Round 7, 2023 v Melbourne: Time for stage two

Really, how much can you say about a game like that?

Best laid plans go out the window when you’re five goals down less than halfway through the first term and your young key forward has been stretchered off with a horrific looking injury.

Melbourne had things firmly stuck in first gear – if not neutral – for much of the last two and a half quarters, which means reading too much into team wide setups would bring a bit of fool’s gold. Or in this case, whatever the opposite of fool’s gold is.

Instead today’s post is going to be about a few post-match comments from Alastair Clarkson and the recognition it’s time to move on to the next phase of proceedings.


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“We’ve just got to stay together and work our way through it and give some players an opportunity. We’ve probably gone with a little bit of an older group in the earlier part of the year and not exposed as many of the young kids.

“We’re fully of the view that bringing the young kids in en masse isn’t all that beneficial for them and they need to have some experienced guys around them. We’ll probably look to blood a few more kids over the next few weeks to give them the exposure.

“But we don’t want to throw them to the wolves either, we’ll just, bit by bit … we’ll probably have two or three changes out of the side next week and there’s one or two young fellas who can come into the side.”

Those were Clarkson’s words in Saturday’s post-match press conference, talking about the next steps.

Regular readers will know I’m a firm believer of the bit-by-bit theory, frequently talking about the need to assess each individual on his merits. Some thrive on early exposure – i.e. Harry Sheezel – while others are thrown in too early. Jack Watts is arguably the most famous example of the latter, Melbourne debuting him on Queen’s Birthday when he was still a million miles from ready, hurting his career as a result.

There have been a handful of opinion pieces over the last few days, on outlets both big and small, missing the forest for the trees and not recognising the team selection strategy. In introducing a new game style so significantly removed from 2022 (read: actually up to speed with modern trends), it has required – and will require – plenty of unlearning bad habits while simultaneously establishing new ones.

The goal has clearly been to establish trends with the older players, in turn allowing younger players to be introduced gradually with defined roles. Regardless of which camp you fall into with how to blood youngsters, we can all agree clarity of role is a key to making sure they start well. For instance, would Nick Daicos have had the same 2022 playing in North’s ‘system’? No chance.

(Note: To be clear, I am not for a minute suggesting there are a handful of Nick Daicos level players sitting gathering dust in North’s VFL side. It’s simply the easiest example to illustrate my point)


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.


The problem over the last few weeks, specifically on an individual level, is a handful of the experienced players haven’t been up to speed.

When that happens everything naturally looks worse by comparison. Because some of the experience isn’t performing – in theory the heartbeat of the team – remaining veterans are forced to take on a larger share of the task, overstretching themselves. Then the younger players remaining – if they’re not all off injured anyway – find themselves having to do too much for their rank.

Some examples of how certain individuals are performing, and the chain reaction it causes:

Although Kayne Turner is a lightning rod for criticism from a certain section of the fanbase, he was doing his job through the first month of the season: provide pressure and force turnovers.

Because Turner is never going to be an offensive force, his defensive work had to be good to maintain his spot in the side. In the last three weeks it has slipped:

Kayne TurnerPressure acts (rank at North)
Round 1-41st
Round 5-716th

Therefore his spot is now in jeopardy.

Aaron Hall was brought into the side to break lines off half back, but his two games have brought a hail of turnovers and a string of sub-par defensive efforts.

The equation for Hall’s spot in the side is lines broken > defensive mistakes. The last two weeks it’s been lines broken < defensive mistakes, and as a result his spot is also in jeopardy. Base disposal count doesn’t tell the story here.

Judging by the way every Hawk got around him at the end of the match in Launceston, Daniel Howe is clearly a popular person who sets standards at a club. Nevertheless, on-field his role is to provide a safe hand, collect the ball and be a big body, as cliché as the last point is. He hasn’t been able to do that and will likely dip further down the depth chart from fringe player as a result.


If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:

St Kilda, an AFL team’s litmus test
Fortnightly Focus: Sam Taylor, Esava Ratugolea, Noah Cumberland
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 key is to find the right mix between introducing more youngsters while maintaining a well-balanced side. So to finish off, a few hypotheticals:

Does bringing in someone like Blake Drury – who’s clearly getting close to a debut, given he was promoted to emergency after Davies-Uniacke’s late withdrawal – for Turner significantly expose the forward setup? In my opinion, no, which makes it a potential future-looking change.

Does bringing in someone like Miller Bergman – this could have been Josh Goater if fit – for Hall significantly expose the defensive setup? Considering there’s still plenty of experience performing well around him with Jack Ziebell and Luke McDonald, in my opinion that’s a no as well, and another potential future-looking change.

Does bringing Will Phillips in to the squad for Howe (or resting Liam Shiels from time to time, given he clearly benefited from being sub last week) – then reshuffling the on-ball and wing mix as a result – expose anything in those rotations? In my opinion, no, which makes a third logical change.

There’ll also be an extra spot for a smaller type next week. Given Comben and Coleman-Jones’ absence, the logical setup is Logue forward and Bonar back. That’s without even mentioning Powell’s fitness, which appeared questionable at best after hurting his ankle.

Whether these exact changes happen is a point for discussion. But that would be, to use this phrase a second time, missing the forest for the trees. In the bigger picture, it’s the type of mindset – the “bit-by-bit” – we’ll see in the immediate future. The post-match press conference comments revealed as much.

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