From The Notebook: Round 14, Byes Part 3

The third and final part of the bye period Notebook has arrived.

With the last six teams completing their weekend off, it’s time to zero in on one focus area for each of them.

In Round 12, I looked at Carlton, Essendon, GWS, Port Adelaide, Richmond and St Kilda.

In Round 13, it was Adelaide, Geelong, Gold Coast, Sydney, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs.

Today it’s Brisbane, Collingwood, Fremantle, Hawthorn, Melbourne and North Melbourne.


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Brisbane: Defending the running game

In the lead up to their Round 7 clash against Sydney, I wrote about how Sydney’s ball movement loomed as the last key test for Brisbane.

They passed the test, Lachie Neale even mentioned post-game how this exact topic was their key focus for the day, and I figured it was all systems go…

Not quite. While I wasn’t overly concerned about how the loss to Fremantle happened, the loss to Hawthorn and first quarter against GWS saw a worrying inability to cope with speed on the ball.

It was rectified to a degree against St Kilda, although for me that has an asterisk on it given the Saints had roughly three and a half fit players by the final siren.

How Melbourne attack Brisbane is an unknown (more on them in a moment), but the Bulldogs in Round 16 loom as a major test for this area of the Lions’ defence.

Maybe it’s never an area fully under control, constantly something to be worked on. Regardless, it’s an area which will define their premiership chances.

Collingwood: Whether the season so far influences expectations

It’s a bit of an intangible, and not something easily measured.

So far this year Collingwood have had the luxury of a fit, experienced core to surround the younger players and ease them into AFL life. A key stat to illustrate:

2022 (as at start of Round 14)% of total minutes played by players turning 29+
West Coast29.1%
Port Adelaide20.5%
Gold Coast20.5%
St Kilda20.4%
North Melbourne20.3%
Western Bulldogs18.4%
You can find more of these stats on the list management page

Personal preference: I’d much rather be in a situation like Collingwood’s when resetting a list, compared to a team like Adelaide, or North Melbourne. It allows the luxury of picking and choosing spots for youngsters, rather than a forced scorched earth policy.

The one wildcard is if the powers that be believe they’re a step ahead of their realistic level, succumbing to impatience.

There are similarities between Collingwood 2022 and Port Adelaide of a couple years ago, albeit on a lower level of experience + youth. The Power have kept building their list steadily in the background and ideally the Pies can do the same, focusing on bringing more youth through the doors while leaning on veterans to help ease the transition.

It may mean a short term period of what looks like treading water, but the payoff will be worth the wait if executed correctly.

Fremantle: How they react to teams scouting their high disposal game

That’s a bit of a wordy title, but stick with me as I explain.

Now we’re a half season into Fremantle as a genuine top four team, they’ll switch from hunter to hunted.

I think the first area teams zero in on will be the Dockers’ high possession game. Only Carlton (391.5 per game) and the Bulldogs (384.2 per game) are ahead of Freo’s 382.6, and it’s a key plank of their style.

Fremantle use their possession to ensure they’re in a good position to defend if a turnover comes – it’s not always a matter of using it to attack.

Take possession away and there’s less time to set up that vaunted defence; less time to control the tempo of a game.

We saw a glimpse of what can happen when teams force Fremantle into quicker disposal. Against Hawthorn they often over-possessed under pressure in dangerous places, leading to plenty of costly turnovers. I’d be surprised if teams didn’t notice it.

Hawthorn: Adding another layer

In the Round 10 Notebook, I wrote about how, by basic numbers, Hawthorn are a poor team in every aspect except for scores per inside 50. There, they turn into a juggernaut.

Although there’s been a slight slippage in the stat since then, the Hawks still rank first in the league, remarkable when you think they’re a 4-9 team with a percentage of 87.5.

By my measure, being able to implement a functioning offensive system so quickly – with so much work still to do elsewhere – already makes this season a success regardless of what happens in their last nine games.

Hawthorn can turn a good season into something of real note for their future – if they rectify any other part of their game. Currently they’re:

– 16th in contested possession differential
– 15th in uncontested possession differential
– 16th in inside 50 differential
– 18th in clearance differential

Obviously there’ll be a stack of talent coming in over the next couple of years as Hawthorn commit to rebuilding. The process will be accelerated if those players walk into a fully functioning system.


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Melbourne: How to replace Tom McDonald

These words are likely to be my first of many on this topic over the next month or so.

Without McDonald, Melbourne haven’t yet found the best way to replicate the lead up/link role he plays so well. Consider this disparity:

2022Scoring shots per inside 50 %
When McDonald plays43.45%
When McDonald doesn’t play38.53%
League Average43.20%

It’s too simplistic to say ‘no McDonald means Melbourne don’t score’. But given they’re not an offensive juggernaut, they have less margin for error on that end to begin with.

Add in an out-of-form Ben Brown (my suspicion, based on zero inside info, is he’s not 100 percent fit), and an injured Max Gawn forcing Luke Jackson into number one ruck status, Melbourne’s forward line is in a state of flux at the moment.

Is it as simple as asking someone like Bailey Fritsch to play higher and taller? Or could they go smaller than normal with only Brown and Sam Weideman as marking targets, forcing themselves into moving the ball quicker?

Coming straight out of the bye to face Brisbane isn’t exactly a soft landing either.

North Melbourne: Playing a higher defence

Originally this section was planned as a standalone post. Then I realised it’d just be a repeat of the themes I’ve been mentioning over the last six weeks or so.

So, to force myself to only pick one focus area for North, it all comes back to defensive setups.

By defending too deep and not pressing up on the ball carrier, North aren’t creating enough turnovers. Because of that, they’re inviting pressure and forcing themselves to defend large amounts of inside 50s, week after week.

2022Average inside 50s conceded per game
North Melbourne62.9
West Coast59.3

When North do gain possession, invariably it’s deep in their defensive half. Then they’re trying to run the gauntlet time and time again, a task tough for any team, let alone one of North’s position.

Defending higher, with more of a focus on creating forward half turnovers, can make North’s life much easier.

For a longer dissertation and in-game example of why this is so important for North, here’s the breakdown of their Round 11 loss to St Kilda.

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