In the absence of Jy Simpkin, Jason Horne-Francis, and Hugh Greenwood, it was a different looking North Melbourne midfield on Saturday.
My grand plan was to go in-depth on centre bounce setups and structures before spinning out into a general overview of what caught my eye.
All the thought into how to approach that went out the window pretty quickly. Due to a combination of UltraZoom3000 and decisions from the truck, most centre bounces looked like this:
Change of plans. By piecing together the rest of the game like a rebuilt document after it’s put through a shredder, instead it’s going to be a player-by-player look at who rolled through the midfield (non-ruckman division), placing it into the larger team context.
For those who were regular readers last year, think of this like a version of the player reviews which popped up every month or so.
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.
When I started the Patreon I thought there’d be more positives to discuss, but nevertheless there are four different tiers in it.
It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. As usual, a huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around.
25 attendances out of 27, for 92.6 percent. It’s by far a single game high for Davies-Uniacke over the last three years, per DFS Australia’s centre bounce resource.
Entrusted with the responsibility of leading the midfield unit for the day, LDU responded with his best game of the season.
25 disposals, 7 clearances – six of them from the centre – 7 score involvements without any individual shots, 6 tackles and 4 inside 50s.
The more time Davies-Uniacke has on-ball, the better North look. Play to his offensive strengths, make sure there’s no defensive slippage and he’ll provide more burst than all of his teammates.
Seems simple enough.
After looking like it was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other by the time last week’s game finished (can’t blame him for that either given his road to return), it didn’t get any easier for Anderson on Saturday.
Anderson was fine against the Power midfielders and held up his role serviceably. However, I want to use this section to talk about why, once a couple of key players return, I’d like to see him move back into a forward-mid split closer to what we saw against Fremantle.
It’s not only because I believe that’s the best use of his skills, but for the added benefit of nurturing Paul Curtis.
Curtis is showing some tantalising glimpses already, just four games in. But he’s fighting an uphill battle because there’s no-one else at his level, with his ability, while the ball is either on the ground or in opposition defenders’ hands.
With how deep the list cuts have been over the last two years, there are precious few opportunities to have a veteran/rookie partnership in any line of the field.
At one end of the ground, the departure of Robbie Tarrant meant Ben McKay was forced into leading the North backline after all of 37 games.
At the other end, and yes I’m bringing this up again because I’ve been consistent on it ever since it happened, marching Ben Brown out of the club like he stole something, without a replacement, meant Nick Larkey was thrust into leading the forward line at the start of last year; after a grand total of 29 games.
North have a chance to develop an exciting talent in Curtis, who’s shown more in four games than any other small forward in blue and white since Lindsay Thomas.
There’s a layup of a chance to make Curtis’ job easier by pairing him with Anderson. I hope North don’t pull a Ben Simmons and pass it up.
I’d imagine by this stage people have had enough of me banging on about how Stephenson is best suited in space, and Saturday was yet another example.
Stephenson has the tendency to get a touch lost when he’s on-ball and in the thick of things. It sounds like a criticism but is meant more as a reflection of his skill set.
So again, much like Davies-Uniacke, put Stephenson in a place where he’s best equipped to show those skills off. As a high half forward/open side winger, it allows him to roam in space, get involved on the outside and be a heavy metres gained player.
Saturday was likely a one-off due to circumstances, but it should still function as a confirmation of where to play Stephenson to best suit the team.
For those who have missed any posts/podcast appearances over the last week or so, here are links to catch up with:
Taylor has essentially been persona non grata at centre bounces and on-ball throughout his career, favoured on a wing for his midfield minutes instead.
Which meant Saturday provided more of a chance to gain intel compared to someone like Stephenson, where the book is already written.
Unfortunately it was another quiet game, making it three in a row for Taylor. 11 disposals and scoreless followed eight and no score against Fremantle, which was after six and no score v Carlton.
Assuming he goes back to the standard wing/half forward role next week, it’ll be an important lesson to learn against Ed Langdon and (I assume) Angus Brayshaw.
I was stunned when Thomas only missed three weeks with internal bruising, considering how gruesome it looked and because of the initial forecast calling for up to two months on the sideline.
Since Thomas’ return against Geelong, he’s looked off the mark. The mid-forward splits have been roughly the same, as has time on ground, but it’s just not clicking yet.
Saturday was another quiet one, which would have hurt more considering it was at home. 12 disposals and a goal is no man’s land for someone of Thomas’ talent and what he showed in the back half of 2021.
I’m still chalking it up to Thomas feeling his way back into things and not quite having full confidence in his movement yet. I’d expect to see a marked improvement after the bye.
There’s every chance I’m about to put two and two together and end up with 29, but as I put my tinfoil hat on it feels like something is up with Powell.
Good things still happen when he has ball in hand – the kick to set up a Curtis shot was great, and the one to Thomas was phenomenal – but it was in just 67 percent game time; only Callum Coleman-Jones had a lower total.
Is Powell being managed through a physical ailment which stops him from further efforts? Is it a case of (understandably) being a little gun shy, considering his 2021 ended early due to overload?
All things being equal, Powell plays a heavier role than we saw on Saturday – which is what leads me to the conclusion some careful long-term managing is at play.
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, with rolling monthly stat rankings updated weekly
- For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have exclusive access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite – the next added feature will be about contracts and is only a couple of weeks away
When the rushed behinds are removed from the total, North ended with 14 scoring shots on Saturday.
Zurhaar had exactly half of them, for a return of 3.4. It makes 10 goals in Zurhaar’s last four matches – 10 out of North’s 28.
It’s a contract year for Zurhaar, and at this rate he’s playing himself into what should be a nice deal reflecting his importance to North’s forward line.
In an ideal world, Perez would have spent the last few weeks at VFL level, steadily putting miles into his legs on return from injury.
Due to circumstances, Perez is going through those steps at AFL level. Initially I was a touch worried of the effects knee reconstruction number two would have on his physical ability. You never know which injury will be the tipping point (see: Walker, Will).
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Perez’s ability to cover the ground. His speed is a regular feature at the top end of the tracking stats in AFL’s Match Centre, and his game time has consistently hovered around the mid-80s in the last month.
The ability to link up in play comes and goes, but that’s to be expected given so much time out.
Overall Perez is progressing nicely. Just getting consistent games in him is a win at this point.
I understand the want to play McDonald on a wing given what he brings to the role. His performance was solid too, far from North’s worst on the day.
The issue for me is when North’s back seven for the day reads as: Walker/Corr/Young/Scott/Turner/Bosenavulagi/Hayden. It desperately, desperately needs an experienced ball mover in there.
While Aaron Hall remains out, McDonald has to be in the back half to provide some sort of carry. Not that McDonald is the saviour, but I fear for North’s attempts to move out of Melbourne’s forward half without him down there.