Round 4 v Sydney: Responding

There is a hell of a lot to talk about today.

Thankfully it’s much more positive than last week because there was the desired response.

Not only was there the intangible around increased effort, but it also worked hand in hand with important tactical and structural manoeuvres to help North’s performance…


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A section about the forward setup could be an entire piece of its own, such were the changes and clarity around roles and responsibilities.

We’ll get to the obvious one in a moment, but first let’s talk about Cam Zurhaar and Kayne Turner.

The last time these two sides played, Nick Blakey had his way for a half. It felt like he had a force field around him as he ran around tallying disposals at will until forced off by an injury.

Although the Swans also have Jake Lloyd back there, it’s Blakey who damages the most. So Turner went to him as the defensive forward and carried out his role. With Blakey quiet, Sydney weren’t able to transition out of their back half as easily.

A sticking point through the first few weeks have been wondering around the forwards’ leading patterns, trying to figure out what everyone wants to achieve.

Zurhaar was pushed slightly higher up the field, playing more as a hit-up/lead-up forward. Compare his heat maps over the last fortnight and the difference is notable:

Zurhaar’s heat map v Brisbane
Zurhaar’s heat map v Sydney

Add in Jack Mahony having a very good pressure game and suddenly a lot of the ground level problems were solved for a day. With Zurhaar providing movement going at the ball carrier, it allowed North defenders and midfielders more options than previously, and perhaps more importantly a sense of confidence the ball wouldn’t bounce back over their heads twice as quickly as it exited.

Which brings us to the captain. There seemed like a number of different ways to interpret Jack Ziebell’s move forward – was it forced due to personnel, was it for matchup suitability, did the team structure simply lend itself to it happening for a day?

Ultimately there was a single line from David Noble post-match – almost a throwaway line given the lack of immediate follow up to it – which spoke volumes:

“We probably felt the opposition were targeting him a little bit too much for what we were trying to get out of him.”

On face value it seems a little blunt – one defender was always going to be singled out by Hawthorn after Ben McKay’s withdrawal, and the whole defensive group were lambs to the slaughter against Brisbane.

But it’s the constant question for any half back which a team relies on. If Aaron Hall had been the one isolated for a few weeks, exposed, then he’d probably have moved elsewhere as well.

Ziebell’s move forward, obviously where he’s more comfortable even if the move isn’t permanent, allowed the trio of him, Nick Larkey and the resting ruckman to work in tandem to either mark or bring the ball to ground and it worked a charm.

Between the McCartin brothers and Dane Rampe, there were only four intercept marks for the afternoon. For comparison that number was six in Round 1, ten in Round 2 and 11 in Round 3. Big tick.

For the first time this year, there appeared to be a purpose in every part of the forward group. Considering what has happened previously, that’s either a relief or a step forward. Take your pick.


For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here are links to catch up with:

Friday 8th: What To Watch For: Round 4
Tuesday 5th: Why are Port Adelaide 0-3
Monday 4th: From The Notebook: Round 3
Sunday 3rd: North’s Round 3 Review


When there’s a forward setup which is working, it unlocks so many areas of a game. There’s no better illustration than Jy Simpkin’s third quarter goal.

We know that when the opportunity presents, North want to run and carry through the corridor at speed. No great shock there, it’s what every team would do if given the chance.

The issue across the first three rounds has been no synergy between forwards and other lines, which has cruelled ball movement. Not the case here.

After some, let’s call it … shenanigans at half back, North clear and through behind the goals footage we can see how forwards are setting up.

As we’ve covered, Zurhaar is starting higher in a position where he can lead up if the situation calls for it. Here he holds off and creates space.

Larkey is also high on the opposite side to Zurhaar, and his movement creates another issue for Sydney’s defenders.

To cap it off, Ziebell is deepest for either a long kick or lead, and he’s constantly moving as well.

Add the three together and it’s too much for Sydney to deal with when they also have to figure out how to stop the ball itself.

Smart play from Jaidyn Stephenson caps the play off and it’s a perfect demonstration of how things can work when everyone’s in sync.

If the video won’t play for you, click here to view


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There was a heap to take out of the game, especially because the team was out on their feet from halfway through the final quarter.

A starker contrast between this week and last week you could not find. Although most of it was score influenced, the side by side clips still should be held up as prime examples of what to do and what not to do.

The million dollar question is whether North are capable of backing up with a respectable performance off a six day break against a Bulldogs side desperate to avoid dropping to 1-4.

Let’s be honest, Good Friday is North’s biggest game of the year. It’s their Grand Final. The only free to air game until Round 11 at the very least, the best chance of showcasing their wares for a general public who will go in not knowing three quarters of the list.

Last year was embarrassing for obvious reasons. I’d expect a side primed to put in a much improved performance this time around.

Odds & Ends

  • There’ll be more words on Flynn Perez, Bailey Scott and Atu Bosenavulagi in coming weeks. Particularly with Perez, who could unlock a flurry of options in midfield if he continues to build
  • Given next week’s opponent, there’ll be a large, large focus on the midfield
  • The original plan was to have a big picture VFL post last week, but there was next to nothing to take from the game, and then it was followed by a bye this week. The new timeframe for that is at some stage before AFL Round 6
  • Here’s Tristan Xerri just shoving everyone at three quarter time because he can
If the video won’t play for you, click here to view

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