13 days until North Melbourne open their 2022 campaign at the MCG (!) for the first time since 2009 (!!) with a very winnable game against Hawthorn.
The pre-season has been a valuable learning tool to hit that Sunday afternoon running, with another set of lessons to take out of the game against Sydney.
In the absence of a consistent thread through the match from start to finish, let’s jump around from topic to topic.
For those who haven’t seen the news, there’s a Shinboner Patreon for the 2022 season, running from March 1 to October 31.
There are four different tiers. It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. People have actually signed up to it already, which is humbling and will allow me to do much more this season.
Delisted at the end of 2021, then re-rookied, Polec must have been near the bottom of the internal midfield depth chart.
After playing only two of the last 19 games, one of them as the sub no less, when the delisting/re-rookie announcement came, it felt like the only reason Polec remained at North was because there was a contract still to pay out.
Fast forward to March 7 and he’s already locked in to the Round 1 team on a wing after what was reportedly a huge pre-season, being utilised in a role which amplifies his strengths and hides his weaknesses.
Maybe Polec goes on to play 20+ games this year, or maybe the spot in the best 22 doesn’t hold past the first month.
Either way, it sends a great message to the rest of the playing group that there are no lines put through players. Stick with the cliches, work hard, and you’ll get your chance. It’s not always this way.
Defending from the front half
A common thread this year will be monitoring how North defend in their front half.
This is the area where they can improve the most from 2021, and if it happens it’ll have an enormous impact in both points scored (obviously) and also fewer points conceded by stopping transition.
Although conditions helped against Sydney, overall there has been a lot more of these types of plays, with multiple Roos working to keep the ball locked closer to goal:
It still doesn’t qualify as having turned the corner, but it’s a baby step.
Attacking with the forwards
While there have been the first signs of improvement with front half defending, what still needs a lot of work is how the forwards are working with each other from an attacking point of view.
Across the last two weeks the ball movement has been one-dimensional. Not that anyone should be expecting a free-flowing, final-stage type product at this point anyway, but even allowing for that the early 2022 signs have been limited.
Some of that has been because of opposition – Melbourne and Sydney are a slightly different beast to, say, Gold Coast and Hawthorn – and moving personnel meaning a best 22 hasn’t been in action.
So far the 2022 ball movement has looked much like 2021 with no new tricks unveiled as yet.
Part of the reason things have looked out of sync is because of a significant change…
The ruck split
Anyone under the age of 20 probably doesn’t know a North Melbourne without Todd Goldstein rucking nearly on his own from siren to siren.
Those days, barring injuries to others, are all but gone.
Now before I go on, just so this section isn’t misconstrued by anyone, this is what I think of Goldstein:
The next step in North’s evolution is two rucks, so for Goldstein to a best 22 player past this season he’ll have to play more forward minutes than ever before.
On Sunday, Tristan Xerri had 52 ruck contests compared to Goldstein’s 41. Although there was no official stats for the game against Melbourne, it felt like things were trending towards a similar split before Callum Coleman-Jones’ knee knock.
Goldstein’s not a natural forward, and he hasn’t spent a lot of time playing alongside Nick Larkey. That’ll mean a feeling out period as they try to translate training track lessons into live matches, and those further up the field learn how to read running patterns.
Watch this space to see how it evolves with Goldstein, Larkey, and whoever wins the battle for the remaining ruck/forward spot.