Round 17, 2023 v Geelong: A midfield step back

Without question, Sunday was a day where North Melbourne’s midfielders were taken to the cleaners by Geelong at GMHBA Stadium.

A 55-point half-time deficit could almost entirely be attributed to struggles around stoppages and contests, and the flow on effect it caused everywhere else on the field.

That the margin didn’t blow out further after half time can be put down to either the increased resilience of the group compared to 2022 (glass half full), Geelong entering Globetrotters mode (glass half empty), or a combination of the two (an accurate conclusion).

Nevertheless, today’s post will focus on the first half and what went wrong. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about Cooper Harvey somewhere down the line.


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.


With Will Phillips omitted, presumably to improve on his work without the ball, George Wardlaw rested, and Tom Powell still injured, it set out to be a day with a thinner midfield rotation than normal.

The weekly check in on centre bounce attendance patterns confirmed as much.

Before we continue, a few quick notes for those who haven’t seen this before:

1) This is used as a proxy for exact midfield minutes and rotations because it’s the closest we’ve got
2) It appears the official count didn’t include one CBA that was cut short due to a 6-6-6 free kick
3) But my manual count has included that one

Also in the first half, when Simpkin, Lazzaro, or Thomas weren’t part of the midfield rotation as listed above, they’d still immediately come up to the contest after starting as the sixth forward.

So now we’ve set the scene we have to, unfortunately, go to the tape.

The two common themes throughout the first half were how often North’s midfielders misread play, and how reactive they were. It was a procession of individual errors.

Right from the outset, we see Simpkin spin away from the contest assuming North had possession. But the ball hadn’t been cleared yet, and as a result it allowed Bowes an easy kick forward.

From a centre bounce a couple of minutes later, Davies-Uniacke runs to what’s basically dead space, more or less taking himself out of play:

This setup is Russian Centre Bounce Roulette:

Here Simpkin drops off, causing the domino effect that follows as his direct opponent Bruhn impacts play:

And this is Thomas ball watching instead of chasing Dangerfield, who gets the crucial possession in the chain:

It happened again, and again, and again. These are just the examples I could see in the first 15 to 20 minutes, so I can only imagine what the coaches were able to pick up on.


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

Round 16 v Adelaide: Different paths
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


The last clip focused on Thomas, and at quarter time on the coverage there was a mention of Brett Ratten having some words with him in the huddle.

It’s important to clarify there was no implication of it being a spray, and it was all above board. But clearly Ratten wasn’t in the mood to elaborate when asked about it, with a fairly short ‘we wanted to set it up a little different’ all he was willing to give.

With all the vision coaches have access to – not to mention all the extra knowledge – they were clearly seeing a plethora of extra Thomas examples not picked up here.

What I liked about the approach from the coaches was they gave Thomas another chance to rectify the issues they saw in the second quarter instead of instantly making a change. At this stage of evolution there has to be the chance to work through errors, because otherwise players can’t grow.

But then, in the second quarter, there was more of the same. I’ll refrain from clips to illustrate because it’d give the look of a pile-on and that is far from the intention.

So as a result, having been given a chance and not taking it, Thomas was removed from the midfield at half time. He spent most of the second half behind the ball while Zurhaar took his spot on-ball.

As we can see from the sequence data earlier in the piece, most of Thomas’ time on-ball was synced with Davies-Uniacke – understandably so given the latter is the number one midfielder.

They are two attacking players by design, and I wonder, speculating completely, whether the coaches saw something in their minutes together that they need to fix before giving it another extended run.

That’s what the rest of this season is about and if Sunday’s performance ends up becoming a useful learning tool then it’s worth it. But in the moment it was most definitely a step back for North.

A quick word on Simpkin to finish. Sunday marked his second concussion in a month after a fairly innocuous collision in Round 12 against Essendon.

I won’t pretend to know all the intricacies around concussions, but the experts all say multiple instances in a short time span is worrying and leads to a longer recovery time.

With that in mind I’d hope Simpkin is given an extra week off – or maybe even two – assuming he progresses smoothly through protocols.

As much as he’ll want to lead the way as co-captain, the brain is more important than anything on a football field.


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.


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