Scott era with favourites being picked every week. The other way around and you’re risking those in the side constantly looking over their shoulder, never feeling safe and making it a much tougher task to build confidence.

At some stage Xerri simply has to come in, but you also want him coming in at the right time when his confidence is high, rather than a week or two too late and then you’re not putting him in the best position to succeed.

Campbell’s game against St Kilda was arguably his quietest of the lot given no second ruckman for the Saints, so perhaps the decision is self-evident now and all this musing is for nothing. On first evidence it appears that the coaching staff is preferring to slightly favour the incumbent and wait for those in the VFL to make the case irresistible – at least until we get further data points to use as a comparison.

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

Round 7 v Melbourne
Round 8 v Collingwood
Round 9 v Hawthorn
Round 10 v Essendon

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The forward personnel – who stays, what changes

It’s relatively simple to see the outline of a midfield and defensive group which can be added to over the coming years.

The forwards … the forwards are much murkier, and the area where personnel additions will make the most drastic improvement.

Given the whole setup is a work in progress, it’s tough to predict what the future mix will even look like – about the only thing we can predict with relative certainty so far is that there’ll be two players with key position size, and one of those doubling up as the second ruck.

Apart from that, are the other four or five forwards made up of mostly mid-sized players? There’ll already be an expectation that some of them can also play midfield, but how many? Will there only be two or three permanent forwards, if that?

And then the most important question of all – what timeframe are you working to? Making a mistake here can make all the team building work elsewhere moot. If a player is available this off-season and he’s 27 or 28 years old, does that help North for the period where they believe they’ll be playing in September?

What should be top of the priority list is figuring out whether there is anyone on the list capable of playing against the best key position defender week-in, week-out. We’ll go through it more during the week in the half-season review, but it should be apparent now that Nick Larkey is a capable number two who needs someone alongside him as a contested presence.

That person, whoever it may be, can free Larkey up and also slide Cam Zurhaar into a role where he’s a third or even fourth option, a spot where he can use his skill set to force mismatches.

There’ll be more to come about this during the week, but until then, enjoy the upcoming week without a match to think about.

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