The inaugural North Melbourne mailbag

There’s a first time for everything, and today is The Shinboner’s inaugural North Melbourne mailbag.

Thanks to all who sent through questions on Twitter. There were so many I couldn’t get to every single one, but because of the enthusiasm we’ll definitely revisit the concept later in the season.

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A big thank you to everyone who’s become a Patron this year – it’s continuing to run all the way through to October 31.

It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. This mailbag wouldn’t be a thing without everyone signing up.

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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I can’t start without addressing the elephant in the room.

The last two days have been a whirlwind of news. It turned out the initial report of ‘triple walkout’ had a side of mayonnaise attached, but there’s no way three people resigning reflects a functioning workplace.

There are three angles:

a) The right people are pushing the right buttons, enduring necessary short-term pain which will pay off long-term
b) The wrong people are pushing the right buttons, enduring necessary short-term pain which may not pay off long-term if key decision makers are allowed to continue down the same path and mindset
c) The wrong people are pushing the wrong buttons, in which case … big, flashing alarm bells

Regular readers will know I normally stay far away from ‘I’m hearing this’, and ‘I know this’. Today I’ll make one exception to say, from situation to situation and topic to topic, we’re currently witnessing a mix of all three. That’s what causes all this mess and confusion.

On to the questions.

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For those who have missed any posts over the last week or so, here are links to catch up with:

Monday 23rd: From The Notebook: Round 10
Sunday 22nd: North’s Round 10 Review
Friday 20th: What To Watch For: Round 10
Tuesday 17th: How to beat Melbourne
Monday 16th: From The Notebook: Round 9

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Has the game plan at North this year been different to last year when we seemed competitive? Are the players trying to learn new patterns, setups etc? Personally feels like players often moving to wrong positions on the ground, leaving opposition players open | @Lulpen

It has been slightly different. As covered a couple of weeks ago in the offensive deep dive, movement and patterns through the first nine rounds (eight at time of writing) were really aggressive.

It clearly wasn’t working, actually giving me a whiff of Brendon Bolton vibes, when Carlton fell apart after he tried to introduce extra layers into their play.

Which leads right into the next question…

What did you think of the noticeable change in game plan in this week’s game? Much higher possession, back to chipping around the backline. Less corridor, less risks | @sfrench67

Something had to change from the first nine weeks, and I thought it was easy to see how it improved North on both sides of the ball.

There’s really no reason that shouldn’t be the foundation for North to work from, and then integrating more movement ahead of the ball as the next step.

Do we believe the necessary routing of the list has nearly ceased? Is there much to go before we just let them grow up? | @berminator13

If list cuts get any deeper the AFLW team will have more players than the AFL one.

I’d be staggered if we saw another deep cut and/or surprise delistings.

Over the journey I feel I’ve been fairly consistent in not wanting to cut too close to the bone, because then you end up like Melbourne of a decade ago with no experience to mentor youth.

If anything I’d argue the list cuts last year were a touch too deep, and unbalanced. That meant…

How does a club get to a point where it has two senior tall defenders and nothing else? Will we reach a point where we offload one of our mids to fill such a hole? | @hurkymark

The same way Ben Brown leaves without being replaced – a step-by-step list focus which causes collateral damage elsewhere.

Over the long-term it may play out perfectly. In the meantime a line I wrote to close out Round 7’s review seems relevant:

“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.”

There are a lot of midfielders on the list. Unless a couple are repurposed into different roles, I can’t see how they all function in the same team and player movement seems to be the logical solution.

The issue is, right now, it’s the definition of ‘sell low’ given team performance, the exact opposite of where you want to be as a club.

Assuming Bergman goes on the long term, what hole would you fill with the 1 or 2 mid-season pick (assuming the player is a. Ready to go and b. Has longer term potential)? | @dhwood35

Given the mid-season draft pool is relatively small, I’d be happy to stick with best available under the two conditions mentioned here.

I only have one exception:

No smaller midfielders. There are more than enough already on the list.

