What a fun opening weekend. There were some surprising results, standout individual performances, and perhaps above all, confirmation that the league is indeed trending towards a more offensive-based product.
For the first Notebook of the home and away season, there are three topics:
– Port Adelaide’s blistering third quarter
– Groundhog Day for the Western Bulldogs
– Rossball winning a game of chess, outpointing Fremantle
Monday’s Notebook will always be available in the morning for those on the $5 and $10 Patreon tiers; those people having early access before it’s public for all on Monday night.
If you’ve missed the Patreon features for subscribers, 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.
Port Adelaide’s blistering third quarter
Hand up to admit – I did not see that coming. At all. Just some of the stats from the term:
Contested Possessions: 35-25
Inside 50s: 21-6
The cliff notes version: Port Adelaide decided to move at pace, and it broke every part of Brisbane’s defence. From the Lions’ half-forwards to their midfielders, and their defenders, no-one coped with the Power’s movement.
After the first centre bounce, Ryan Burton pushed up from half-back and was allowed all the time in the world…
…then at the next centre bounce, Lachie Neale drops off behind the play which allows Jason Horne-Francis to deliver deep inside 50.
Watch Conor Rozee drift into open space like he’s a ghost…
Or how about Junior Rioli being left all alone at ground level when too many Lions go up for a contest.
This could go on, and on, and on, but it’s Round 1 and this WordPress site has limited storage space for videos.
Nevertheless, there was a common theme from start to finish. Port moved at speed and decisively – something they haven’t always done – and were rewarded handsomely, because Brisbane cracked under the pressure – something they’re seemingly still susceptible to, more often than other top-tier teams.
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.
Groundhog Day for the Bulldogs
In pre-season my initial read on the Bulldogs was: same team as 2022, but with a talent upgrade at both ends.
The talent upgrade will help offensively, but the defensive system issues are still there – and they were exposed ruthlessly by Melbourne on Saturday night.
If my manual calculations were correct, eight of Melbourne’s 17 goals started from possession chains in their defensive 50.
The Demons’ ball use was good, continuing a theme from their pre-season, but it was striking how much space they were able to find between the vertical lines of the Bulldogs’ defence.
Picture three vertical lines, positioned across the ground. If the line on the left moves further in that direction, naturally the middle and right lines must move with it, otherwise the defence becomes unbalanced and leaves too much space.
Too often part of the Bulldogs’ defence would move, but the rest wouldn’t move with it. The result was an open invitation for Melbourne to move the ball upfield.
Here are three clips – and it could have been a handful more – of how Melbourne sliced the Bulldogs apart.
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
Rossball wins the chess game
I know in pre-season I said I’d avoid any sweeping statements about St Kilda until they’re whole, so with that in mind, let’s narrow our focus to this one game.
From the outset at Marvel Stadium, it was evident Ross Lyon set his St Kilda team up to defend first and try to win in a slugfest.
It made perfect sense too. With all their forward unavailability, going in and playing a ‘normal’ game would have been an open invitation for a thumping loss.
Fremantle, on the other hand, went in with four marking forward targets – Matt Taberner, Luke Jackson, Josh Treacy, and Nat Fyfe.
They wanted to play to those strengths, possessing the ball, controlling tempo and moving methodically. It’d naturally mean being a step slower than what we saw in pre-season, but to an extent that was forced due to team selection.
So we had St Kilda defending deep in a shell, happy to take their chances with broken play, transition, and general ‘messy’ periods. Conversely, Fremantle wanted to own the skies – but found it heavily populated by Saints.
Whenever Fremantle tried to move it forward, they were almost always confronted with a mass of numbers. When St Kilda tried to counter, they were almost always confronted by a formidable defence.
That was the standoff and how the game unfolded nearly from start to finish, with little change throughout.
The Saints went in hoping for a low-chance match knowing it was their best route towards victory. Fremantle had a decision – accept that style, or force the Saints to answer a different question.
In sticking to their pre-match structures, Fremantle made a conscious choice to accept St Kilda’s style and spend the evening on the Saints’ tempo. It reduced Freo’s margin for error, because – to be captain obvious for a minute – the fewer chances in a game, the lower scoring it is, which means the underdog stays in the game for longer.
To beat the Saints, they had to move the ball quicker, take a few more risks – more in line with what we saw during pre-season – and be decisive with their movements. Instead we saw early Fremantle under Longmuir; too easy to defend against.
It shouldn’t be panic stations given the fix is simple, and it’s only one game. But it is a good reminder of where Fremantle’s improvement needs to come from so they can keep pace with the changing game.