For a round with only seven games, there was plenty packed into it.
At one stage it looked like my planned Port Adelaide post for next week might have to be brought forward as they threatened to put 200+ on Hawthorn, and then I almost stopped all the presses when it looked like North Melbourne might cause an upset against Essendon.
But eventually normal service resumed, and this week’s Notebook features three topics and a note about all the updated features around the blog.
Monday’s Notebook will always be available in the morning for those on the $5 and $10 Patreon tiers; those people having early access before it’s public for all on Monday night.
If you’ve missed the Patreon features for subscribers, you can find them all 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.
Melbourne’s forward experiments
Either I’m in my own bubble, or there has been surprisingly little mainstream talk about how Melbourne have been experimenting with their forward line looks this year – outside of Dees circles of course.
Charting the ins and outs over the season would end up looking like the Always Sunny meme with Charlie pointing at the board, but it’s important to clarify – for me, at least – it’s absolutely a good thing for Melbourne to be doing this, constantly searching for the missing piece to take their forward line to the next level.
Through 12 rounds it looks as if Melbourne are close to settling on most of their first-choice forward line. Jacob van Rooyen leads the way as the main target, then a resting ruck if not needed behind the ball, supported by an army of mediums and smalls in Bayley Fritsch, Kozzy Pickett, Alex Neal-Bullen, Kade Chandler and Charlie Spargo, with some of them also enjoying stints on-ball.
Van Rooyen has been incredible since his debut, looking remarkably poised and ready for the spotlight essentially leading Melbourne’s forward line. Max Gawn highlighted his influence after the Dees’ win over Carlton:
“He’s marking the ball, he’s kicking goals, he’s looking really lively. He can run out games which is really promising, and it gives us the chance to play Bayley Fritsch and Joel Smith as two hybrid talls because he’s making such a big contest.”
For a 10-game, 20-year-old to be so important to a team with premiership aspirations is simultaneously a massive individual compliment and worrying from a team perspective.
Because while Melbourne’s forward numbers look great on the surface – the second highest scoring team in the competition – dig a little deeper and the foundation isn’t as solid.
While Melbourne are the AFL’s second highest scoring team, they only rank 12th in scores per inside 50. The two stats can only co-exist because their accuracy – up until the last two weeks, anyway – has been remarkably good, which is the cue for our friend Expected Scores to enter the chat.
After 10 matches, Melbourne were +132 points on their Expected Score for the season. The next best was Geelong, all the way back at +78.
Put it all together and it creates a picture of the Dees not creating an enormous amount of chances, but overperforming in putting them away when they come. It leaves little margin for error when the accuracy comes down from, literally, a historical high.
The last two weeks are a snapshot of that. Round 11 was the first time all season Melbourne had underperformed their expected score, and Round 12 – a game the Dees completely dominated in every aspect – was never put truly out of the Blues’ reach.
So we circle back to Melbourne’s experimenting and what levers (not Jake) they have left to pull. Tom McDonald’s ankle surgery rules him out for the next period, Harry Petty is still injured – and is better suited down back on return anyway – while Joel Smith isn’t the answer.
With van Rooyen locked in as the contested forward, there’s room for another key target. Not only to make Melbourne’s forward line more multi-dimensional, but also to lessen the load on van Rooyen to ensure he reaches finals as ready as can be instead of buckling under the weight of a long season.
And there’s a player who hasn’t shared the field with van Rooyen since the first half of his debut.
Ben Brown has spent the last six matches in the VFL, looking okay without kicking the door down and demanding a recall. He’s averaging a goal and a half a game and finding the ball well.
Maybe Brown’s had one injury too many, and his time as a best-22 forward is all but done. But maybe he’s ready to go: you never know if you don’t experiment. Melbourne have been more than willing to try plenty of looks this year, all except for this one.
Now that the mid-season draft is in the books, all the relevant list demographics, contracts, and depth chart pages have been updated to play around with.
The depth chart pages are available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers. Hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.
What should Carlton do next?