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If you’ve missed it, new features continue to be added to the Patreon-exclusive pages. 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 access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite with a 2022 out of contract graphic now available

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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How much of NMFC’s poor results this year can be attributed to missing best 22 guys? Cunnington, Phillips, Thomas, Anderson, Hall, McKay, Zurhaar etc have all missed time. Personally I think it’s being overlooked. | @ChadwikoTWW

Some can, but not all.

For me the frustration comes from not having a functioning system allowing clarity of roles for those underneath.

If we look at Hawthorn as an example, they’re far from a good side. What they do have is no confusion in the way they want to play and what they want to achieve with ball in hand.

Because of that, they’re able to put players in areas where they can grow and show glimpses of their future.

That step is missing for North, which is why someone like Jaidyn Stephenson goes from forward to wing to on-ball to dropped. Or the half backs can go from Aaron Hall, Jack Ziebell and Luke McDonald to none of the three a few weeks later, with no clear plan for what happens next.

The loss of best 22 players – although the other side of the bye is going to bring good news on a couple of them – can be mitigated to an extent.

To take a tangent on the point of it being overlooked a little bit – because I agree with that aspect – a message from me to everyone reading is having trusted websites to read and journalists to believe.

Try to make it so everything else – everyone else’s opinions – doesn’t exist. They don’t matter.

What offensive and defensive styles/set ups that other teams employ would you think would work best with this list or what this list hopes to be. | @Ash_Howe_

Based off what we saw against Melbourne, I’d be intrigued to see how an offensive style reminiscent of West Coast (when they were good) would fare, but with a touch extra speed.

Defensively, I’d like to see more of a focus on a higher block and increased forward half pressure. and a higher block. It’s not anything revolutionary, but teams can’t win in today’s AFL without those two things and the base system is similar across the league.

Noble often talks about a learning environment with a focus on winning certain things within a game each week. North’s still a way from this, but when does this start to flip towards a winning focus? What should we be looking for / holding the club accountable for in this regard? | @bobtronson

At the start of this year, I was firmly of the mindset that by the end of it most experimentation should be finished, with a firm handle on what this list can and can’t do.

I’ve seen nothing to change my opinion yet, which makes 2023 the season where things should begin to move forward.

It doesn’t mean North should be aiming for finals next year, although it would be nice to attend some games in September. But if it’s another year of wholesale changes and figuring things out, something’s gone wrong.

I reckon Bailey Scott has been one of the few shining lights to have turned the corner this season. What are your views and how crucial do you think Bailey will be to North’s future makeup? | @SnakeTeflon

If we’re to hand out most improved player awards to this stage of the year, Bailey Scott is North’s nomination by a mile.

Scott’s gone from being hidden on the least threatening forward to spending some time on Kossie Pickett last Saturday, which showed the growing level of trust coaches have in him.

Funnily enough I still see Scott’s best position on the wing, although that comes with the caveat it took me a full year to admit Aaron Naughton’s a more valuable forward than defender.

I’m unsure whether Scott will become an A-grade player, but what I am strong on is that he’ll be a valuable piece who does his job every week, whatever is asked of him.

Like his dad really.

Can we squeeze Comben in while maintaining two rucks? | @MrAlewood

The Charlie Comben talk is always saved until last.

It’s a look I desperately want to see trialled as soon as Comben is fit enough to warrant an AFL game.

I can’t see the structure being a permanent, week-to-week fixture in North’s best 22 any time soon given the natural ceiling of how much ground Comben and a resting ruck can cover.

If North are to go with this taller forward line, key position players need to play heavy game time and allow younger ground level players to soak up most rotations.

Callum Coleman-Jones hasn’t played more than 73 percent game time in any of his four appearances, while Todd Goldstein has been around the 80 percent marker while he’s been second ruck behind Tristan Xerri.

So there’d need to be a natural improvement in capacity to stay on the field and cover valuable ground while in play.

For anything this year though, all you’d be looking for are glimpses rather than an emphatic positive. The only way to find out is to try it if allowed a chance.

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