That wasn’t exactly one for the scrapbook.
A goalless first half for North Melbourne and an eventual 30-point loss to St Kilda has, on the surface, not a lot going for it.
But underneath the hail of errors from both sides and the aversion to kicking straight, North made progress with their structure.
(No I’m serious, don’t close the tab yet)
Playing St Kilda is a test of ball movement – both how you move it and how you defend against it – and to that end North took a step forward.
A note before getting into the body of the piece: I am aware North lost by 30 points and there still needs to be plenty more improvement. Just in case the rest of these words are interpreted as painting a picture at odds with reality.
For a second season, The Shinboner Patreon is up and running. Of course, the North Melbourne match reviews will remain free for all, posted the morning after each game. But if you’ve missed all the other features, you can find them 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.
The defence has been a focus of these posts over the last few weeks. Coming up against St Kilda – the best side in the league through seven rounds at transitioning from defensive 50 to forward 50 – it had the potential to be nasty.
But right from the outset North’s pressure in the front half of the field was much improved. In only one other game this year have the Saints moved from defensive 50 to forward 50 less. They scored just 1.2* from those transitions, also the second lowest of their season.
In understanding St Kilda uses the ball heavily around the boundary, North were able to use that predictability to set up their defence, making it easier to force turnovers and go back the other way.
Take this passage of play for instance from a St Kilda kick-in. North keep the ball in a straight line at a relatively standard speed. It eventually allows Luke McDonald to read the play and come up to spoil – leaving Saints behind him loitering in forward 50, which you can’t see on broadcast view – forcing a turnover that eventually leads to a shot on goal.
The passage is far from perfect, and there are plenty of little things to nit-pick throughout, but it’s progress based on prior weeks.
That type of defence – keeping St Kilda from changing angles, slowing the straight-line movement down – had a large part in Ben McKay’s best game of the season by far.
Although there’s a valid, big-picture discussion to be had on whether McKay plays better with one less genuine key defender alongside him, for Sunday his output was helped by those further up the field rather than personnel.
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.
The ball movement, as unbelievably silly as this is going to sound, was also better across the field…
Up until the last kick inside 50, which for this section I’m going to pretend didn’t exist in order to illustrate the improvement elsewhere.
Returning to the same defensive 50 to forward 50 statistic so I can explain, it was genuinely North’s best performance of the year (by percentage).
St Kilda have been excellent at stopping sides from doing that through seven rounds. Sunday was also the most transitions they’ve conceded in a game this year.
North did it by shifting angles, using the field, and going up or down the gears depending on what the Saints gave them.
St Kilda’s opponents – and especially a team at North’s stage of build – usually don’t have the luxury of dictating tempo when in possession.
So for North to put a passage like this together, using width patiently, picking through their options, then coming inboard, is promising. At least until the kick inside 50.
Much like the defensive clip, there are still plenty of things to nit-pick and that could take another 200 words. There’s still the conversation to be had about building forward synergy, although Sunday is more explainable than most games given Griffin Logue’s one-week journey there due to missing personnel.
But overall it was a step forward seeing North able to transition that often, an element to their game which had gone AWOL recently.
If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:
From The Notebook, Round 8: Josh Dunkley with ‘one of the great games’
From The Notebook, Round 7: Power movement, Fremantle shift, Giant comeback
Round 7: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Melbourne
St Kilda, an AFL team’s litmus test
Fortnightly Focus: Sam Taylor, Esava Ratugolea, Noah Cumberland
Last week’s piece was all about moving on to stage two, introducing younger players without damaging team integrity. Given that’s exactly what ended up happening, it seems fair to finish today with a quick inclusion-by-inclusion focus (except for Luke Davies-Uniacke, obviously):
Blake Drury: The debutant was basically a straight swap for Kayne Turner and justified his inclusion with a promising first game.
Pressure acts were high, he forced a handful of turnovers, and got to more dangerous offensive spots than Turner in prior weeks.
That’s all you can ask for from a debutant playing that role. More in-depth assessments can come in following weeks because pending fitness, Drury will be getting an extended run of games.
Flynn Perez: With room for another half-back given there were only two tall defenders instead of three, Perez essentially played the Josh Goater role from the first three weeks.
Perez was okay in parts, but the area I can’t get a read on, going back to pre-season, is his disposal. The kicks look good coming off his foot, technically there’s nothing wrong, but whether they hit the target tends to be a lottery. Is it just a matter of needing more game time to settle into the flow of proceedings? Is this going to be an ongoing concern? Feedback welcome.
Editor’s Note: The author (who is also the editor) has mistakenly believed the Bergmans have been brothers for about two years now, which is excellent, really on-the-ball work. This section is therefore a little different to what was originally published, thanks to the heads up from a few readers.
The shoulder injury that cut 2022 short will make Bergman a little bit of a slower burn, but already you can see what he brings to the North side with his traits.
The two intangibles standing out to me the most are his courage for such an inexperienced player, and also how his teammates appear to trust him in possession, which means he’ll be used in possession chains. The latter is crucial for any player’s evolution, but particularly for an outside player and Bergman appears to have it already.
Given Miller’s lack of size (for now, although he looks to be on the right track) he presents as a player who’ll need semi-regular managing for the rest of the year to get him through safely. But of the remaining 15 games, the goal should be 10+ if he can stay healthy, with perhaps the potential of spot minutes on the wing as well. It’ll make North a better team in the long run.
Jack Mahony: The last time I had a player focus on Mahony, I mentioned how his range is likely between that 15th to 30th spot on a list. When he’s playing well the ceiling is right at the top of that range, otherwise he’s out of the side.
Not too much has changed in the meantime, but pleasingly Mahony contributed well in a high forward, link role on Sunday. When he plays well he can be a floor raiser. Unless Clarkson and the coaching staff can unlock a new level to his game, Mahony will probably top out as that rather than a genuine ceiling raiser.
Charlie Lazzaro: Less of a focus and more of a note that my personal preference is to refrain from judging a younger guy based on one quarter. That can come – from my end anyway – after some full games.