Round 18 v Richmond: Uncharted ground

According to the AFL rule book, ‘the winner of a Match of Australian Football is the Team which has scored, in accordance with these Laws, the greater number of points at the conclusion of the Match’.

Who knew an AFL rule book would be a lifesaver? It’s been so long since I got to sit down and write about a win, I almost forgot what it meant.

112 days, to be exact. And given that first victory of 2022 felt glass half-empty at the time, you have to go back further to find the last win which felt earned.

How far? 358 days. Round 19, 2021 against Carlton at an empty Marvel Stadium. To get really technical about it all, Round 22, 2019 was the last time North Melbourne beat a full AFL team at home in front of fans.

Only six Roos from that game ran out in blue and white against the Tigers.

When wins have been so hard to come by, it’s important to enjoy them when they come. Hopefully this post captures that feeling.

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While the North match reviews are free for all in 2022, the Shinboner Patreon is still up and running all the way through to October 31.

One day there’ll be a bunch of positives to write about, I swear … even a win like today!

It starts at $2.50 per month and goes up to $10 per month for all the benefits. As usual, a huge thank you to everyone who’s signed up.

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To start by acknowledging the obvious, Richmond should have had this game wrapped up at several different points. They kicked 11.22 – including 1.9 from inside 30 metres – and on expected score they were about four and a half goals up.

Damien Hardwick wasn’t wrong when he said, “it’s Richmond killing Richmond at the moment.” With Fremantle and Brisbane in the next fortnight, it’s the last fortnight which could end up season-defining.

But enough of the negativity and on to the real reason we’re all here. Fun things, and a win to discuss.

Let’s set the scene. Richmond’s turnover game is still very good, which is to be expected given it was their bread and butter during their glory days.

However, there is one asterisk to it. When the Tigers were taking all before them, it didn’t matter too much if they lost contested ball heavily. Opponents were still forced into all manner of turnovers as they were swarmed.

In 2022, the key difference is Richmond’s turnover game only works to elite levels if they’re winning contests as well. The turnover game still works well from their forward half, but not as much around the ground.

Given North came into the game looking for dare and speed in their ball use, priority A had to be making the most of their clearance and contest wins. Without that – or if they consistently lost both those counts – it was going to be too tough to move the ball against a set Richmond defence.

It’s no exaggeration to say making the most of clearance wins kept North in the game early.

According to Leigh Montagna on the Fox Footy telecast, all of North’s four first quarter goals came from a clearance. I’m convinced one of those was an error from the Champion Data statisticians, so let’s downgrade that to three goals.

Before Saturday, North were averaging roughly 65 points per 100 clearances for the season. Small sample size ahoy, but 18 points from eight clearances is significantly more than that.

Right from the jump it was evident North’s movement had Richmond’s stoppage defence on skates, the Tigers allowing far too much space:

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

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

Friday 15th: What To Watch For: Round 18
Tuesday 12th: Farewell, David Noble
Monday 11th: From The Notebook, Round 17: Adelaide’s style, Richmond’s meltdown and what to take out of two key games
Sunday 10th: North’s Round 17 Review
Friday 8th: What To Watch For: Round 17

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It’s no coincidence I chose Jy Simpkin as the recipient of the first clip. In my opinion it was his best game of the year, and a prime example of how a circuit breaker helps reset things. Although Simpkin’s disposal numbers have remained relatively high all year, there hasn’t been the accompanying reward for effort.

On Saturday there appeared to be a renewed focus to use his skills and footwork to try and hurt Richmond. It’s the type of game which works nicely in tandem with Luke Davies-Uniacke as the latter takes ground and bursts out of contests with his explosiveness. LDU’s emergence to bona fide star allows Simpkin to play within himself, set the tone and be the leader around the ball.

