From The Notebook: 2023 Practice Matches

It’s full steam ahead to Round 1 after the final weekend of practice matches.

These weekends are always chock-full of tidbits to learn about all teams, along with the lingering question of how much will be sustained in the home and away season. Today’s topics:

– Fremantle’s marking forwards
– Port Adelaide’s disconnect
– Taking time to learn about Essendon
– GWS and Adelaide’s improvement


We’re about a week into 2023’s offerings on The Shinboner Patreon. If you missed the launch you can find all the details here.

There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some favourites, and simplified tiers. Of course, the old faithful North Melbourne match reviews will stay the same, the morning after each game.

Here’s the link to the Patreon page.


Fremantle’s forward line

Ultimately I think Round 1’s marking forwards will be Matt Taberner/Luke Jackson (as second ruck to Darcy)/Nat Fyfe, but there were two things which caught my eye against Port Adelaide:

1) There looks to be more movement between the marking forwards. Unfortunately there were no heat maps in the AFL app for pre-season games so I’m relying solely on the eye test and broadcast footage, but it appeared that Taberner was higher up the field more than previous seasons, switching with Fyfe regularly.

All three marking forwards spent time as the highest and deepest forwards. I assume Treacy was playing the role of Jackson, which means those movement patterns should be easily replicable against St Kilda on Sunday week.

That movement kept on shifting Port’s defensive structure and wore them down over the course of four quarters. The unpredictability of which forward moved where meant the defenders constantly had to adjust; in the blink of an eye they were forced to move from deepest to highest, which meant a subtle role change.

That combination play between forwards leads to more options with ball movement, and we know that’s the number one gauge to determine Fremantle’s improvement this year. So far, so good.

2) This one is more for the future than Round 1, but will Josh Treacy be trialled alongside those three at any stage? It feels like every time Treacy has a good game I’m odds on to mention him, but regardless he was impressive at Fremantle Oval.

The potential quartet feels too top heavy on paper, especially given it looks like Jackson will start the year in a standard forward/second ruck split, much to the disappointment of people (i.e. me) who were hoping to see something funky. But down the track if there are games where Jackson is slated to experiment with more midfield time than normal, does that bring Treacy into the mix?

Does the sub increase the chances of it, knowing the 23rd player can be an extra runner if the tall setup isn’t working? It’s a fun thought experiment, especially given there appears to be a trend towards taller forward lines to start the year.

Port Adelaide’s disconnect

A charitable word to describe the general mood of Power supporters is restless. A more accurate term would require some colourful language to describe.

The disconnect between Port’s midfielders and forwards has been startling in their intraclub, match sim v West Coast and practice match v Fremantle.

Ball movement was the Power’s main weakness last year, too often using possession for defensive purposes Look Back/Look Ahead: Port Adelaide“>as detailed in their end-of-season analysis.

In their attempt to rectify that, so far the Power have been in no-man’s land – taking territory but with no defined end game, too often resorting to aimless decisions.

Nothing about the offensive side of their game seems natural and as a result opponents find it easier and easier to defend as the game wears on. A team with functional ball movement – and most importantly, designs on a top half finish – should be able to generate more than 8.13 from 58 entries, with few quality scoring shots:

Screenshot via the Footy Live app

Maybe these are natural growing pains as the team adjusts to new instructions, and this passage will look hilarious by the mid-point of 2023. The thing is, there is very little time for Port to adjust because their start to the season reads:

Round 1: Brisbane (AO)
Round 2: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 3: Adelaide (AO)
Round 4: Sydney (SCG)
Round 5: Western Bulldogs (AO)

Currently they don’t deserve to be favourite in any of those five games.


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.

Here’s where to find the page.


Taking time to learn about Essendon

When there’s a new coach of a bottom four team, those first pre-season games are usually so exciting due to all the big-picture information you can gather. Take North Melbourne for example; Preseason v Western Bulldogs: Collecting intel“>here are 1,500 words which could easily have been 3,000.

