When there’s a North Melbourne win full of tactical shuffling and intriguing positional movement, there tends to be plenty left on the cutting room floor.
But as promised, there’d be extra North pieces on Tuesdays when the situation called for it – and this is definitely one of those times.
Today let’s dig into four players and what caught my eye from their performance: Luke Davies-Uniacke, Harry Sheezel, Jack Ziebell, and Tom Powell.
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In pre-season I highlighted how this is now Davies-Uniacke’s midfield. Just in case anyone needed further confirmation, his performance against West Coast solidified it:
– 32 disposals (19 contested)
– 10 clearances
– 8 score involvements
– 7 inside 50s
– 5 tackles
Add this game to his last eight of 2022 and you’re left with these averages over his last nine matches:
– 30.5 disposals
– 7.6 clearances
– 6.7 inside 50s
– 5.1 tackles
This is all a long preamble to say the time to call Davies-Uniacke an ‘up and comer’, or ‘promising player’, or even ‘potential star’ is gone. He’s a bonafide stud right now.
And that means it’s time for the next step in his career: how he responds to being treated like a star – by opposition midfielders.
It’s $1.01 Davies-Uniacke sees a Finn Maginness tag in Round 3, he’ll be recognised as the guy nearly every week, and it all means a new level of attention he hasn’t received yet.
It separates the very good from the truly elite, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds over the course of 2023.
One of the new features on The Shinboner 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.
Maybe I should have led with the newest Rising Star nominee, but nevertheless there were three things which made me (figuratively) stand up and take notice of Sheezel’s game against West Coast. Let’s go step by step:
1. The faith placed in him from the outset. Although Xerri’s injury and subsequent full-ground reshuffle forced all sorts of structural changes, beforehand it was a fascinating setup in the back half.
Sheezel started on Liam Ryan and spent some time on Jamie Cripps. As West Coast pushed Ryan and Cripps up around the contest, in an attempt to create offensive overlaps heading back towards goal, North were comfortable allowing Sheezel to drop back behind play in space.
That’s an enormous ask of any player, let alone a debutant in a position he’s barely played. If you get one thing wrong as a defender in that situation in open play, you’re probably conceding a scoring shot. Selfishly I wish I could have watched it unfold over an entire game, but changes from both sides after quarter time (North’s forced by injury, West Coast trying to get a foothold in the game) stopped it from happening.
2. The understanding of where and when to link up in possession chains. Although disposal was a little sketchy at times – I can’t imagine the feeling when your first AFL possession is a turnover – Sheezel kept getting to the right spot and was able to influence with possession the longer the game went.
No-one would have begrudged Sheezel for taking a month or two to find his feet at half-back, given the position was hardly a summer priority. But he’s already way ahead of where I thought he’d be at this stage.
3. Finally, it was a post-match quote from Alastair Clarkson which provided a glimpse into his priority list:
“We just really lacked some polish in our back half as it turned out of the Western Bulldogs game. Even at different stages tonight, despite (Sheezel’s) good play, we still couldn’t get the ball out of our back end as well as we’d like.”
Perhaps I’m putting two and two together to equal 24, but my read of that quote is that possession off half-back is currently Clarkson’s number one offensive priority. If I’m looking at it correctly, I’d expect bulk reshuffling across the Goater/Bergman positions as the right mix is looked for.
The constant battle for Ziebell with ball in hand is avoiding the tendency to kick it as long, high, and hard as he can as soon as he gathers possession.
It’s like the angel and devil on his shoulders; the angel trying to highlight the benefits of considered possession while the devil points out how fun it is to belt a ball as hard you can. And to be fair, it really is a lot of fun.
That was much improved against West Coast – although this area of the game, for most players, tends to be influenced by pressure – yet it still wasn’t what impressed me the most.
The honour goes to how Ziebell read the Eagles’ ball movement. It’s a little tricky to highlight with video, because often the best work is done without getting close to the ball. If you put yourself in the right position, you discourage certain kicks from even being taken in the first place.
It hasn’t always been Ziebell’s strong suit, but in this area it was one of his best performances. These two spoils, although not the high point of what I’m talking about, illustrate how he knew where to be and how to impact.
The challenge will go up a level or five on Saturday night against Fremantle, but so far, so good from the former skipper.
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
At this point it must be a running joke that every time he does something well, my Tom Powell alarm goes off.
We know what Powell brings with ball in hand; the footy IQ and the ability to break congestion with handball in particular. When he has possession, good things happen – eight score involvements on Saturday further proof of that.
Those are known quantities. Instead today I’d like to highlight two plays which showcase his development.
First there’s this tackle…
And this whole passage here.
If Powell tries that tackle in either of his first two years, he either pinballs off Gaff or doesn’t stick it.
If Powell tries to work through that passage in either of his first two years, he simply doesn’t have the strength to do it.
It’s the benefit of an extra pre-season, more miles in the legs, and confidence in his body reflecting in performances.
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