Again, it’s no coincidence that with Simpkin playing a stormer, North were able to carry on from last week with a much improved structure around the ball. It’s a shame that literally the five best examples I noted at the ground weren’t captured on broadcast view, because it was night and day to what we saw in the first 16 rounds.

It’s not as if setups were perfect all afternoon – far from it. Down the track, as the team progresses, analysis will shift to a higher standard. But for now, significant improvement from the cellar is more than enough to work with.

I couldn’t find space for Ben McKay in last week’s piece, so I’m determined to talk about him today.

On a pure one-on-one basis, you can argue Jack Riewoldt won the battle by earning eight shots at goal – but that’s not the focus here.

Last year, for as good as McKay was in a breakout campaign, he was by and large a man-on-man defender, focused on an opponent and not much else.

This year, McKay leads the entire competition in average intercept marks per game. That’s including the two games where he was substituted before half time, and the two games he played forward, where the only thing he had a chance of marking was frostbite.

I can hear the scoffing from certain parts: the ball has been down there so often, of course McKay marks his fair share.

That theory fails to acknowledge McKay’s responsibility playing on the best forward every week, and the decision making involved in judging when to leave a player of that calibre. A mistake in that area is high risk and gets punished accordingly.

Before the season I believed McKay was North’s most important player. Nothing has changed since.

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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. Soon there’ll be rolling quarter by quarter rankings added in
– For those on the $10 Patreon tier, they have access to everything on the website, including the List Management suite. The club comparisons for minutes played have recently made their way there

Here are all the details and how to sign up.

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To round out a trio of individual player looks, Jaidyn Stephenson built nicely on last week’s game at half back.

The criticism Stephenson received from certain quarters during the week was misplaced. While he didn’t have an electric game against Collingwood, only the wilfully ignorant couldn’t see how his running patterns helped the rest of the team.

Although Stephenson’s raw stats against Richmond were inflated slightly by all the kick outs, again it was a clear case of a value add with the ball in his hand, or with him around it.

Long term I still believe Stephenson will settle on a wing or a high half forward, but this excursion at half back is going to help round out his game for 2023 and beyond.

Let’s finish with a look at Zurhaar’s goal.

This could be a case of me thinking 2+2=22, but I’m fairly confident the game winner actually had its origin in the second quarter. There, from a forward 50 ball up, Zurhaar ran a straight line to get on to Goldstein’s tap, eventually gathering and snapping truly.

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

Flash forward to the dying stages. 2:49 remaining and a throw in 25 out from goal. North already know a particular set play has had success. I’d assume Richmond are well aware of it too…

So why not run a similar play with a subtle difference?

Zurhaar shapes to run a straight line much like the second quarter, and Dylan Grimes is probably thinking he’s got it covered.

Then, just as Zurhaar shapes to his right, Jy Simpkin steps in the path of Grimes. It’s a split second, and sometimes all you need is a split second.

Suddenly it’s too late for Grimes to tell Tyler Sonsie a switch is needed. Trent Cotchin has no chance of stopping Zurhaar with a head of steam. Marlion Pickett and Nick Vlastuin are too central, not protecting the drop zone.

Goldstein’s task is to direct the tap to an acre of space, something he could do with his eyes closed at this point.

Zurhaar does the rest:

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

It’s reasonable to cast eyes on Sonsie caught ball watching – and he’s not without responsibility – but my personal preference is to pin the majority of it on the experienced heads.

Whether second quarter success led to the fourth quarter plan, only Goldstein, Simpkin and Zurhaar will know for sure.

What isn’t up for debate is North saw a weakness in the opposition and worked on exploiting it as often as possible. That’s the most impressive part of the afternoon.

9 thoughts on “Round 18 v Richmond: Uncharted ground

  1. The Tigers commonly have a player in the goal square just protecting it.

    Was also a surprise to discover it was left so open!

    Pickett and Vlastuin standing so close to each other at the throw in was disastrous. I would assume Vlastuin was in the wrong there and should have been protecting the goal face.

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