Walking into Marvel Stadium on Sunday, I had flashbacks to Round 10, 2016 v Essendon.
Some will recognise the significance of that match straight away. For those who don’t, it’s the Bombers’ top up year when they had nine losses of ten goals or more on route to a wooden spoon.
For North that day, not only did it feel like a no-win day from an expectation point of view, but it was also extremely tough to figure out what lessons had been learned.
After all, you’re playing a decimated team. Half of them are either top ups or not-quite-ready youngsters, and ultimately there’ll won’t be anything quite like this for the rest of the year.
While it’s no guarantee Sunday is the only time North face a Covid-afflicted team in 2022, there was still the same nagging question…
What is there to take away from this match?
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This point is going to be a little long-winded, but stick with me and it’ll make sense at the end I promise.
You look at the stat sheet and see Nick Larkey kicked six goals. So you go watch the vision and see they were nearly all on Callum Jamieson, the debutant. Then you think, well that’s not as impressive as I originally thought.
Even on days like Sunday where he was clearly West Coast’s best key defender, the Eagles like to keep Jeremy McGovern away from the opposition’s best forward, believing – rightly – his skill set is best used to peel off and intercept wherever possible.
A handful of teams follow similar patterns. For instance Darcy Moore took about 8,000 marks in last year’s clash doing the same, Brisbane have been trialling it more and more with Harris Andrews, just to name a couple.
If Larkey can keep putting these secondary defenders under pressure, it’s going to force teams into decisions on how they structure up.
Obviously he won’t be playing against debutants every week, and North are about to face top defensive units. But regardless of all that, it’s a step in the right direction. Unlike…
The general forward leading patterns
My original viewpoint – I genuinely couldn’t figure out the collective patterns and what they were supposed to accomplish.
Then I realised the rotations were thrown into chaos with the early withdrawal of Luke Davies-Uniacke and subsequent loss of Tarryn Thomas.
Because of that I’m being (very) generous and giving this area a mulligan. We may have to wait until Round 5 to touch on this topic again given two consecutive trips to Brisbane and Sydney, meaning having to watch the game with broadcast views instead of at the ground.
For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here’s where to catch up:
Monday 28th: From The Notebook: Round 2
Friday 25th: What To Watch For: Round 2
Tuesday 22nd: Real Or Not? Round 1 Trends
Monday 21st: From The Notebook: Round 1
The back seven
There are a couple of intriguing structures developing in North’s backline.
Last week I hopped on the Hashtag Kangaroos podcast to discuss how between Jack Ziebell, Aaron Hall and Luke McDonald, at least North have choice in how to rebound; the trio each having different strengths to utilise.
Then on Sunday, after Davies-Uniacke’s concussion forced the introduction of Aiden Bonar, there was a reshuffle.
Alongside Aidan Corr and Josh Walker as the two talls, Bonar played a tweener role. Then there was the aforementioned trio of Ziebell, Hall and McDonald, before being rounded out by Bailey Scott.
If we’re to assume Ben McKay takes Walker’s spot in this hypothetical setup, it’s not a bad one to use against smaller forward lines. Admittedly there are a lot of ‘if’s’: whether Bonar can stay fit, the level of trust in Ziebell or Hall to take a second genuine small if there is one, just for starters.
Then against the taller forward lines, it’s easy to play all of McKay, Corr and Walker together before filling the remaining spots as required.
It’s not a finished, ‘final form’ backline by any means. But there are some options I’d like to see more of, definitely a positive to come out of Sunday.
At the very least, North will be missing Davies-Uniacke next week. Regardless of whether Thomas is added to the list or not, they just have to find the balance between giving Powell more midfield minutes without overtaxing his body.
It’s a simple situation: good things happen more often than not when Powell has the ball in traffic. We saw it against the Eagles, and it’s a continuation of his trend since nearly Day 1 at AFL level.
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Saving the best until last, some may say.
A second gamer, making up for his mistakes:
A second gamer, cleaner than most on the field already:
Enjoy watching him develop week after week. Improvement won’t always be linear, but he’s a generational talent.