Round 16, 2023 v Adelaide: Different paths

Resuming after the now dreaded bye, against a team rampant at home, probably wasn’t the ingredients for an inspiring performance.

So it turned out for North Melbourne on Saturday, slumping to a 66-point defeat as Adelaide had their way offensively.

Today’s post covers how the Crows did that, a look back to the corresponding match three years ago, North’s ball and movement patterns from slow play, and a first look at post-bye midfield rotations.


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.


At times on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think back to Round 9, 2020.

On that day, North Melbourne played Adelaide at Carrara and although it was 17th v 18th going in, it might as well have been Premier League v League 1 for how far the Crows were off the boil.

A look back at the post from that match says as much, pointing out all the ways North looked great due to how poor Adelaide were.

Fast forward three years and Adelaide are on the verge of a finals appearance with seemingly plenty more improvement left in them. Meanwhile North, even allowing for the visible improvement in recent weeks, are still building at the ground level.

It all comes back to one word: stability. Ever since that day on the Gold Coast – which, funnily enough, was also when Adelaide unlocked midfield Rory Laird – the two teams have had drastically different paths.

The Crows have been able to patiently plot out their path, step by step with a clear plan, adding as they go.

Nine of their 22 on Saturday arrived through draft or trade over the last three years, all ranging from solid to key contributors each week:

2020: Mitch Hinge, Riley Thilthorpe, Luke Pedlar, Nick Murray
2021: Jordan Dawson, Josh Rachele, Jake Soligo
2022: Izak Rankine, Max Michalanney

And with their veterans still contributing at a high level on and off field – Taylor Walker, Rory Sloane, Brodie Smith – they’ve been able to steadily replenish their team. Only six of the 22 who played that day in 2020 were in Saturday’s team.

Compare it to North Melbourne since Round 9, 2020. Saying ‘instability’ instead of ‘stability’ doesn’t even get close to doing it justice.

Multiple coaches, multiple plans, football staff coming in, football staff coming out, false horizons, CEO change, a coach (temporarily) stepping down, a number one pick coming in, a number one pick going out, and that’s only a fraction of it.

Only now, three years later, are North slowly emerging from the hole they dug.


If you’ve missed any recent North match analyses, you can catch up on the last five here:

Round 14 v Western Bulldogs: Half backs and higher forwards
Round 13 v GWS: Consistent themes
Round 12 v Essendon: Closer again
Round 11 v Collingwood: Phases of play
Round 10 v Sydney: 76th Interchange


On field in 2023 however, the area of the game that stood out most to me was two-fold – particularly in the first half:

a) Adelaide’s ability to consistently transition from back end to front end
b) North Melbourne’s inability to get anywhere near stopping it

Depending on the colours you wear, it can either be interpreted as Adelaide being too good to stop or North rolling out the red carpet. Like normal, the truth is somewhere in the middle and because it’s a North post let’s focus on the latter.

Through half time it was a close game in general play. Clearances, contested possessions, disposals, inside 50s; all those things were nearly even.

But the reason Adelaide owned a 26-point lead going into the rooms was because they were able to get out of their defensive end nearly at will.

Six of the Crows’ 12 goals started from possession chains in their back half. Because they attack with width and speed, they can easily spread an opposition out if the first line of defence isn’t up to scratch.

Too often North’s forward half allowed Adelaide players to waltz away at will, setting up the first link in a chain. Instances like this easy disposal after a slow 50 metre penalty…

…or this simple overlap which should never be allowed to happen:

And when Adelaide’s forward line overpowers most teams – let alone one which is still trying to figure out its back seven at all times – getting this sort of advantage further up the field leaves them with nearly an unbeatable advantage.

It goes back to a theme touched on in the recent mailbag and figuring out the right forward structure.

Saturday probably tilted a little too far towards the offensive side of things and we saw the result manifest as a lack of pressure. 35 fewer disposals and 29 fewer tackles isn’t a combination to keep you in any game long term, especially against a side as formidable at home as Adelaide.

Changing topic to a ‘watch this space’ part of North’s game style: moving the ball from slow play.

Those who read the Collingwood post will remember the general theme of how the early phases of play looked promising, but North couldn’t stick with it for long enough.

There were similar moments against Adelaide. Offensively in the first half, North were able to move the ball relatively well. But the longer the game went, the more the Crows shut it down and North struggled to get any flow.

Part of that has to do with positioning and running patterns. The best broadcast view example I can use to illustrate came early in the final quarter. As North switched to one side of the ground, a handful of players basically moved into dead space:

Those offensive players are exactly where Adelaide – or any defence, really – want them:

a) It’s so wide that it won’t damage the Crows if the ball does get there
b) It’s a low percentage option to move it there given the Adelaide defence is still close to them
c) If the ball goes long down the line, those Adelaide defenders are in the best position to float across and impact

When c) happens, it’s basically a raffle for Adelaide:

It’s never easy to move the ball consistently from those situations, but North made it simple for Adelaide to defend because of their movement and positioning.

Compare it to later in the last quarter – although it should be emphasised the sting had long since left the game – and it was a better example of how to move it around a defence:

With better running patterns and general movement, North were able to craft a shot on goal with clever ball use. That’s the sort of thing they’ll need to do more often, earlier in games when the heat is on.


Now 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.

Here is where to find the page.


To finish off, as promised in my mid-week post, it’s the first look at how these midfield rotations are going to shape up.

The plan was to have the sequence data looking all pretty as shown in the linked example. Then there was 35 – thirty five – centre bounces, breaking my template which wasn’t created to hold that much. My basic graphic (read: Canva) design skills need more time to work on expanding the area for info.

In the meantime, we have a fancy screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet to hold us over:

Two notes before continuing:

1) These are tracked manually and given some funky broadcast angle and the glare of a Saturday afternoon, I’m only about 95 percent sure these are correct. Please someone let me know if it’s available automated somewhere. Please.
2) It’s being used as a proxy for exact midfield minutes because that stat isn’t publicly available.

Perhaps the standout to me was Tarryn Thomas moving back to his usual mid/forward split after three quarters at half back before the bye.

Whether it was because the coaches weren’t a fan of his game against the Bulldogs or a matchup issue given Adelaide’s ground level forwards are in a different stratosphere, we’ll probably never know.

Elsewhere nothing else should be of too much shock. In his post-match press conference, Brett Ratten noted they were still experimenting, mixing and matching to see which types of combinations worked well together.

With that in mind it’s no surprise there were no distinctive patterns but given the way Adelaide were able to transition through the midfield so easily at times, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing them in the near future.

Until then though, it’s clear Luke Davies-Uniacke is the number one with a rotating cast of four or five behind him.

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