The general tone for the first two-thirds of this post may not match the mood in the outer, so let’s start with an explanation for why.
Expectations dictate moods. From my perspective, Brisbane are on the same level as Melbourne to start 2022 – as I argued in my pre-season tiers piece – and are also enjoying a miniscule injury list. They had 19 AFL-listed players in their VFL win on Saturday afternoon.
North Melbourne … aren’t on that level. And the absence of Tarryn Thomas and Luke Davies-Uniacke meant a midfield down to its bare bones, considering the continued unavailability of Ben Cunnington*, Jed Anderson and Will Phillips.
Mix all these ingredients together and you have the recipe for a thumping.
Those were my initial thoughts, and through three quarters it was playing roughly according to script. A team primed v a team at the start, and the fundamental differences which come with those different stages.
And then. Then … then there was the final quarter. For those who just want to read about that, skip to the last section.
(*There are obviously a million more important things than a Sherrin when it comes to Cunnington. This is purely about pointing out on-field options at North’s disposal)
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Before we get to why everyone is probably here, let’s run through a few examples of what Brisbane does well, things North are aspiring to get to.
A feature of the Lions’ wings is the pure running power of whoever they rotate through there.
This allows them to influence both offensively and defensively, able to turn on a dime as they react to how play unfolds.
Mitch Robinson’s goal from the first quarter is a perfect example. We start this play with a freeze frame to identify his positioning and from there, he’s always in a position where he can help in any facet of the game.
Before Robinson picks up the crumb from a thumping spoil, his positioning on the field works either offensively – as we saw – or defensively as the first point of protection if North gained clean possession.
North don’t have anyone capable of these efforts for a full game yet. Having said that, Curtis Taylor is progressing nicely, with his second quarter against Brisbane probably the best of his career.
10 disposals, four marks and a goal showed what Taylor can do. With Jared Polec’s pre-season form seemingly leaning more and more towards a false positive with every passing week, Taylor should have the inside running on making one wing his own.
One quarter doesn’t make a game though, and it takes time to build towards being capable of those outputs.
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Brisbane’s midfielders are strong at working into dangerous positions without compromising their forwards’ leading patterns.
In this example Hugh McCluggage – in the middle of an on-ball stint at the time – is able to mark over the outstretched hands of Todd Goldstein.
Watch him run between the lines of North’s defence, finding a soft spot, getting the ball back and giving Brisbane another inside 50.
Then he follows up the play when Brisbane have a repeat entry. Although North repel in this instance, notice how everything he’s done is away from the forwards, not interfering with their setup, and always testing North’s defence.
That’s the final form of a midfielder. With the tentative exception of Jy Simpkin, North don’t have anyone capable of doing this type of running and presenting for four quarters yet.
You can visualise how this type of effort fits in well with the way North attempt to move the ball. For the moment, visualising is as far as it goes.
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For the first three quarters, although obviously far from lollipops and rainbows – with a heap to highlight and work on – things were going roughly according to my expectations.
Then, from Brisbane’s first inside 50 of the final quarter, Ben McKay went down with a corkie. And that, with very few exceptions, was a cue for North to give up.
Brisbane had 27 inside 50s for the term. Twenty seven. For context on just how many that is, the previous high for any team in a quarter this year: 22.
Here are some more numbers to illustrate the final quarter carnage:
Disposals: 117-69 Brisbane
Contested Possessions: 48-20 Brisbane
Tackles: 15-8 Brisbane (not a typo)
Inside 50s: 27-9 Brisbane
Score: 9.5.59 to 1.1.7 (Brisbane’s way, just in case anyone was confused)
There is a difference between being helpless and not putting in required effort. The natural inclination is to think back to Good Friday last year, but as I detailed at the time, that was a culmination of the Bulldogs systematically taking away everything North were trying to do. It’s a different situation to what we witnessed at the Gabba.
Highlighting certain clips of play from the final quarter last night don’t tell an appropriate story; they scapegoat individuals when focus should be on the collective.
There were telltale signs of a team mentally checked out for the evening. Passing blame, pointing at inconsequential areas and a reluctance to follow their direct opponents in situations still in the flow of general play were just a few of the grim scenes, repeated time and time again.
A handful of players can hold their head up high; they were the small few who appeared to have any pride left in their performance.
There’ll be plenty more heavy losses along this journey, that much is for certain. You could make an argument this stretch between Round 3-10 features five of the top six teams.
But even allowing for that inevitability, the manner of this defeat has to signify rock bottom.
A final quarter surrender of such timidness shouldn’t be acceptable.