A month ago I wrote about the saga of Carlton’s ball movement. Without re-litigating it, since then it’s been all over the shop, even more so if possible.
Needing to win eight of their last 11 matches to play finals, it feels fair to call Carlton’s season over barring a miracle. But to look on the bright side, did you know the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity?
Carlton should be looking to 2024 now, using the second half of 2023 to start shifting their offensive style and figuring out which personnel fit – or who they have to go get to make existing pieces work.
First on the list should be a mid-sized lead-up forward, providing a link between the lines and allowing Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay more room to work against defences used to investing all their resources in the two talls.
Then it’s where – and whether – Tom De Koning fits long-term. Personally I’d have prioritised him over Marc Pittonet, but the Blues surely haven’t signed the latter to a four-year deal so he can languish as the back-up ruck.
If De Koning fetches an early second round pick, can the Blues package that with their own first round pick to address a major need? Or is he more valuable to the list as a third tall/second ruck?
Are there any out of contract players they need more data on? Although it seems clear there’s a line through Paddy Dow and 20 players would have to be kidnapped Wile E Coyote style for him to get an extended midfield run, can he offer a different look around contests?
Perhaps there are positional changes available to unlock the best version of players? Don’t move Lewis Young around though, keep him back please.
If everyone at Carlton can get on the same page on and off field – and ‘if’ is doing a herculean amount of work there – it’s a chance to get a head start on 2024.
History is littered with teams dipping before rising again. The seeds of Melbourne’s 2021 rise were found late in 2020, and Richmond came out of their 2016 shambles with a focused, refreshed style for 2017 and beyond.
Just to be abundantly clear, I’m not suggesting Carlton will win a flag next year by starting preparation early. But by identifying how to improve their ball movement and putting extra work in to do it, they should hit 2024 well prepared.
Patreon has, not before time either, introduced the ability to offer free trials.
The trials last for seven days, at which point the first charge will go through.
Here’s what the posting schedule looks like for June. Follow the prompts from there to sign up if interested.
Stronger for longer
Sitting at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night, wondering how a depleted Geelong side had managed to beat the Western Bulldogs again, it felt like any number of things could have happened.
But the lightbulb moment, for me at least, came much later on after seeing Ed Richards’ half-time interview where he said the following (bolded emphasis mine):
“It’s a bit of a shootout at the moment really. It’s high pressure, high intensity, which is something we love so we’ll come back in the second half and see if we can continue it … we’re going to keep pushing the pace, we’re not going to slow up so we’ll see if they can match it.”
Highlighting this isn’t intended as a whack at Richards, but the last line crystalised the difference between Geelong and the Western Bulldogs.
Over the journey Geelong have proved they won’t slow up. Whereas the Bulldogs, this long into the rein of the current group, are still inconsistent and often do slow up.
The last quarter was a picture of contrast between both sides. At one end, it was a Cats side who know exactly how to cause chaos from forward 50 stoppages…
While at the other end shortly after, it was Aaron Naughton’s inconsistent goal kicking, symbolising a team-wide issue, which proved costly.
Then there was Geelong finding a two-on-one in an area where they shouldn’t, and using that to set up an Ollie Henry goal…
While the Bulldogs found numbers in an even more attacking position but couldn’t take advantage due to ball use.
It was like every stereotype of both sides played out in the last quarter: Geelong don’t beat themselves; the Bulldogs are often their own worst enemy.
When those two systems collide, the former prevails nearly every time. And that’s why Chris Scott has a 10-2 head-to-head record against Luke Beveridge.
Minutes Played By Age: Periods
This is more of a ‘watch this space’ as teams evolve in the back half of 2023.
The minutes played by age has been updated for every team through the end of Round 12, which can be found on this page for $10 Patreon subscribers.
An extra feature though is dividing the season into six-week blocks. The goal is to show how teams either consolidate and focus on experience – potentially a greater focus for finals teams – compared to those on the lower rungs who give more opportunities to youth.
We can see some injury-enforced changes to teams so far in these two blocks. Ideally there’ll be more to assess in six more weeks, otherwise I have wasted my time setting these up.