A fair bit happened at Marvel Stadium on Saturday hey?
It’s one of those games where you don’t know where to start when breaking it down, although the ending point seems obvious: the interchange infringement. Next year my Supercoach side will be named 76th Interchange.
Leaving aside North Melbourne’s obvious mistake in the late-game chaos, I’m not sure what I’ll enjoy more when their improvement comes: that they’re good again, or they’re avoiding the four worst umpires each week.
Apart from the top tier of umpires, the standard has so clearly slipped across the league there needs to be something done about it. Burying heads in the sand and sending memos to clubs about ‘no more staring’ risks not confronting the problem head on. It’s getting worse every week.
But enough about that and onto the fun stuff.
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.
This is going to be one of those posts which jumps around from topic to topic. Let’s start with…
With changes as far as the eye could see, it was a new-look North side on Saturday. Some of the notable changes:
Onballers: Simpkin #1, Phillips #2, Wardlaw & Greenwood #3 & #4, Sheezel #5
Wings: Scott & Shiels as a clear #1 & #2, Ford as #3, and also Howe after he came on
Higher half-forwards: Wardlaw, Greenwood, Sheezel
– That Ford isn’t in here despite his wing time speaks to the many moving parts North had
There is about 4,000 words in that if I go through each player individually, so for now let’s touch on a debutant before two more players further down the page…
Even allowing for the hype leading up to Wardlaw’s carefully planned debut, personally it still managed to far exceed my expectations.
All I was looking for was a few nice moments and a full game completed without incident. Instead Wardlaw, without any exaggeration at all, instantly changed the feel of North’s midfield.
In just 63 percent game time – the lowest of any non-substituted player – Wardlaw had 31 pressure acts. Not only was it a team high, it was a game high, and also the equal second highest of any North player this year.
Plays like this…
…and even this, with a manic attack on the ball in the closing stages:
Is all a sign of what’s to come. I’d imagine the slowly, slowly approach that characterised Wardlaw’s first few months at the club will continue through the rest of 2023 and probably most of 2024 too, more to protect him from himself than anything else.
This type of play takes time to execute consistently and expecting an 18-year-old to do it week after week is a touch unrealistic. Patience is the name of the game, setting Wardlaw up for a 12+ year career. (Side note: If I end up being wrong here the next three months will be incredible to watch)
One of the new features on The Shinboner 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.
In a piece after the first month of the season, I explained how North’s clearance game had been strong, ranking fourth in the league on differential.
Over the next five weeks that proceeded to completely flip as North ranked 14th in clearance differential and 16th for points conceded from clearances.
Saturday was a return to form, outpointing a Sydney side – which has been struggling in this area, it must be said – 47 to 27 and kicking nine goals from stoppages.
The interesting point is North also kicked nine goals from stoppages last time they played Sydney, in Round 21 last year: both times with Jordan Russell as midfield coach.
So to put two and two together – or in this case nine and nine – it seems like North has unlocked something in how to move the ball from stoppages against Sydney.
In trying to watch tape, nothing struck me between the eyes on first glance, but that could also be because I’ve spent the weekend in a haze of cough medicine, Vicks VapoDrops and Vitamin C tablets trying to snap The Neverending Flu. Perhaps someone of sound mind can see something I can’t.
Next up is Collingwood, who rank second for points scored from stoppages and second for points conceded from stoppages. It’ll be another fascinating test.
To start the last quarter, there was a passage of play that stood out.
Those who read last week’s post know the topic was all about blocking exits. In short, it’s all about stopping a team from moving the ball cleanly out of either a congested or static situation.
Against Port Adelaide, it wasn’t up to AFL standard, but at Marvel Stadium it was much improved. Watch the team effort to stop Sydney from clearing defensive 50:
The second part to highlight in that video is how it’s the midfielders/wingers – Wardlaw, Simpkin, Scott, with Phillips narrowly behind providing a protectional layer – have come up to apply that pressure.
Getting from contest to contest and applying this type of pressure is a non-negotiable for midfielders on good teams, not to mention critical for team structure behind the ball.
This part is an opinion rather than anything tangible, but I’m convinced this passage gave North the impetus for their best 10-minute stretch of the game – and arguably season so far.
There was movement around stoppages both with and without possession, overlap run and carry in possession, and it all combined to make the defenders’ job easy. In this part of play Ben McKay had an intercept mark and forced another turnover with a tackle on Lance Franklin, and Griffin Logue had an intercept possession of his own.
It’s the outline of what North should be eventually – a strong midfield team who makes the most of their territorial advantage with ferocious pressure, underpinned by two quality key defenders mopping up scraps.
Then funnily enough the game ended early after Harry Sheezel put North 16 points up and there was no more play. Strange how these things happen sometimes.
If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:
From The Notebook, Round 9: Revisiting predictions
Round 9: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Port Adelaide
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
In this last section, I’d like to touch on two players and their performances:
Bailey Scott: Scott was arguably the main beneficiary of the rejigged rotations, getting to spend a whole game in his best position and responding in kind.
It was clearly a career-best game from Scott, and arguably deserves the three Brownlow votes for it too with 33 disposals, 12 inside 50s, 7 clearances and 821 metres gained from his wing.
What most impressed me was Scott’s structural solidity on both sides of the ball. Wingers tend to be in a lose-lose situation where their best work goes unnoticed externally, but their mistakes are glaring.
Scott covered so much ground – leading North in total distance covered, total distance covered at high speed, and total sprints – yet still avoided the type of structural mistakes which handcuff sides.
There are so many passages which could be highlighted to illustrate, but I’ll stick to this one. Scott gets front and centre to the fall of the ball. A thumping Griffin Logue spoil goes over Scott’s head, so he backtracks to create a contest at ground level – which he wins and then finds a target to cap it off. It’s a multiple effort play to win possession.
If a team has reliable role players for wingers then they’re on the right track.
That’s what Scott can – and should – be. It’s been my consistent hope for him stretching back a number of years. (If I knew how to make an index on this website I’d be linking to my historical words on him here)
But it’s hard for someone to reliably play their role when the person setting that role changes so often. Saturday was Scott’s 65th career game, and his sixth (albeit this one an interim) senior coach. Stability is the key.
Hugh Greenwood: Speaking of stability, Greenwood deserved two pay checks for his game against Sydney: one for playing, and another for being an on-field coach.
Sometimes a lot of pointing and shouting can be a bad thing. It can often be a sign of players at sixes and sevens, trying to figure things out on the fly, and a general sense of confusion.
It was the opposite for Greenwood on Saturday. His stat sheet read 23 disposals (13 contested), 8 tackles, 5 clearances, and 4 inside 50s. What he did without the ball guiding his teammates was worth more than all that combined.
At one point before a boundary throw-in, Greenwood literally nudged Harry Sheezel to his starting position (it’s a shame the broadcast missed it). In his time forward he was constantly helping Nick Larkey and Callum Coleman-Jones with their leading patterns, along with playing a secondary role himself.
The latter (probably) speaks to why Greenwood is favoured ahead of Ben Cunnington right now, his ability to provide more away from the coalface allowing North greater flexibility with matchups and rotations. In the bigger picture though, to have this group of veterans available to rotate through the side when needed will continue to help the younger players grow. Bit by bit, then all at once.