It’s been a while, but we’re on the home straight and heading towards Round 1 of the AFL season.
Before the first bounce on Sunday – which then becomes a throw up once the umpire calls it back for a redo – it’s important to set a bar for what I’ll be expecting from 2022.
There’ll be plenty of smaller discoveries along the way, milestones which pop up seemingly out of nowhere, along with individual player development.
For the moment though, these are the six big-picture items I’m looking at for North Melbourne in 2022.
For those who haven’t seen the news, there’s a Shinboner Patreon for the 2022 season, running from March 1 to October 31.
The first 12 hours of this post are exclusive to those on the $5 tier and above.
There are four different tiers. It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. A huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up so far, it’ll allow me to do much more this season.
A standout defensive method
The word ‘identity’ was originally in this heading before I realised it’s a Fox Footy trademark.
Nevertheless, as I’ll touch on more in the next point, much of North’s improvement in the second half of the year came from a greater control with the ball. More control = less time without possession, fewer turnovers in dangerous positions, in theory easier to defend. To be clear, that was a big tick in the overall scheme of 2021. But…
When opponents won the ball from neutral positions, i.e. stoppages, general contests and scrimmages, things were still sketchy. It was a struggle forcing turnovers at a rate you’d like to see, stemming ball movement and preventing high quality shots at goal.
It’s not breaking any news to say there has to be progress in this area during 2022. It could be focused on creating forward half turnovers, or maybe even sitting deep and working on absorbing inside 50 entries.
By Round 23, everyone should be able to sit back and say ‘<insert strength here> is what North are trying to do without the ball.’
An extra layer of ball movement
The extra control North had after the bye last year was evident to those who watched week to week, although clearly not for those who have based this year’s previews off 2021 season statistics.
|2021||Round 1-12||Round 13-23|
|Contested Possession Differential||-142 (18th)||-97 (16th)|
|Uncontested Possession Differential||-342 (18th)||-34 (8th)|
|Inside 50 Differential||-81 (17th)||-85 (16th)|
|Scoring Shot % Per Inside 50||36.47% (18th)||42.04% (11th)|
|Scoring Shot % Conceded Per Inside 50||51.06% (18th)||44.95% (17th)|
Given such an inexperienced side and repeated batterings up until the bye, it was a genuinely impressive first step to orchestrate this type of in-season improvement.
Now the next step has to be converting some of this control into a more varied offensive palate. It has to be done this year while still working out an ideal forward structure. If not, before you know it the team is locked into a style of ball movement that can’t find enough goals while regularly having the better of general play.
This works hand in hand with the next checkpoint for 2022…
Consolidating the forward structure
This has already come up a couple of times this year. I’d imagine with the introduction of Callum Coleman-Jones, rewarding Tristan Xerri for his pre-season, feeding Todd Goldstein more forward minutes, not to mention hopefully Charlie Comben staying fit all year, there’s going to be a ton of experimentation with key forward planks alongside Nick Larkey.
There can’t be improved ball movement with no forward synergy. It looks like the route to start 2022 is two talls and a more even ruck split, but I’d be genuinely stunned if there’s no look at how three talls fare at some point.
If there are three talls it’d probably have to feature Comben; a setup with all of Coleman-Jones, Xerri and Goldstein with Larkey feels way too top-heavy. Then again, maybe you can get away with it in certain conditions if there’s faith in the ground level crew buzzing around at a high level.
To repeat a point, if you’re going to try these things it has to be this year. By the end of it there should be few queries on the best way to set up North’s forward line.
As I get into the swing of things and the season begins, naturally the volume of posts will increase. Here’s how it’ll look (as a minimum) for the next seven days:
Tuesday: Version 1 of the 2022 Team Tiers (first 24 hours exclusive to $10 Patrons, free after that)
Friday: What To Watch For (exclusive to $7.50 & $10 Patrons)
Monday morning: North’s Round 1 Review (free for all)
Also Monday morning: From The Notebook (first 12 hours exclusive to $5 & up Patrons, free after that)
The wingers’ roles
During St Kilda’s pre-season win over Essendon, in commentary Nathan Buckley had an interesting line on the role of wingers.
“The trend last year was for the fat side, offensive winger to push deeper in with the defensive winger that was rolling back. We’re seeing a lot more goals from the fat side wings.”
Whether this trend continues in 2022 or not, only time will tell. The fascinating part as it relates to North is how their rotations are set to play out.
You could name any of at least half a dozen players to make the wings their own and there’s a realistic chance of being on the money.
Trent Dumont is at Port Adelaide, Luke McDonald is already confirmed as moving back, Jared Polec starts Round 1 on one wing, and on the other there is … who knows?
Of course Polec’s role when in the side will be to take territory and break lines if he can recapture anything nearing peak form. Apart from that, all the unknowns elsewhere leave so much room for interpretation.
With Polec taking the lion’s share of offensive wing responsibilities, you’d think the other wing shapes as largely defensive. But then again, what if there’s another way to approach it? Perhaps it’ll be used as an extra on-ball rotation given the need to get minutes into so many youngsters. It could be an extra place for the half forwards to roll through, or even the half backs. The possibilities are plentiful.
Wings are the most unsung position in a team, bar none. Figuring out their roles simplifies much for fellow midfielders.
How Aidan Corr is used
I know the mention at the top was about how individual player development was a separate storyline to these big picture topics.
However, where Corr settles in North’s defensive system is going to have cascading effects for the rest of the unit.
Corr’s obviously a key defender, that much is for certain. And we know Ben McKay will be tasked with manning the best, or at least ‘biggest’, key forward while likely being the deepest in the setup.
The key here is whether North are comfortable having Corr take the second key forward every week, or whether they envision a role on the tweener types where he can peel off and attempt to intercept.
There was a little from column A and a little from column B during the pre-season, to the point where it was tricky to decipher any clear preference.
Where it ends up by the end of the year is going to be a major talking point, because…
A clear understanding of what’s needed for 2023
Everyone is in agreeance that North needs another key defender. But hypothetically, let’s say Corr ends up being locked in as the second tall.
When going shopping in either the trade or draft periods, a third tall/tweener/intercepting type calls for a much different skill set compared to a ‘traditional’ second tall, and vice versa.
Or perhaps the goal is to build a key defender set with as much flexibility in it as possible to cater for all types of cross matches?
Away from the back seven and looking at things as a whole, by the end of the season there really should be a clear pecking order on what still needs to be fixed. The previous five topics should play a large role in making it clear to anyone who pays attention.
2021 was all about finding any building blocks possible, and that was a success. 2022 should be about consolidating that, and reaching October knowing exactly what holes need to be filled over the draft and trade period to strengthen. 2023 is when we should start seeing tangible levels of improvement in the wins column.
Happy Round 1 Week.