What a difficult game to form a conclusive opinion on.
There were undoubted positives, and also what appeared to be clear negatives…
But then there were understandable reasons for those negatives…
And although it was ultimately another heavy loss on the scoreboard, there may have been a couple of key takeaways…
Let’s figure it all out.
While the North match reviews are free for all in 2022, the Shinboner Patreon is still up and running all the way through 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.
Let’s start with the positives. North had a clear intent to put more speed on their ball use compared to previous weeks, which was a welcome sign and hopefully something here to stay.
Think back to the best passages against Sydney and the Western Bulldogs and they weren’t necessarily a product of ball use. It was still relatively static, largely straight line behaviour – not that there’s anything wrong with that at times to be clear.
Quickness was more on show in the first half before Carlton put their foot down after the main break, but in those passages it was glaringly clear how the attempt to put speed in the game opened up so many possibilities.
In previous weeks – and in the back half of last season too – ball use was focused on control. To bring up my pre-season checklist for the 100th time, what I wanted to see was more fluidity in possession, because then it opens up the field.
If everything is measured and calculated, then it’s easy to defend. If there is even a perceived threat of speed and/or quick territory gains, it makes opponents unsure, unsteady.
This is all a long-winded segue into talking about Jaidyn Stephenson.
Much of North’s best moments in 2022 have come when Stephenson is involved in play, and it was again the case in Q2 against Carlton.
Playing on the wing and as the highest of high half forwards, Stephenson worked well into the defensive half before pushing forward, and – most importantly – being used as both an outlet and driver of play.
11 disposals for the term – 10 kicks – saw almost 400 metres gained and a clear point of difference in North’s outside movement.
Not to be captain obvious, but if your outside midfielders/wingers aren’t providing drive and territory, a team is essentially playing a couple short while in possession.
Stephenson was good all day against Sydney, again in the second quarter against the Bulldogs, and played a superb second quarter on Saturday night.
The shape of a three-man wing rotation is beginning to take shape between Flynn Perez, Curtis Taylor and Stephenson, with the latter two rotating as the highest forward while not on their wing. It’s a undoubted step forward because at the start of 2022 you could have placed any of 10 names in the wing rotation and it would have been arguable.
The flip side of all this praise is how Stephenson was anonymous in the first and third quarters before the last saw all sorts of strangeness. Being isolated in defensive 50 against Patrick Cripps for a solid half-minute wouldn’t have been in any plans.
But, to play armchair psychologist for a minute, from a distance Stephenson appears to be the type of player who benefits from a consistent role and an arm around him. Give him the keys to a wing and half forward, tell him the role is locked in, and the results should come more consistently.
For those who have missed any posts over the last few days, here are links to catch up with – and share around.
A quick aside for a lesson learned:
Last week I spent a couple of hours thoughtfully (or at least I believed) crafting the next steps for North’s forward line after it had been established Todd Goldstein as the second tall didn’t work.
Multiple options for where to go, reasons for each, potential reactions and the like.
Then Tristan Xerri goes down for a month with a foot issue and Charlie Comben misses this week with knee soreness. As a result Goldstein goes back to first ruck with Callum Coleman-Jones being eased back into AFL life as the relief ruck and second tall.
Words have rarely dated so quickly.
Going back to square one with Comben, in an ideal world he’s back next week. Then it’s an awkward situation for when he potentially comes up to AFL level, because:
– Obviously he’ll need at least one VFL game before playing AFL
– If he comes into the AFL side after one VFL game, it’s in Hobart
– Will he be ready to step up after one game?
– If not and he plays two VFL games before the call up, then it comes against … Melbourne
– Personal preference would be not to bring him in against that formidable defensive unit
– But then when does it get to the stage of being too cautious
It’s easy to go round and round in circles over the best route of action. Of course all these assumptions are done without knowing how Comben’s training and match loads are being read internally, and whether the read of being close to a call up before this knee soreness was true. Fun speculation, if you like.
If you’ve missed it, we’re at the part of 2022 where Patron-exclusive pages will start to have extra features added. A reminder:
- For those on the $7.50 Patreon tier (or above), there’s exclusive access to the Stat Suite page, now with rolling monthly stat rankings
- For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have exclusive access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite now with 2021 v 2022 minutes played by age comparisons
Finishing on a negative is my least preferred course of action with a post, but here we go.
It’s next to impossible to judge how the defensive unit performed against Carlton, because they were sent out there on a hiding to nothing.
The efforts of Aiden Bonar were admirable, and it’s not a reflection on him at all considering he was giving up 16 centimetres and 17 kilograms to Harry McKay.
It was always going to be a struggle to keep the solitary McKay in AFL football under wraps, but ultimately Saturday night doesn’t tell North anything long-term.
The only ways Bonar plays on the opposition’s biggest key forward consistently is either if something has gone horribly wrong, or a rule change has been rushed through. Which, well, the latter is always a live chance but it’s not something to be planned for.
At this stage of North’s development, every game is so important to gather data points from. Because they entered 2022 so desperately short of key position defenders, a valuable 120 minutes has been turfed due to Ben McKay and Aidan Corr’s absence.
While Bonar is fit and in form, his skill set nicely suits mid-sized tweeners, and it just so happened Carlton had an ideal matchup. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s easy to visualise a backline with Bonar as the third tall against certain opponents, able to provide flexibility for those tricky in-between players. Not playing on a 204 centimetre, 104 kilogram behemoth.
Next week ‘Ben’ McKay returns, and things should go back to some sense of normalcy for the time being. But for the rest of 2022 it’s a constant state of tightrope walking, hoping injuries don’t strike the few tall defenders available and condemning those remaining to playing well over their heads.
There’s every chance I’m sitting here in 12 to 18 or 24 months lauding the effort to draft or trade in <key defender X>. In the meantime North are making list building and development way harder than it needs to be by not planning for a situation where any of the three (3) AFL-ready key defenders on an entire list are unavailable.