Round 9, 2023 v Port Adelaide: Unblocked exits

While the headlines going in were all about Jason Horne-Francis’ first game against North Melbourne, everyone was on their best behaviour and the game passed largely without incident.

Under a hail of injuries and sub-standard kicking, any chance North had of causing an upset was blown away after conceding 8.4 in the second quarter; the highest single-quarter score by an opponent against North this season.

Before speculating on what next week’s team will look like, first a look at a common theme from this week’s loss to Port Adelaide.


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The obvious two talking points from Saturday are all the turnovers and all the injuries. The latter I’ll touch on down the bottom, but the former is impossible to break down further than, ‘North kick ball bad, Port get ball from that, Port kick lots of goal’. Potentially written a touch more eloquently, but you get the point.

So instead I’d like to touch on a key difference between good sides and … not so good sides: how to block exits.

This can be labelled with a handful of different terms, and looks a few different ways depending on what stage of the game it’s in. At its core though, what it means is stopping a team moving the ball cleanly from either a congested or static situation.

Too often there were simple miscommunications between North teammates, allowing Power players to gain territory and escape from tight contests too easily. The following quarter of clips are to illustrate the issue.

First it’s this clip that ends in a Jackson Mead goal. Notice how he keeps space, but no-one goes with him. As a result, it’s an easy exit for Connor Rozee to hit.

This second clip is an example of what happens when a team hasn’t had the reps yet in knowing where their teammates will be.

It’s still ‘see ball, get ball’, and not blocking up the next link in Port’s chain. As a result, Power players keep a better shape and are able to clear – and eventually goal – too easily. Get the initial phase wrong and it has a compounding effect down the field.


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When there’s ball deep in the forward line, there’s normally a defensive line set up just outside the 50-metre mark, give or take a few steps.

In this passage, after a solid minute of the ball bouncing around North’s 50, Miles Bergman marks and looks to rebound.

While his kick is elite – and half the reason I used this clip was to marvel at it – from a North point of view the protection is minimal. As a result, the Power go from deep inside defensive 50 to in the centre with just two disposals.

In an ideal world North should have been set up well at around where Bergman’s kick ends up. In that hypothetical world, it would have forced Bergman either short and wide, or long and to a contest instead of what happens in the real world.

To finish off, it’s Port Adelaide defusing the threat of a defensive 50 stoppage thanks to a lack of communication from North teammates.

Horne-Francis and Kane Farrell recognise the situation quicker than North players who, depending on your individual focus, are either ball-watching or find themselves on the wrong side of the stoppage to their opponents.

It’s a dreadfully easy clearance which shouldn’t be happening.

To sum up these four clips, as far as starting points go, I’d much rather* work from the situation shown in the first two – everyone keen to get involved as much as possible – than have players sitting back and having to coax them into active roles.

The next step is a matter of focusing on the mindset shown in the first two clips and then scaling it back just a touch, finding the right balance between the want to defend and keeping a solid structure around the ball.

For some players in a chain, as strange as it may sound on the surface, the best defence is their positioning rather than any applied tackles or pressure acts.

(*I’m aware the best solution would be for everyone to defend well from the outset)


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

How sluggish ball movement is holding Carlton back
From The Notebook, Round 8: Josh Dunkley with ‘one of the great games’
Round 8: North Melbourne’s match analysis v St Kilda
From The Notebook, Round 7: Power movement, Fremantle shift, Giant comeback
Round 7: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Melbourne


There is set to be at least five forced changes next week, with Aidan Corr (suspension), Luke Davies-Uniacke (hamstring), Jack Mahony (shoulder), Darcy Tucker (hamstring), and Flynn Perez (concussion) all missing.

Some changes appear straight-forward, i.e. rewarding Callum Coleman-Jones for his nine-goal haul and allowing Griffin Logue to return back for Corr; Ben Cunnington, Will Phillips, and Tom Powell (if fit) all in contention for the vacant midfield spots, a couple of veterans probably in calculations as well unless there’s a positional change lever bubbling away under the surface.

Elsewhere it’s an interesting discussion around George Wardlaw and the balancing act between handing him an AFL debut as soon as possible v making sure he’s cherry ripe to go, especially given his injury history. Since returning to action, his season has unfolded as follows:

– Three consecutive games
– Rested
– Two consecutive games (one was a scratch match)
– Missed (knee)
– One game (this weekend)

Is that enough to have him ready for a step up on the fast Marvel track? Can he gain more from an extra week in the VFL than an AFL debut on managed minutes? Without knowing his running numbers and how he’s pulled up from Saturday’s effort against Frankston, it’s a talking point where both angles have legitimate points, pros and cons equally balanced.

Given how Alastair Clarkson has previously spoken about Wardlaw playing midfield minutes from the outset, the coaching staff must see him as the type of person who relishes the pressure and will take a challenge head-on. With that in mind, personal preference would be one more full game in the VFL and a debut the week after, allowing an eight-day break to prepare. Against Collingwood at the MCG.

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