It feels great to dust the Notebook off for another year.
Before we head into today’s match simulation takeaways – just in case you weren’t aware that’s what these games were called after being hit over the head with that term repeatedly – it’s important to note that these points aren’t meant as sweeping conclusions.
It’s still early, and there’s plenty of time before Round 1. On to today’s topics: competence from North Melbourne, Tom Mitchell at Collingwood, figuring out Brisbane’s back seven, and a handful of mini points.
In case you missed it, The Shinboner’s launch for 2023 happened on Monday and you can find all the details here.
There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some old favourites and simplified tiers.
Enjoying North Melbourne’s base-level competency
The only way was up for North Melbourne, and thankfully there are clear signs that’s the case.
Of all the issues I documented last year, arguably the main one was forward structure and ball movement.
In a post last year after Round 8, I explained how the base positional setup was so low percentage, making it nearly impossible to defend if a clearing kick wasn’t marked by a Roo.
The contrast between that and what’s been on display so far this pre-season (intra club + match simulation) couldn’t be any greater.
I want to highlight one passage of play to illustrate how base-level changes make a difference. Instead of pushing all the chips into low percentage plays, North now have a better sense of when and where to move the ball.
Passages like this were non-existent last year:
Fans of 17 other clubs probably look at this and think, ‘really? That’s worth highlighting?’
It’s modern-day AFL football at its most basic level. But it wasn’t there last year for North.
One of the new features on here in 2023 is the ability to create your own positional depth chart for every club.
It’s available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers, and hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.
Checking in on Tom Mitchell’s progress at Collingwood
Obviously no-one should expect Mitchell to be the finished article at Collingwood by February of season one.
That being said … Mitchell still looks a long way away from influencing games for the Pies.
The query is always going to be around whether his ball-winning skills outweighs what he hands back defensively; the latter a key part of what makes Collingwood tick.
Too often he found himself in no-man’s land after letting his opponent go…
…or ball hunting and getting drawn into packs, leaving pockets of space for opponents.
Those are all basic things which opponents have tried to exploit at Mitchell’s previous stops, so it’s not as if we can mark this as a new development.
The defensive part of his game just needs to be passable, because the good falls right into what can take Collingwood up a level. Here Mitchell beats Patrick Cripps handily in a one-on-one to win first possession and sets his new team on its way.
That part – along with increased midfield minutes if his defence holds up – is what Collingwood are looking for.
Another new Shinboner feature in 2023 is sharing my rolling notes. In short, it’s how I start looking at trends and how thoughts evolve. The full explanation and how it works from week to week is available exclusively for those on the $10 tier.
Brisbane’s defensive pieces
This topic will be added to the Rolling Notes section, because I’m fascinated to see where Brisbane’s first choice back seven ends up.
There are plenty of options available to the Lions, especially now that it appears Cam Rayner’s stint at half-back will continue.
While Rayner has been playing as a pseudo third tall, that’s arguably Darcy Gardiner’s best position against taller forward lines (behind Harris Andrews and Jack Payne as #1 and #2) when he returns from shoulder surgery.
Then there is a plethora of small and medium types – Brandon Starcevich, Daniel Rich, Keidean Coleman, Conor McKenna and Noah Answerth – Darcy Wilmot would have also been on this list had he not spent most of his time on the wing against Sydney.
Right there I’ve listed nine names (with Darragh Joyce and Ryan Lester behind them on the depth chart); most teams select seven defenders in their match day 22. Given Gardiner and Answerth’s interrupted pre-seasons, perhaps these issues are simplified for Round 1 and not wanting to risk players too early.
But over the season it looks like it’s going to be a changing equation and maybe even match up dependent from week to week.
Notes to keep an eye on
Melbourne lowering the eyes: In the first 20 minutes of Friday’s match, it felt like Melbourne lowered their eyes going inside 50 more often than all of 2022 combined. Of course that’s an exaggeration for effect to emphasise how noticeable it was, but only just. This is the area where the Dees can most improve. Saturday against Richmond will tell us more if the weather down at Casey Fields cooperates.
Too early to judge St Kilda: A natural temptation is to read plenty into first looks at a team with a new coach, and that’ll only intensify with the Saints under Ross Lyon. I’m going the other way and waiting until they get somewhere near a full complement on the park to judge.
St Kilda started Friday with Zaine Cordy as their forward fulcrum. I can’t imagine that anyone, even Zaine Cordy, thought that’d be the case when he walked into Moorabbin for day one of pre-season.
Ruckmen at centre bounces: This may become a hobby horse of mine after watching West Coast v Port Adelaide.
All the umpires had distinctive bouncing styles, which meant little consistency from bounce to bounce. Yet for the most part, both rucks had similar starting positions from start to finish – the only change happening when there was a focus on neutralising the other ruck, rather than understanding ball flight.
When part of a team’s preparation is scouting an opposition, surely it should extend to how umpires bounce the ball. If that extra one percent of work results in one or two more clean centre clearances, it’s job well done.
The only example of a ruck being alert to it was Sam Hayes late in the last quarter, and his positioning was rewarded with a clear thump.