Round 15 v Gold Coast: A deserved win and reward for effort

A much deserved win is just reward for the constant improvement we’re seeing from North Melbourne week on week.

Yet shortly after the final siren I realised I was thinking ‘should have won by more’ before I caught myself.

How amusing that after two wins in the previous 28 matches there’s still a sense of entitlement there. At this stage of things it’s important to enjoy every win when it comes, no matter how it does. After all, at 2-0 in 2020 who would have thought the bottom would promptly fall out.

And now onto an afternoon of positives. Maybe except for the kicking on goal.

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The selected team looked a little unbalanced on paper, with Lachie Young’s introduction for Bailey Scott tilting the 22 a little too far towards the defenders.

However it was quickly rectified with Kayne Turner moving forward to carry out his defensive role there, starting on Jack Lukosius as well as spot minutes on others.

The most notable moment of it was how no-one batted an eyelid when Turner followed Lukosius on-ball for periods early in the afternoon, which caused a lightbulb moment here – the coaches are now comfortable with Turner defending in any part of the field.

It’s hard to understate how much confidence that gives the team when game planning or if forced to reshuffle on the run. If Turner’s midfield tag gets thrown inside 50, or his opposing forward gets thrown into the midfield, it won’t impact North’s structures elsewhere because Turner has the licence to follow him around and not hand off to someone else.

Although it’s taken half a season (and dare I say, injuries forcing a little more experimentation than desired), it’s a major development. Turner still has to carry out the role well, of course, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

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

Round 11 v St Kilda
What to take out of the first half-season
Round 13 v GWS
Round 14 v Brisbane

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The midfield, it is building in the right direction offensively. Defensive mistakes are easier to conceal in Hobart given the conditions but there’ll be another time and place to discuss those, so for now let’s look on the positive side.

There’s such a nice mix of power, force, touch and explosiveness with the rotations being built and it’s been on display these last three weeks in Hobart. Let’s perform the sacrilegious act of ignoring Ben Cunnington for a moment to focus long-term.

Jy Simpkin. Luke Davies-Uniacke. Tarryn Thomas. Those three, assuming continued health and a normal pattern of development, are going to be what people talk about when North are a finals side and going into most games with a legitimate chance of victory.

Simpkin’s only had two games under 22 disposals this year and is a top-25 player when it comes to disposals, contested possessions and clearances. He’s an established midfielder now, and a very good one.

Davies-Uniacke is bubbling nicely and again, pending fitness, is primed to take 2022 by the horns. His power to explode from congestion is what breaks games open, and it should only improve with another pre-season under the belt – especially considering the difference between Round 1 and Round 15 is noticeable enough already.

Tarryn Thomas, alternating between midfield and forward, playing either the Dustin Martin or Jake-Stringer-in-a-contract-year-role depending on how you look at it, is in a similar position to Davies-Uniacke: already improving at a rate of knots, but 2022 is the year to take a leap forward. It’s easy to forget Saturday was only game 40, and he’s already flirting with a 20-disposal + two scoring shot a game average.

Tom Powell is going to be a key fixture, and there’ll naturally be a couple more additions to the list once they have exposed form at AFL level. Now, the natural reaction to the last few paragraphs are ‘settle down, it’s only Gold Coast,’ which is fair to a certain degree. To balance that out, the last time I checked North haven’t exactly been lighting the ladder on fire with win after win recently.

It’s all about incremental steps, and the first couple have clearly been taken for North.

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If you’ve missed any of the previous editions of Monday’s Notebook, you can catch up by clicking here and scrolling through the season so far:

2021’s From The Notebook

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Luke McDonald’s second game back was marked by a string of ferocious attacks on the football which typified how his presence can lift teammates.

Apart from the basic – understanding of structures, experience compared to others – something as simple as his attack on the ball sets a standard.

While McDonald still looks like he has a touch more rustiness to shake off, the example he sets was on full show in the final term, particularly in the following passage.

His attack on the ball results in a free against, but at the next possible opportunity the mistake is rectified by beating three Suns and helping North clear. It’s the type of play which lifts teammates, and it was on full show by everyone in the final term.

For those who can’t see the video, click here to view

With 6:40 to go, North’s lead was 14 points and there was a perfect opportunity to show whether anything had been learned from the closing stages against GWS.

On the surface, no more inside 50s for North – and five Gold Coast behinds from there – suggests a bit of luck. Dig a little deeper and of those five behinds, three were rushed and one was a quick kick from outside 50 by Hugh Greenwood.

The only scoring shot of value North gave up was a set shot to Alex Sexton, and even that was from just inside the 50 on a 45 degree angle; hardly a lock. Play spent large periods of time in unthreatening areas and even when it did go close to goal for the Suns, North were set up well – comfortable intercept marks to Josh Walker and Ben McKay slowing the game down.

Undoubtedly North were helped by a Gold Coast side lacking in creativity but even allowing for that, North still had to get the job done and show improvement, which is what they did.

Next up, the Bulldogs. Which means a whole week of thinking about all the different ways Josh Bruce will kick a big bag of goals.

Extra Points

  • It’s absolutely not a coincidence Nick Larkey has eight goals in three games since Tristan Xerri’s inclusion, compared to 13 in the first 11 games of the season. Although Xerri is still far, far from the finished article as discussed in previous wraps, his presence frees up Larkey significantly. In turn it gives Larkey added confidence which he’s applying to other areas of his game, like this double effort in the final term:
For those who can’t view the video, click here to watch
  • Although it’s not shocking anyone to say Saturday was far from Jaidyn Stephenson’s best game with his quality of disposal, it was a promising sign to still see him getting involved in other ways. His seven tackles were a clear team high (the next best Cunnington on five). It’s easy for players with his role to fade out of games if their main area of expertise is failing them on the day, but instead Stephenson kept popping up to influence.
  • After three consecutive games at Blundstone Arena, it may be a little shock to the system playing at Marvel Stadium next Sunday night against the Bulldogs. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see an adjustment period in going from slower conditions to a fast track.

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