I assumed there’d be a similar seat under the learning tree for Essendon’s games against Gold Coast and St Kilda, but instead what we got were two matches in blustery, windy conditions which won’t be replicated during the season.

Let’s zero in on the game at Moorabbin as an example. From a base team point of view, it looks like Essendon want to play three genuine tall forwards – Peter Wright, Harrison Jones, and Sam Weideman – and stretch the game, with smalls buzzing at ground level.

On paper it’s perfectly logical, but then you enter game time. When Essendon kicked with the wind to start, naturally St Kilda sat their defence deeper than normal to cover for that extra distance on disposals. Suddenly your plan of stretching the ground doesn’t work because the defence’s starting positions are right next to you.

Then in the second quarter, you want to continue working on what you’ve trained all summer with the key forwards as deep as realistically possible. But kicking against the wind, that doesn’t work because the ball won’t carry there. So you bring the forwards up and suddenly you’re playing in a style you have no reps with.

Ball movement falls into the same category. Normally it’s all based on predicting the soft spots in a team defence, but both around the ball and down the ground that all changes when strong wind is involved.

Both sets of wingers sit either deeper (with the wind) or shallower (against the wind) than normal, the on-ballers either don’t get reward from kicking out of clearance (against the wind) or have too much reward (with the wind) which forces a change to setups.

All of this wouldn’t be an issue if Essendon were either a top half team or a couple years into development under Brad Scott because there’d be adjustments already built into their game style. For example, look at how North played in Hobart between 2014-2018 compared to elsewhere. Completely different, and they were nearly unbeatable (12-2, average winning margin of 38 points).

But Essendon are basically starting from scratch, so they don’t have that in their repertoire just yet. From the outside it’s why this pre-season has been so frustrating; it’s tough to have any big-picture learnings.


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, with the next update coming mid-week.

Here’s where to find the page.


GWS and Adelaide’s improvement

I’ve deliberately bunched the Giants and Crows together because they’re set to play the most intriguing game of Round 1.

Both teams have improved noticeably on 2022. GWS hit you between the eyes immediately because of how different they are to last year, while Adelaide’s improvement is more subtle because they’ve built on existing strengths – but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

The Giants are moving the ball so quickly, and although they’re off-Broadway they’ll be a fun watch. Adam Kingsley has brought their style into 2023 after a few years stuck in purgatory. For example: they scored 75 points off turnover against the Suns, and were +42 overall in that stat. Both numbers exceed their season best in 2022.

Preseason, not a match for points, and all that stuff included, if that’s not a clear indication of how the Giants want to play then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile Adelaide’s improvement comes from two areas:

1a) Their improvement without the ball. They’ve always been solid in that area, but pressure wise it’s graduated from solid to good, and as a result they look set to create more turnovers. In turn…

1b) There looks to be a willingness to move quicker off the back of those turnovers. At the end of last season I wrote about how there Look Back/Look Ahead: Adelaide Crows“>needed to be a greater focus on more creativity in possession, and so far that’s exactly what has happened. It’s not as if they’ve turned the dial up to 11, but just a couple of notches and it’s making a difference.

2) The above two parts would have backfired if Adelaide’s midfield mix stayed the same. Instead Ben Keays has (almost) permanently been moved to half-forward and it’s a rotating cast of players behind Rory Laird and Sam Berry.

After Laird and Berry, Josh Rachele, Harry Schoenberg, Jake Soligo, Tyler Brown, Keays, Matt Crouch and Izak Rankine all had 3+ centre bounce attendances against West Coast. Even allowing for the greater numbers running through a preseason game, it’s still a drastic difference to 2022 where it tended to be four players – five max – filling out the on-ball rotation from start to finish.

Injuries permitting, both GWS and Adelaide will be better than their 2022 output. Round 1 is going to set one of these teams on their way earlier than the other.

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