Round 17 v Collingwood: A complete 180

“The biggest short-term fixable problem is the way (North Melbourne) are being set up to play. Other things will take time, but I’d like to see a lot more emphasis on taking territory and trying to get the ball locked into the forward half. I don’t think there’s been enough of that this year.”

On the ego scale, starting with one of your own quotes from a mid-week Hashtag Kangaroos podcast must rate close to a 10, but nevertheless Saturday provided the complete opposite of what we’ve seen from North all year.

It felt as if everything from the first 16 rounds was thrown out the window. In its place was a North outfit willing to take territory (tick), play a forward half game (tick), run and carry (tick), and most importantly – embrace imperfection.

Even allowing for the last quarter, when an out-on-their-feet North couldn’t stop Collingwood’s onslaught, the process from start to finish was realistic, achievable, and arguably for the first time in 2022, modern.

There are so many examples to get to today. Let’s not waste any more time.


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Support running

Because of the focus on protecting possession by minimising risks, North’s ball use in 2022 has been static and singular.

By singular, I mean one person at a time with little support: handball chains and wave running nearly non-existent. Largely it’s fallen to Aaron Hall to make bulk lemonade from one lemon. What must he have been thinking from the stands, watching a style tailor made for his skills implemented for the first time this year?

For the first three quarters on Saturday, there was constant support in numbers when North had possession. Take this centre bounce as a prime example.

So often in 2022, this situation has turned into a hack kick forward and at best a 50-50 situation. The clearance looked nice on the stat sheet but didn’t provide proper value.

Instead here there’s a willingness from both Tom Powell and Todd Goldstein to hold and look for a better option.

Then Jaidyn Stephenson comes raring past to provide just that. It forces Collingwood’s defence to move and shift as Stephenson is used. Flynn Perez was available if needed but again Stephenson is willing to take ground with his legs, putting further pressure on the Pies.

As the handball chain goes from Stephenson to Hugh Greenwood, then to Jy Simpkin, Curtis Taylor is running in support the whole time. It’s too much movement for Collingwood to handle. Notice as Taylor kicks the goal, he even had two further options to his left:

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

When there’s an increased emphasis on extra run and carry to support the ball carrier, it’s not going to look clean 100 percent of the time. For a team at North’s level, all that matters is whether the process is sound.

The first goal of the second quarter again came from support running – two layers of it confusing Collingwood’s defence.

After Powell handballs to Nick Larkey, again it’s Stephenson rolling past. The combo of Larkey & Stephenson attracts three Collingwood defenders, which naturally leaves a lane elsewhere.

Now if we picture Stephenson as Hall for a moment, in previous weeks Hall would have been the only option available, with things grinding to a halt as a result. Or to be more accurate, possession not retained when Hall is forced into an unrealistic option due to the lack of support.

This time Powell takes the space created by Stephenson’s running and is the second player to provide an option for Larkey. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. All that matters for North at this point is whether there’s a willingness to run in waves and threaten defences.

Powell’s rushed kick forward clean bowls Isaac Quaynor and ends in a Jack Ziebell goal, but for me the result is secondary. The basic process of running alongside teammates and wanting to take territory with a bit more speed is the most important thing:

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

Taking territory

Because ball use this year has been so conservative and unwilling to take ground, mistakes are punished at a higher rate: they come closer to the opposition goal.

In 2022 AFL land, if you don’t have a team capable of picking the eyes out of disposal after disposal, the easiest way to defend is take territory and then get players in behind the ball to keep it in your forward half. For the first time in a long time, let’s break out a ground diagram to explain:

It’s Football 101, but by and large hadn’t been in North’s manual this year. Instead it’s been possession for defensive purposes in the back half.

Here’s an example of how taking territory helps your defence. It’s an inconsequential play in the bigger picture – North don’t score from the passage – but the process is sound.

Take territory, get players in behind it, if there’s no clean possession, work to create a turnover:

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

Doing this also goes a long way towards solving one of North’s main problems this year…


For those who have missed any posts or podcast appearances over the last week, here’s where to catch up:

Friday 8th: What To Watch For: Round 17
Wednesday 6th: What total minutes played by age says about a list profile
Tuesday 5th: The Hashtag Kangaroos Podcast
Monday 4th: From The Notebook: Round 16
Sunday 3rd: North’s Round 16 Review


Playing in your forward half

Here are North’s inside 50 tallies since Round 5:

Round 5Round 6Round 7Round 8Round 9Round 10
Round 11Round 12Round 13Round 15Round 16Round 17

Spot the odd one out? The 59 against Collingwood was North’s highest since Round 15 last year, when they had 61 against Gold Coast at Blundstone Arena.

To type the most obvious sentence in the history of this website, the natural conclusion of taking territory is more inside 50s and more chances to score.

It also means more chances to lock the ball in your forward half, and unlocks further scoring opportunities. Creating a turnover in the middle or defensive third of the ground is great, and nothing to sniff at.

Forcing a turnover in your forward half instantly gives you a much greater chance of scoring. To illustrate:

2022Average Score Per 100 Turnovers
Created in defensive half48.5 points
Created in forward half119.9 points

Just to be clear, those numbers aren’t a typo. A team scores nearly 2.5 times more from a turnover created in their forward half. And that’s not even mentioning all the secondary benefits, like how hard it is for a team to go from one end to the other uninterrupted.

It’s extra pressure which forces a team to crack eventually, and it was on display for North’s first goal of the third quarter.

After North earned the first inside 50 of the term, Collingwood had possession on three different occasions, with opportunities to get the ball outside defensive half in each.

The first ended in a stoppage still inside 50. The second ended in a stoppage just outside 50. The third ended in a turnover and kick to Larkey, who converted:

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

All of this was just about non-existent through the first 16 rounds because the focus was on maintaining possession at all costs and using that as the defensive measure.


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This is the one section I can’t illustrate as accurately as I’d like due to camera angles at various stages, but it was noticeable how North improved their initial layer of cover around the ball.

In addition, there was a clear understanding of individual requirements depending on their positioning. It was most visible at centre bounces as one Roo dropped back to play a sweeper role, while another was given freedom to hunt possession.

More often than not, both at centre bounces and around the ground, it was Luke Davies-Uniacke with the freedom. He responded with one of the best games by any midfielder in the league this season:

– 33 disposals (16 contested)
– 14 inside 50s
– 12 clearances
– 11 tackles
– 8 score involvements
– 791 metres gained

The team setup around stoppages was far from flawless, but the theory was evident. When it was combined with the new freedom to take territory and play in the forward half, it equalled far greater reward from clearances.

To flash forward, even the stoppage which led to Steele Sidebottom’s game-winning goal was an example of a sound plan.

For those who read the GWS review, you’ll remember the example of North being all at sea during a defensive 50 stoppage, ending in a Stephen Coniglio goal.

Here it was so different. With Collingwood dropping their two loose defenders a kick behind the ball, North used their two extras as a goalkeeper (McKay) and at the stoppage (Anderson).

Each North player knew their role if Coleman-Jones won the tap – block and create space for Anderson.

It’s exactly what happened, Anderson was able to direct his kick away from the two extra Pies, but unfortunately missed Mahony by a foot or two and Sidebottom was able to mark.

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

Everything about the process was sound and repeatable. The execution was off by a fraction, which was the final margin on the scoreboard.

Why it took 17 rounds to get to this point – with a game style which fits the landscape of 2022 AFL – is a matter of debate, as is how they were able to implement it so quickly. Thinking about it too much may drive you insane.

Regardless, what we saw on Saturday at the MCG should be the foundation to move forward from.

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