Heading into the season, what would have been more unexpected at the end of Round 3: St Kilda undefeated and on top, or Geelong the only winless team and anchored to the bottom?
Elsewhere, apart from Collingwood as the benchmark – there’ll be more coming on them in the very near future – it’s still a muddle around the league.
Today’s Notebook has three topics: Alarm bells at Brisbane, Adelaide releasing the handbrake, and Mason Wood’s start to the season.
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If you’ve missed the Patreon features for subscribers, you can find them all here.
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Alarm bells ringing for Brisbane
In the big picture, Brisbane should still finish in the top eight, or even top six, relatively comfortably. They don’t lose at the Gabba – 30-5 since the start of 2020 – and all they need is to knock off some lesser teams away from home to reach 14-15 wins.
With that being said, their two defeats to start 2023 have been alarming for a team with premiership aspirations.
For some background, my theory is: if a team must lose, it’s preferable to be in a similar fashion rather than completely different from week to week – reason being it’s only one area to fix instead of multiple.
From The Notebook, Round 1: Power movement, Bulldogs’ Groundhog Day, and Rossball in effect“>Brisbane’s loss to Port Adelaide came because their defence fell to pieces in the second half. Against the Bulldogs it was their ball movement – or lack of it, to be precise.
Although the Bulldogs were better organised than Round 1 and 2 in transition (not hard, I know, roll with me though), there were still plenty of opportunities for the Lions to move the ball and take advantage of a team still figuring out key parts of their defensive strategy.
Instead, even with two weeks of evidence on how to pick through the Bulldogs, Brisbane stuck with straight lines and unadventurous play. As per Sam Landsberger in the Herald Sun, the Lions are now dead last in transitioning from defensive 50 to inside 50 – after ranking 1st in 2022.
Brisbane at their best with ball movement used multiple options and different angles to stretch defences past breaking point. None of it was on display against the Bulldogs. Whether it was picked up by broadcast cameras I’m not sure, but at times Jack Gunston must have wished he had six arms so he could point more teammates to the right spot.
Their defence collapsed in Round 1 – on Thursday they’ll be challenged there again by a Collingwood side far and away the hardest team to contain at the moment.
Their offence collapsed in Round 3 – on Thursday they’ll be challenged there again by a Collingwood side who are one of the most aggressive defensive teams in the league.
It’ll be a revealing watch.
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.
Adelaide releasing the handbrake
Regular readers will know that over the last couple of years, my two biggest wishes for the Crows have been:
- Shake up the midfield mix
- More aggression in the ball movement
It’s an element of stating the obvious, given I’ve been far (far) from the only person wanting it.
From The Notebook: 2023 Practice Matches“>In pre-season there were signs of a change, and through the first two rounds there were glimpses.
The first half against the Giants was great, but it fell away after the break. Then the third quarter against Richmond was blistering, but there was too much to do after a poor first half and they ran out of legs in the last.
Saturday was where it all came together for a full game. Perhaps nothing signified the shift more than Jordan Dawson playing as a midfielder. From Round 3, 2022 to Round 2, 2023, Dawson attended one centre bounce. Against Port it was 21.
There were seven Crows (not including ruckmen) who attended multiple centre bounces on Saturday night, backing up from seven against Richmond and eight against GWS.
Only once did Adelaide reach a similar threshold last year, instead favouring a strict four to five man on-ball rotation.
While a deeper midfield rotation was one part of the puzzle, the other was more aggression with ball movement.
If Dawson’s midfield move signified a commitment to the former, Reilly O’Brien lumbering after the first centre bounce and belting it forward was symbolic for the latter:
Adelaide kicked eight (of their first 13) goals from possession starting in their defensive half per AFL.com.au’s Match Centre, which was a direct result of wanting to put more speed in the game.
It was this play in particular which stood out to me. None of it is what you’d call champagne ball movement, or to be honest, anything mind-blowing.
But the extra risk involved – charging out of defensive 50, kicking to a contest, numbers streaming forward into space – has all too often been missing from Adelaide’s game in recent years.
The constant pressure this type of ball movement creates makes it harder for a defence to hold up for four quarters.
It’s no surprise that the Power struggled to cope and eventually broke down in all facts in the last quarter. Adelaide’s movement with and without possession led to a seven-goal burst; their highest scoring final term against a non-North Melbourne opponent under Matthew Nicks.
I’d imagine there’ll be some inconsistencies from week to week as Adelaide look to bed down these offensive improvements while keeping defensive integrity. But this is the step the Crows needed to make. If they can maintain the balance, they’ll emerge out the other side a much better team.
If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:
Round 3: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Hawthorn
Fortnightly Focus: Bobby Hill, Noah Balta, Will Setterfield
From The Notebook, Round 2: Geelong, Gawn, and what’s next
Round 2: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Fremantle
Round 1: North Melbourne Player Focus v West Coast
Mason Wood realising his potential
Originally this section was supposed to be in the next Fortnightly Focus after Round 4, but an ill-timed shoulder injury has bumped it up a week.
Only one player has 20+ disposals and 1+ goals in all three rounds this season, and that is Mason Wood.
Round 1 v Fremantle: 20 disposals, 2 goals
Round 2 v Western Bulldogs: 24 disposals, 1 goal
Round 3 v Essendon: 27 disposals, 1 goal
It’s rare to see someone hit career best form in season 11 on an AFL list – after ‘only’ 93 games in the previous 10 years. Wood had always been a smooth mover with the ability to run all day but hadn’t put it together consistently until the back end of 2022 and start of 2023.
Playing on a wing has unlocked him, and if anyone has learned anything reading The Shinboner over the last few years, it’s that I’m extremely partial to a hard-running winger.
(Side note: The origin story for this comes from my time at North Melbourne. Sam Gibson was a whipping boy amongst a large section of the fan base but was frequently among the first picked for seasons on end.
After a while I went to a couple of the coaches (names withheld, but not Brad Scott, for the record) and asked how there could be such a disconnect from the outer to the inner sanctum. In return I received a How To Play Wing 101 educational spiel, and the rest is history.)
Wood has been the complete winger through three rounds, and the best in the competition. Let’s look through his game against Essendon for a handful of examples.
From the centre bounce here, Wood gets back and then stays in the play, eventually delivering inside 50. But pay attention to his positioning – it’s always in a spot where he can be the first layer of defence in case of a turnover.
Wood’s always had nice touch with his field kicking – albeit a bit inconsistent – but that’s improved as well, as shown by this delivery inside 50 to Jack Higgins.
At 192 centimetres, Wood can influence in the air. It’s why he’s often entrusted as the winger who gets the deepest in defence, because he can interrupt opposition inside 50s. Watch at the top of the screen here as he reads play and does enough to force it to ground.
Through three rounds, Wood leads St Kilda in:
– Score involvements (22, next best Gresham on 19)
– Score launches (7)
– This is defined as a scoring shot which starts with your possession – whether that’s from a clearance, free kick for, or intercept possession
And is also top three in:
– Intercept marks (equal 2nd with 7, behind Callum Wilkie on 9)
– Kicks (2nd with 51, behind Jack Sinclair on 54)
– Uncontested possessions (equal 1st with 52 alongside Sinclair and Brad Hill – this is where his running power comes into play)
Hopefully Wood’s absence is short-term because he’s suddenly one of St Kilda’s most important players.