Round 1, 2023 v West Coast: Plans and communication

Isn’t it funny how two early season wins against West Coast can bring such contrasting reactions?

After Round 2 last year, most people walked out of Marvel Stadium grumbling and the mood was closer to that of a loss.

This time, after barely holding on and almost coughing up all of a 34-point lead, the mood was jubilant.

The difference in 2023? A clear vision, a plan, and an understanding of what’s to come. That’s not to say it’ll exclusively be sunshine and rainbows from here out. But there’s a path, and that’s all you can ask for.


For a second season, The Shinboner Patreon is up and running. Of course, the North Melbourne match reviews will remain free for all, posted the morning after each game. But if you’ve missed all the other features, you can find them all here.

There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some favourites, and simplified tiers. Here’s the link to the Patreon page.


Originally my plan was to discuss team selection and how it impacted the day, but there were that many moving parts in the game, it’d be a waste of time.

What struck me straight away, as I mention the phrase for a second time already, was the clarity in how North wanted to move the ball. That’s not to say it even worked most of the time – because Jeremy McGovern, Tom Barrass and Shannon Hurn had 29 intercept possessions between them and at times it felt like 129 – but the movement patterns were consistent.

Here’s an example from the opening stages:

At some point, simple things like this won’t leave me clapping like a seal. For now though, it’s an undeniable sign of progress. Players on the same page and moving the ball smoothly is a novel concept.

The plan here was to have a couple more clips highlighting Liam Shiels in the first quarter and his positioning on the wing. Unfortunately it’s my familiar lament that a winger’s efforts often go unappreciated; Shiels’ best work came outside broadcast view as he protected the contest structure and allowed the prime inside movers to get to work.

However many games Shiels plays for North, whether it’s 10, 15, 20, or even multiple seasons – this type of unheralded work is what the younger midfielders will learn buckets from. It’s not a coincidence that Shiels’ game led to that dominance in tight from North’s midfielders. They had the security to take advantage of their head-to-head edge over direct matchups, knowing there was protection on the outside.

The role of wingers and general midfield structure took on extra importance when Tristan Xerri went down with an ankle injury late in the first quarter. By all rights it should have led to a significant advantage around the ball for West Coast.


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 is where to find the page.


With Xerri’s absence, there was a decision for North to make. Charlie Comben had to take his fair share of ruck work, but if he played there exclusively then the Eagles’ defenders would have formed a barrier around Nick Larkey and rebounded with impunity all afternoon.

The solution turned out to be a quick one, and clean. Comben became essentially a centre bounce ruckman, negating the one part of the game where a ruck’s advantage is biggest. Following that, he’d normally roll forward at the first possible opportunity, handing over to Hugh Greenwood who’d take over around the ground:

Centre Bounce Attendances After Quarter Time

Comben: 19
Greenwood: 1 (zero as the ruck)

Ruck Contests After Quarter Time

Comben: 37
Greenwood: 33

Let’s use the same word again – it’s a clear plan, one that’s easy to explain. There’s no way for players to be confused when hearing these instructions:

“Charlie, ruck at the centre bounces, then go forward and switch with Hugh”
“Hugh, switch with Charlie after centre bounces and ruck around the ground”

Maybe those weren’t the exact words used by the coaches, but either way it’s simple to understand. The benefit was that in Greenwood coming up to the ball from half-forward, it wasn’t a significant departure from how North tried to play in pre-season.

As I explained in the Bulldogs match review, the plan was for the sixth forward at a centre bounce to be a rotating midfielder and Greenwood essentially took that place. As an added bonus provided an extra number around the contest in that transition period between he and Comben.

Instantly – as in, from the first centre bounce of the second quarter – you could see the benefit. Follow the text commentary on this clip:

Regular readers will know how much I drone on about movement this, movement that, and all the problems it can cause for opponents.

The tag team between Comben and Greenwood took West Coast a while to adjust to. As a result it allowed other Roos more time and space than they’d normally get – especially in the passage after North worked forward from a centre bounce.

It’s because Comben had taken the ruck and moved forward, Greenwood was still forward, and there was a case of the unknown with matchups.

The unknown normally = confusion. In the seconds before this forward 50 ball up, Eagles were frantically pointing at each other trying to get on the same page. Without enough time to do it, Paul Curtis is able to float in unbothered, grab, and snap.

North had a plan, forced West Coast to react, and took advantage of the Eagles’ adjustment period.


If you missed any of the pre-season posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up here:

2023 Team Tiers
North Melbourne’s 2023 season checklist
Predicting every team’s over/under win total
From The Notebook: Practice Matches
North Melbourne’s match review v Western Bulldogs
The 2023 Continuity Rankings
From The Notebook: Match Simulation
Depth Chart page
Rolling Notes page


To go from 34 points up to (what felt like) hanging on for dear life naturally requires a word. But after watching the relevant moments multiple times, it didn’t feel like a systems breakdown which allowed West Coast into the game.

Instead my read was it being a combination of little things. The conditions had an impact, as did the Eagles finding a higher gear with their ball movement – the latter forced on them to an extent by the scoreboard.

But even in that last quarter, a two-part passage of play stood out to me. With 10:35 to go, Dom Sheed took the ruck work at a centre bounce against Comben. On paper it should have been the easiest of wins for Comben – and it was – but he was on a different wavelength to the North midfielders.

As a result Comben’s tap went to no one and the Eagles were able to gather, go forward and goal for the second time in a minute.

The margin had been cut to eight points. Before the next centre bounce, which Sheed attended again, Comben and Cunnington had a conference in the circle.

They learned from their mistake, formulated a new plan, and executed. North earned a (scrappy) clearance, got some territory and kept it in their forward half for the next two to three minutes.

Plans and communication leads to quick learning. It’s a wonderful thing.

That feature of North’s play meant in the last 2:50 of the game, after the margin was cut to under a goal, West Coast didn’t have a single inside 50. The game was more or less controlled (with the benefit of a few 50-50 umpiring decisions, it must be said) and North got the Alastair Clarkson era off to a winning start.

One more note to finish. You may wonder why a whole match analysis post hasn’t touched on:

– Harry Sheezel: 34 disposals, 9 marks, 631 metres gained
– Luke Davies-Uniacke: 32 disposals (19 contested), 10 clearances, 7 inside 50s
– Jack Ziebell: 26 disposals at 96 percent efficiency
– Tom Powell: 22 possessions, 8 score involvements

That will come on Tuesday morning. As promised the extra non-match analysis North posts will come on Tuesdays this season. When there are games like this, individual performances deserve their own time in the sun. Or in the case of Marvel Stadium on Saturday, time under the roof at 110 percent humidity.

One thought on “Round 1, 2023 v West Coast: Plans and communication

  1. 1 Was pleased the selection integrity was maintained. By all accounts X had a better summer that Goldy. Hence starting. 2 Wondered why Greenwood was initially picked. In hindsight I presume (if X played a full game) the intention was Chom @ centre bounces and Greenwood at the around the ground ruck when X moved to the pine. And provided the ‘what if X gets injured’ contingency planning. Thoughts?

Leave a Reply