North Melbourne’s building blocks in the VFL

Who knows whether it’s still the case now, but once upon a time the VFL wraps on North Melbourne’s website were consistently amongst the top of the pile when it came to total views.

Rightfully so too. Apart from being well written (except for a few occasions I wasn’t happy with the end product), there was always an intense interest from fans about what was coming up from below.

If you know what to look for and what translates to AFL football, it’s an excellent place to fast track knowledge and identify trends before most.

It’s almost like being a football hipster, but when looking at a team still building from the ground up – i.e. North 2022 – investing time watching will pay off down the track. Last Friday at Arden Street was another example…

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The Shinboner Patreon is up and running this year from March 1 to October 31. As a non-match review North piece, this falls into the $5 tier for benefits, meaning everyone on this tier and above earn early access.

Overall 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’s allowing me to do much more this season.

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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Given most of this year’s posts have featured me droning on and on about North’s forwards, it feels only right to start with this section of the ground.

Let’s start with the obvious: Charlie Comben. If my research is correct, since being drafted this is literally the first time he’s been able to string together three consecutive games – covid derailments or injuries getting in the way previously.

Before anyone starts getting carried away, it’s important to be clear Comben is far from the finished piece. It’d be unrealistic to expect him consistently contributing to the AFL team straight away. However…

If Comben continues to develop, he has all the tools to solve so many of North’s problems in the forward half. He can judge a one-on-one well…

If the clip doesn’t play for you, click here to view

…along with leading up strongly at the ball.

If the clip doesn’t play for you, click here to view

He’s even dabbling in forward 50 ruck contests…

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…and most importantly, he can move. Really move.

If the clip doesn’t play for you, click here to view

It’s outrageously easy to visualise how this skill set works in tandem with Nick Larkey. There’s also no harm in trying Comben as part of a three-tall look at some stage, simply to satisfy any lingering curiosity.

There’s also Paul Curtis, pick 35 in the 2021 National Draft. He was eye-catching against Williamstown:

And took another step forward against Footscray. The four goals naturally take the lion’s share of headlines, but just as crucial for North is his presence without the ball.

The passage of play I want to highlight from Curtis is actually one of his missed tackles, not the seven he was credited with.

Few outside Bulldogs circles will know who Arthur Jones is, but the 43rd pick of last year’s National Draft is quick. Rapid. Lightning. Insert any other adjective to emphasise the point here.

When Jones takes off, not many people have a hope of matching his acceleration in a foot race. Instead Curtis manages to match Jones and catch him, only just missing out on sticking the tackle.

This isn’t meant to downplay Curtis’ goal kicking and general offensive abilities, because it looks as if there’ll be plenty of time to discuss that. But this particular combination of speed and effort is a hole in North’s forward line that, to use a phrase again, Curtis has the skill set to fill if he continues to develop.

If the clip doesn’t play for you, click here to view

Then we have Jed Anderson, who returned to action against Footscray. Still only half fit – or maybe three quarters fit to be kind – Anderson was still a class above nearly everyone on the field.

It was hard not to chuckle as Anderson drove his shoulder straight into Stefan Martin at the first centre bounce:

If the clip doesn’t play for you, click here to view

But the most notable part about Anderson’s performance, split between midfield and forward, was how he continually got to the right areas, collected his disposals and still put his trademark pressure on.

Barring injuries, it’d be a surprise if Anderson gets first-string midfield minutes at AFL level. However a forward-midfield split seems like a perfect use of his abilities. This kick, although it was dropped by Jacob Edwards (who should be left to develop under the radar this year) isn’t done justice on broadcast view.

If the clip doesn’t work for you, click here to view

The reverse angle – from the hill where I was sitting on the day – provided an unbelievable view of how it had to be perfect to split four or five Bulldogs.

Once Anderson reaches full fitness, he’ll be justifiably straight back into the AFL side.

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For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here are links to catch up with – and share around.

Monday 18th: From The Notebook: Round 5
Saturday 16th: North’s Round 5 Review
Friday 15th: What To Watch For: Round 5
Thursday 14th: Why Good Friday is so important for North Melbourne
Monday 11th: From The Notebook: Round 4

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While North’s AFL defence features an experienced outfit, it makes sense to see the complete opposite at VFL level.

There’ll be more opportunities to talk about the array of half backs sooner rather than later, but today I want to focus on arguably the forgotten man of North’s list.

Good Friday was Matt McGuinness’ first full game since early 2021, and he was thrust into a leadership role of sorts after Marty Hore had to exit early.

McGuinness was largely playing as the deepest defender, but if he does get to AFL level any time soon – more of a possibility than some may think given the chronic lack of key defenders on this list – it’d be a huge surprise if he was anything other than a second/third tall or intercepting type.

The 21-year-old is listed at 192 centimetres, although his play feels a touch taller and his draft year profile says 195. Either one of them is wrong or he’s shrinking already and there are bigger issues at play than football.

Nevertheless, although McGuinness was slightly out of position and found out on occasion because of those extra responsibilities, there were two things which stood out.

The first was his disposal. Not the disposal count as a whole, but specifically how comfortable McGuinness was with ball in hand. In turn that led to teammates willing to use him in chains, ultimately leading to more options for North rebounding from their back half.

The second was how well McGuinness read the ball when not isolated deep and given the chance to intercept. To be sure, VFL ball movement is levels more predictable than AFL, which makes it easier to read. But it’s promising for a player so short of match practice to be comfortable in this area.

There are two worries – regardless of how well McGuinness comes on, it still doesn’t solve the problem of having exactly one person North can be comfortable with against big key forwards, and also without one of those types at VFL level it’s tough to develop McGuinness in the same role he’d hypothetically play at AFL level.

Neither of those are under McGuinness’ control though, and the key is simply pump as many VFL games into him as possible and see where his defensive abilities rise to.

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A reminder about some of the Patreon benefits if you sign up:

  • For those on the $7.50 Patreon tier (or above), there’s exclusive access to the Stat Suite page
  • For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have exclusive access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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In general, watching a game at VFL level offers the opportunity to get a head start on what North Melbourne – and any team really – is planning.

It’s a quarter step slower, which has its benefits particularly around stoppages and contests. Things which are often too quick to spot on first glance at AFL level can catch the eye a little easier at VFL level.

With the AFL investing more time and effort into featuring the state leagues with increased streams, I recommend those who follow a young team to try and find the time to watch the VFL. It’s like a cheat sheet, and you get to hold more knowledge than others. A perfect combination really.

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