Round 1 v Hawthorn: Small picture, big picture

Just a little bit to cover off today.

Let’s set the scene and get right into it. This topic is our focus for today:

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While the North match reviews are going to be free for all in 2022, for those who haven’t heard the news about other posts, there’s a Shinboner Patreon for the 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. A huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up so far, it’ll allow me to do much more this season.

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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Heading into Round 1, North’s 2022 checklist piece had a section explaining why we should expect to see a lot of moving parts in the forward setup:

“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.”

Hand up in admitting I didn’t expect North trialling the least likely combination right off the bat in a season opener, especially when they were unable to preview it in either of the pre-season matches.

In deciding to play an extra tall forward when it doesn’t make for the most mobile group in the world, margin for error shrinks drastically.

If talls aren’t providing a presence, presenting a target, and working in sync towards useful areas on the field, then ground level players – of which there are fewer than normal – have to be right on song to ensure no easy rebounds. Especially when the defensive group contains Jiath and Sicily.

Then, as an added kicker, when the team’s most important player and best defender goes down in Ben McKay with his concussion, all these key points basically become non-negotiables.

Why? Because if it’s not spot on, you’re ceding control in all areas of the ground. If talls aren’t providing a target or in the right areas, it’s tough to consistently maintain possession because those with the ball are forced into lower percentage options.

Once you lose the ball, if the ground level forwards aren’t working to the top of their capability to win the ball back, a team can’t force turnovers at the rate required to win games.

And to cap it off, the final stage is exposing an undermanned and undersized defence. With that in mind, let’s jump to the second half and start looking through vision.

First up is the passage of play which led to Jack Gunston’s goal, giving Hawthorn a lead they wouldn’t relinquish again.

It started with a Jiath intercept mark, which in isolation can be explained as a positive play from him rather than a blunder by North.

The issue came afterwards, where there was no communication between the forward group. Horne-Francis switches from Jiath to chase Ward. Larkey stands the mark, but then Jiath is allowed to go for a Sunday stroll through the middle, get on the end of the chain and deliver to Gunston. This is what happens when a forward line is out of sync:

A similar example happened just a couple of minutes later, when Sicily and Morrison are able to cruise out of North’s forward 50 relatively untouched. A North centre clearance turns into defending in their back half too quickly:

Here’s an instance where the leading patterns and ball movement of the forwards are on two different wavelengths.

As Curtis Taylor marks just forward of the wing, you can see marking targets waiting a kick and a half down the ground.

By the time Taylor kicks, marking targets are … still a kick and a half down the ground, leaving the option as an outnumbered Jy Simpkin:

Early in the last quarter, with the margin a point, again the forward unit as a collective is too slow to switch from offence to defence.

A key possession in this chain is Jack Scrimshaw’s handball. He’s able to be a link because there’s no communication between the forwards to block space up. The ball goes from end to end and Wingard gives Hawthorn breathing space:

Little clarity with roles and responsibilities leads to situations like this. After Hawthorn gain possession in their defensive 50 and find a mark, too many Roos swarm the ball carrier.

A switch is left wide open, which Hawthorn take, exit the zone and get back inside 50. Another opportunity for North to lock it in their forward half goes begging.

There were a plethora of instances where North gained possession in their back half, only to look up and see nothing in the way of outlets. In this instance, it’s a relief there are no behind the goals pictures to use as evidence, because seeing it once at the ground was more than enough.

Forwards on the opposite side of the ground to the ball, too close to the play, too far – you name it and it happened at some stage, particularly in the second half.

North actually had seven more inside 50s than Hawthorn after half time – 31 to 24.

The stat is a perfect indicator of how the forward structure wasn’t up to expectations, given North’s 31 second half entries yielded a grand total of 3.2.

Then, Hawthorn in the same period were +36 in uncontested possessions. It showed how North were rarely able to exert any type of control in general play, all those forward entries turning to nought with the Hawks able to use possession far more effectively in grinding their way to a win.

Now here’s the thing. The above has been dedicated to pointing out all the different ways this setup fell short of expectations.

After all these explanations, the big picture twist for this particular three-tall combination either not working (personal opinion) or needing significant training ground surgery before it’s tried again (generous opinion)…

It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.

The six people who understood that reference hopefully enjoy this picture

To temporarily put aside the immense frustration of seeing a winnable game squandered, ultimately it’s not going to change the course of North’s 2022. A top four spot doesn’t become less likely, nor a finals berth, to state the obvious. Barring something wildly unexpected, both weren’t on the cards this year anyway.

If one element of this season is to be judged by the process of finding North’s best forward setup with the resources at hand, this three-tall look + surrounding pieces now goes to the (very) back of the line.

Next week, you’d imagine there’ll be something different. It remains to be seen whether that means tinkering around the edges with what’s around Larkey, Coleman-Jones and the resting ruck, or my personal preference of bringing in an extra small and choosing between Coleman-Jones and Xerri for the remaining place.

Either way, Sunday was still a step forward for North. Just in the complete opposite way to what anyone was hoping.

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