Round 11 v St Kilda: Unconventional defending

In recent weeks, posts have usually focused on big-picture takeaways and items to build on in the future.

Today’s a little bit different because it’s purely about single-game decisions.

Brad Hill: 33 disposals (23 kicks), 9 marks, 664 metres gained, 6 inside 50s
Jack Sinclair: 32 disposals (27 kicks), 10 marks, 764 metres gained, 7 inside 50s

It’s the performance of these two Saints which sums up North Melbourne’s 53-point loss.

Making one decision on how to defend can be acceptable, but if there’s no planning for the domino effect which comes from that, time and time again it puts North in a position where they’re essentially forced to battle with one arm tied behind their collective backs.


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Heading into Sunday, North – I would assume – knew if they let St Kilda get on their outside, it equalled a long and painful afternoon.

Much of the Saints’ damage from their back half is created by Hill and Sinclair, in particular the latter who’s taking his game to another level in 2022.

In last year’s game, North recognised the threat of Hill and sent Bailey Scott to his side. As a result, Hill was limited to just six disposals – the lowest single-game tally of his career.

Now forced to try and contain a dual-headed threat, a logical conclusion would have been doubling down on stopping as much run and carry as possible.

The solution was … well, it’s still actually hard to find what the planned solution was. Instead of throwing resources at stopping St Kilda moving the ball, North’s defence was at odds with their most present threat.

Right from the outset it was evident how St Kilda got extra numbers to the fall of the ball:

Which then caused chaos once the Saints gained possession and could put together possession chains to link out of congestion like a training drill.

As the game wore on, North often tried to orchestrate an extra player behind the ball, ostensibly to minimise the threat of Max King and either Rowan Marshall or Paddy Ryder, depending on whose turn it was to rotate forward.

On face value it was a logical strategy. But – and you knew that word was coming – it meant no room for error further up the field.

If you can’t stop the ball at the source, it barely matters what you do behind it.

Given the lack of a forward half game, it asked a lot of a malfunctioning area to defend well against a team high on confidence…


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

Monday 30th: From The Notebook: How Fremantle beat Melbourne (coming soon)
Friday 27th: What To Watch For: Round 11
Thursday 26th: The inaugural North Melbourne mailbag
Monday 23rd: From The Notebook: Round 10
Sunday 22nd: North’s Round 10 Review


Put together a struggling team, add an attempt to have an extra defender, and you end up with both a way-too-deep defensive setup and an inability to stop opposition overlaps.

Here’s the easiest of easy switches leading to a deep St Kilda inside 50 because North don’t have the personnel to adequately defend it:

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

Another frame of North dropping too deep, allowing St Kilda an easy exit:

Then again there’s Hill getting to a contest and outworking any Roos in the vicinity:

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

This is another example of how North can’t defend the right spaces.

There are a lot of players deep and narrow as St Kilda spread from a contest. Fewer working towards dangerous space:


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The third quarter was where the game broke open, and it started ominously when Sinclair was allowed to roll off the half back line unbothered to link up:

A brief tangent to touch on Tarryn Thomas, slow to trail Sinclair in. Not to excuse Thomas, because he indisputably should have been better in this instance.

However, to me it screams of a team not prepared properly.

An entire half-time break to reassess, refocus, and recharge. To properly bed down what’s expected of players.

Every man in the 22 should have re-entered Marvel Stadium with absolutely no confusion as to their role, and with ultimate clarity on how to carry it out.

Then that happens instantly, and it just kept getting worse. It doesn’t add up.

A minute later, Hill was allowed to stroll past for an easy handball receive and deep inside 50 entry from slow play:

From Jack Ziebell’s goal ‘cutting’ the margin to 27 points to Mitch Owens’ soccer stretching it back to 51, it was a calamity of errors behind the ball.

– A team failure to spoil Jade Gresham’s snap over the line
– Two failures to switch coverage from the easiest of blocks, gifting Max King two shots at goal
– Kyron Hayden’s turnover and Kayne Turner’s dropped mark allowing Owens a shot for his first goal
– A lack of support and/or options for Lachie Young meaning after he’s tackled and the ball spills loose, Owens is able to soccer home
– Game over

It’s what happens when the team mindset is to drop deep and invite pressure. Sooner or later the errors will come, and they inevitably cost so much more.

My only conclusion from Sunday: the way North defended against St Kilda didn’t make sense, and was the complete opposite of how to do so successfully in today’s AFL.

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