The player fortnightly focus is back for its next edition. This week it’s nearly a key defender trifecta, looking at:
– Sam Taylor and why his absence will hurt GWS so much
– Esava Ratugolea and his progress in the new role
– Noah Cumberland and deciphering Damien Hardwick’s comments
Plenty of video clips, plenty of musings, let’s get stuck into it.
A Fortnightly Focus post goes live every second Wednesday morning, highlighting three players from around the league.
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(Fun fact in case anyone was wondering why no Fortnightly Focus after Round 4: There was a big analysis planned for Mason Wood, who proceeded to apparently injure his shoulder after Round 3, looking like he’d be out for a period. So I rushed that, popped it in the Round 3 Notebook … and then he turned around, played the next week, and hasn’t missed a game since. Thanks Mason.)
With apologies to Callum Wilkie, up until the point Sam Taylor tore his hamstring the Giant was the best pure key defender in the league. Some numbers:
– Only six goals conceded playing on the opponent’s best key forward (in a team, even allowing for recent improvement, ranked bottom three in scores conceded per inside 50)
– Only one contest lost out of 19 one-on-ones
– 23 intercept marks (behind only Aliir and Balta on 24)
– 12 contested marks (equal with Moore and Balta, behind only Barrass on 13)
Here Taylor makes Tom De Koning look helpless in a one-on-one:
Here Taylor reads the play perfectly, peeling off Joe Daniher to cut in the hole:
And to cap off the trifecta, here’s Taylor sticking with Chad Wingard on the lead, spoiling, then still getting to his feet first and firing off a handball:
Given Taylor will now be out of sight and out of mind for most of the season – some would argue because he plays for the Giants that’s his normal status anyway – he deserved some praise to go out with.
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.
A fun guessing game to play when Ratugolea goes near the ball: will he look like a 200-game AFL defender this time, or a five-game AFL defender?
Obviously, the latter is where he’s technically at (six, to be exact), but the fact he has moments where he looks so accomplished already makes for a fascinating contrast.
While the other two players in today’s post have videos accompanying their section, for Ratugolea I simply want to talk about the bet Geelong are making with him as a key defender.
Early in the season, with Jake Kolodjashnij and Mitch Duncan both out for the first three weeks, Sam De Koning battered from pillar to post and Tom Stewart missing the best part of two matches, Ratugolea had more moments looking outmatched rather than the opposite.
But with the cavalry back in recent weeks, Ratugolea has looked calmer in his decision making*, not over-stretched, able to play more within his limitations as he settles into the role.
(*defensively that is, ball-in-hand is still a rollercoaster of emotions)
That’s the bet Geelong are making with Ratugolea; he’ll be able to assimilate into the defensive system thanks to the surrounding infrastructure.
With the field in front of him and the game coming at him, Ratugolea has read the play significantly better as a defender than he ever did as a forward, allowing him to intercept regularly – only behind Stewart for intercept possessions per game at the Cats.
So then, with the experience around Ratugolea, add in another handful of easy kills like Saturday against Sydney – where defenders could have had the same output with one arm tied behind their back, such was the low quality of supply coming in from the Swans – and before you know it, Ratugolea is up to double figure games, then 15, then 20, hopefully improving all the while.
Because when it comes to genuine key position size, the cupboard is relatively bare* down back. If Ratugolea improves, the Cats can pencil in another part of their future. If not, they’ll probably need to go shopping.
(*This is under the naïve assumption they’re not handed Sam Collins or someone similar once Gold Coast decide another salary dump is in order)
If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:
From The Notebook, Round 6: Status updates (Gold Coast, GWS, Sydney)
Round 6: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Gold Coast
Round 5: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Brisbane
The first month of the Alastair Clarkson era
From The Notebook, Round 4: Trends from the first month
In amongst his assessment of Noah Cumberland, a couple of quotes from Damien Hardwick stood out:
“What Noah’s got to realise is how hard he has to work in the game of AFL footy.
“He can be as good as he wants, that kid, but he’s got to get to work on some things in his game. A lot of it is to do with Noah – how bad he wants it – and he’s working on that.
With an extra sentence about ‘staying in the game’ and how they ‘changed our structure a little bit to get him in’, it’s the type of insight coaches don’t normally give into individuals in press conferences.
Those type of quotes – ‘some things’, ‘staying in the game’ – suggest it’s minor moments rather than anything wholesale which needs to change. Given Cumberland has already looked like Richmond’s most dangerous forward at times of his first 13 matches, that’s sensible.
Putting aside how it appears Hardwick subscribes to the stick rather than a carrot when coaching Cumberland – because that’s a whole different conversation – there are clearly high hopes for him. To figure out what exactly the Richmond coach is referring to, it’s to the tape from Monday night.
The main moment to stand out (to me, at least) was this from late in the third quarter. With three Tigers and two Dees left standing, coaches would be hoping for the ball to be locked in deep, close to goal.
But you can visibly see Cumberland switch off for half a second, the sort of thing which drives coaches insane:
There was also another moment earlier in the third term where Cumberland’s decision making was off – first opting to fly when not in a position to impact, then chasing shadows instead of staying in the system:
And the third was giving Hibberd too much space and allowing Melbourne to use him as the first target in a switch which escaped defensive 50:
These (again, to me at least) look to be the type of plays Hardwick is referencing when he wants to see Cumberland take the next step. They’re minor, largely unnoticed by the general public, but have a domino effect.
Hopefully this doesn’t come across as a pile-on session, because although Hardwick’s quotes have become a thing, he clearly sees a lot in Cumberland and wants to see improvement as quickly as possible.
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