From The Notebook: Round 15

It’s a bumper edition of the Notebook this week, featuring four topics to dig into.

We start with Melbourne’s second quarter against Brisbane, move over to the Bulldogs’ performance, stay at Marvel Stadium for a Fremantle discussion, and finish with notes on St Kilda.

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The keys to Melbourne’s second quarter v Brisbane

On Thursday night, the second quarter numbers told the story:

Contested Possessions: 51-33 Melbourne
Tackles: 27-21 Melbourne
Clearances: 19-9 Melbourne
Inside 50s: 14-8 Melbourne (and Brisbane had the first three of the quarter too)
Score: 42-6 Melbourne

Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Jack Viney had 35 disposals and 12 clearances between them, and the game was all but over by half time.

For me, it boiled down to two issues:

– Melbourne’s midfield – against a Lions outfit featuring a hobbled Jarryd Lions and no Dayne Zorko – was on another level
– Melbourne’s smaller than normal forward line used manic pressure to exploit a Brisbane defence arguably too tall by comparison

To start around the source, here’s an instance of Petracca against debutant Jimmy Tunstill. Not exactly a fair fight, as Petracca explodes away from congestion:

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

Or here where it’s Viney pushing away from Brandon Starcevich, while Petracca sets off on a multiple-effort burst which deserved a goal as reward:

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

Once the ball got into Melbourne’s forward half, it rarely left – 29 of their 42 points in the quarter started in a possession chain from that half of the ground.

In Darcy Gardiner’s absence, Brisbane elected to replace him with Jack Payne, meaning they entered the MCG with three genuine tall backs to match up against Ben Brown, Sam Weideman, and an army of smalls.

It meant when the ball was in open play in Melbourne’s forward half, too often it was one of those three talls faced with pressure – either from the small forwards, or midfielders pushing up high – they couldn’t deal with.

This passage of play sums it up: Brisbane talls forced to try and clear under pressure from smaller Dees, a turnover is forced, and it ends with a Melbourne shot at goal:

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

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How to decode the Bulldogs

This is more of a musing rather than concrete analysis, but nevertheless I spent the first quarter and a bit at Marvel Stadium bemused by how the Bulldogs approached Hawthorn.

As I’ve touched on a bit over the last month, Hawthorn have a good offensive system if they get ball in hand – full width of the ground, multiple options with their half backs, and efficient inside 50.

Hawthorn’s issue is opponents can control the game relatively easily if they win possession at the source, leading to a contested and uncontested possession disparity.

All that meant, naturally, the Bulldogs spent the whole first quarter swarming and overcommitting numbers to the ball on the occasions Hawthorn had possession, leaving too much space in their defensive setups, and alternating between two offensive mindsets:

1. Trail by a point, one minute to go
2. Lead by a point, one minute to go

It was all over the shop, and Hawthorn were good value for their 26-point lead early in the second quarter. From there, the Bulldogs adjusted their contest setup, found a middle ground for their ball use and pulled away until a final quarter junk time shootout.

What takes more importance when trying to analyse the Bulldogs? Being (seemingly) unprepared on the best way to stop a side, or overcoming an early deficit and still putting the game beyond doubt with a quarter to play?

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For those who have missed any posts or updates over the last week, here are a handful of links to catch up:

Monday 27th: North’s Round 15 Review
Friday 24th: What To Watch For: Round 15
Monday 20th: From The Notebook: Round 14
The List Management Suite
The Stat Suite

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Fremantle’s missing forward piece

Firstly, apologies to any Fremantle fans reading this because they’re likely all over this already and I’m a few weeks behind. But that’s what happens when you can only watch them live once a month, at best.

It’s something you only get a glimpse of on TV when things are going poorly, and up until Saturday the two Freo games I’d attended this year (Essendon & Melbourne), everything turned out swimmingly.

Saturday was a little different. Although it wasn’t close to the main reason why the Dockers lost – that honour goes to a massacre around the contest – to me what stood out to me was a lack of a link up forward.

With Griffin Logue reverting to defence – which held up brilliantly under weight of numbers, only conceding 21 scoring shots from 64 inside 50s – it meant Fremantle played a two-tall/four-small setup for most of the afternoon.

The issue is none of those four smalls are suited to roles as a lead-up, marking forward with all the grunt work it entails. So if Fremantle are forced to play a lot out of their back half (which, to be fair, hasn’t happened very much) it does make it easier for opponents to shut down their exit kicks from defence.

Fremantle are the worst of the top-eight sides at scoring from their back half. To be clear, it’s not an enormous issue or deal breaker given how the game is played in 2022, but still a noticeable area for improvement.

A third, more mobile option should open up leading channels for Fremantle and ease strain on their ball movement. It does seem to be a role fit for Nat Fyfe once he works off the noticeable rust, although he did spend most of Saturday around the ball.

St Kilda’s level revealed

If the title sounds familiar, it’s because earlier in the season I dedicated a Notebook entry to Richmond’s level. Thankfully it’s aged relatively well to this point.

It feels like there’s a similar conclusion to draw with St Kilda. This year they’re:

– 2-4 v top 8 sides (as at end of Round 15)
– 6-2 v bottom 10 sides (as at end of Round 15)

St Kilda in 2022v Top 8 Sidesv Bottom 10 Sides
Scores per inside 5041.01%45.78%
Scores conceded per inside 5044.48%41.34%
Contested Possession Differential+1+66
Uncontested Possession Differential-62+107
Inside 50 Differential-39+11

And while, shock horror, team doesn’t perform as well against good sides compared to bad, it’s a continuation from 2021 when St Kilda were 3-8 v finals sides and 7-4 v the rest.

There’ll be the usual reactionary narratives, focus on the coach because it’s the simple option, and other easy targets.

The fact of the matter is the Saints are a mid-table team when their few points of difference aren’t at the peak of their game. They’re capable of good, capable of bad, and it all evens out to average in the long run with a team that’s built to win now. That’s on list construction.

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