Seven rounds to go and the ladder is split between the top five and the rest, leaving us with two tasty battles for the top-four and top-eight.
Today’s Notebook covers Patrick Dangerfield, Melbourne’s continuing forward dilemmas and what to make of West Coast away from home.
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The reintroduction of Patrick Dangerfield
Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and Dangerfield’s return over the last month has been the perfect demonstration of that.
Dangerfield’s first game back against Port Adelaide saw him slot straight into the roaming, full-ground role which Geelong want him to play when at peak fitness. But it quickly became apparent that he was short of a gallop, to say the very least, and unable to properly carry out those responsibilities straight away.
So instead of forcing Dangerfield to push through and hope he’d come right eventually, Geelong dialled it back a little bit.
Dangerfield spent more time in the forward half while gradually increasing his game time from week to week, getting extra miles in the legs against the Bulldogs and Brisbane.
With three games completed, Dangerfield was ready to return to full capacity against Essendon and promptly collected 37 disposals: 24 kicks his most in a game since Round 12, 2016.
The week-to-week numbers clearly illustrate Geelong’s reshuffled plan working nicely:
|Game||Centre bounce attendance %||% of disposals in defensive half||% of disposals in forward half|
|R13 v Power||58.8%||59%||41%|
|R14 v Bulldogs||30.8%||39%||61%|
|R15 v Lions||31.8%||50%||50%|
|R16 v Bombers||74.1%||71%||29%|
Go in with a plan, realise it needs tweaking, change it up, and then reap the rewards. Now Geelong have a fit, firing and confident Dangerfield for the run into finals.
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:
Two tall forwards v three, aka the continuing Melbourne conundrum
Melbourne’s brilliant start to the season caught most off guard, suffocating opponents. The first six rounds were played with two tall targets as Ben Brown and Sam Weideman recovered from injury, before Round 7-13 were played with three; Brown and Weideman alternating places in the side with the exception of Round 9 where they shared the forward half with Tom McDonald.
Since the bye Melbourne have given two talls another look, opting to leave Brown and Weideman in the VFL and giving the keys to McDonald and Luke Jackson.
The difference between two talls now compared to the start of 2021, is how opponents have had time to scout the Demons and how they score. With two talls – and McDonald’s skill set best suited to roaming – so much is left on Jackson to handle the brunt of attention, or Gawn when they switch in the ruck.
Teams know Melbourne’s avenues now and if the Demons aren’t getting clean use from contests it takes a herculean effort to generate enough scoring shots to win without the third aerial option. Take the shot chart against the Giants for example:
It’s not the prettiest set of shots on goal you’ll see this year and it’s because there just weren’t enough usable options going forward, coupled with the Giants putting great levels of pressure on the inside 50 entries.
But, and this is important to note, it was absolutely worth Melbourne trying two talls out for the last fortnight. This was their last realistic chance to see if it could work while not compromising their finals preparation. If they suddenly went to trial two talls in Round 20 that would have been a cause for alarm bells. This way they’ve tried it, it didn’t work, no major harm done, and they move on.
Now Melbourne can commit to three talls and work through how to use them most effectively, it should help their scoring and relieve most of their issues, while you’d expect Max Gawn’s ruck time to increase as we get closer to September. He had nearly a 50-50 ruck contest split with Jackson on Saturday.
One last thing to keep an eye on is whether their small forwards can continue to maintain the rage. Kossie Pickett has looked a little flat recently with steadily decreasing game time, while Charlie Spargo has gone from 84% and 87% game time immediately before the bye to 68% and 71% in the last fortnight. Whether it’s management or players beginning to feel the pinch, we’ll find out soon.
For those who have missed any North Melbourne recaps and ruminations from the last month, you can catch up here:
West Coast’s personality
An advance apology for delving into Bill Simmons body language type areas, but a theory about West Coast’s performances I wanted to share.
I believe the longer a coach is at a team, the more the players adopt his personality, for better or worse.
As we found out in Making Their Mark, Adam Simpson wasn’t the greatest fan of hubs in 2020 and grumbled about it from time to time. It would have been impossible for that not to filter subconsciously into the players.
Then, either coincidentally or not, they kicked off their Queensland stint with three consecutive ugly losses with conditions not to their liking. Their season was bound together by six consecutive wins at home along with scratching past bottom six teams in uninspiring fashion.
In 2018 and 2019, the Eagles were 14-8 away from Perth. That’s dipped to 7-10 since the start of 2020 in what we’ll call the COVID Era, and with only one of those wins against a team above the bottom six.
Fast forward to the last fortnight, and a snap decision forces the Eagles’ game against the Bulldogs to be played in front of no home crowd and, not to discredit the Bulldogs, but West Coast are woeful. Then the match against Sydney is moved to Geelong and it looked like the Eagles had more or less completely checked out.
The common thread through all these performances over the last two years is when conditions aren’t to West Coast’s liking, they turn up their toes; the only exceptions being wins against St Kilda and Carlton when playing with essentially a second-string team due to injuries.
It’s not a bad team we’re talking about, even if it’s safe to assume they’re not at the top tier anymore. It’s what’s above the shoulders which is causing these meltdowns.