The story so far
It’s been a rollercoaster for North Melbourne in 2015. They’ve displayed flashes of brilliance that drove them to a preliminary final last year, but they have also experienced the frustrating lack of cohesion and general game plan that has plagued the team for stretches in recent years. There’s not another side in the competition that promises so much but delivers so little.
Brad Scott’s men currently sit in 11th position at an even ledger of six wins and six losses. The season kicked off in horrific fashion, going down to Adelaide by 77 points before bouncing back with a big victory over the Lions. A tough next five games saw the Kangaroos go to 4-3 which included difficult opponents in Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Geelong.
Venturing over to Perth to face the undefeated Dockers was no easy trip, but they were torn apart by the big-bodied midfielders like Nat Fyfe and David Mundy. What followed the loss to Fremantle was North’s absolute low point of the season. In absolute control of Collingwood at half time, they conceded nine third quarter goals without kicking a single major of their own. It led to an embarrassing 17 point loss, in a match that was the proverbial eight point game.
The last few rounds have again been a showcase of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of North Melbourne’s gameplan. They defeated West Coast by ten points in shocking Tasmanian conditions and then lost to Sydney at Etihad Stadium in a game that was ripe for the taking. Heading into the bye last weekend they finally produced a solid four quarter performance against a fellow finals contender, dominating GWS to win by 56 points.
Statistically, there are a lot of areas that are worrying and indicate why they haven’t risen to the levels of 2014. They currently rank 14th in the league for tackles, 12th for contested possessions and 10th for uncontested possessions. When they’re on the back foot, not only are they not applying enough pressure, but they’re not winning the ball either.
With talented inside players like Swallow, Cunnington and Ziebell, the team’s contested numbers should be much higher. When they do win the ball, there’s also the problem of how their major midfielders use it, given North rank 12th in disposal efficiency and 14th for inside 50s. Overall there’s been a significant statistical decline and with so many teams from last year’s bottom eight improving, it’s incredibly bad timing.
Jack Ziebell: He’s the inspirational leader of the Kangaroos and a man who should be made captain as soon as possible. Ziebell’s 2015 has been consistent without setting the world on fire but, most importantly, he’s stood up in their close contests. Against the Bombers in round seven, he was one of the best on ground with 29 disposals and two goals, stepping up in the second half in particular. When he’s able to control his aggression in the stoppages and sneak forward to provide another target, he’s almost unstoppable.
Todd Goldstein: Anything you can say about Todd Goldstein won’t do him justice. He is without a doubt the premier ruckman of the competition. He is currently averaging 43 hitouts and four tackles a game and broke the AFL record for hitouts in a game last week with 80. His ability to cover ground and get to every contest for his midfielders in unbelievable for a man of his size. Despite only collecting 13 disposals per match, he almost plays as that fourth on-baller such is his agility and power in the stoppages. He would absolutely be leading the best and fairest and possibly in the top three or four in Brownlow voting as we speak.
Shaun Higgins: When North Melbourne picked up an injury prone Shaun Higgins from the Western Bulldogs it was a risky recruiting decision. However, he has paid off in droves as been one of the best recruits so far in 2015. North’s outside run has been lacking in recent years and Higgins has provided an injection of pace and outside smarts. As another rotation through the midfield, it allows less attention to be placed on Swallow and co, while he also delivers up forward. With 22 goals from 12 games and averaging 18 touches, his contribution to the team has been excellent.
Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. It is a glaring problem that they face. At times everything can click and they play like a premiership team; intense tackling, effective use of the footy and unbreakable defensive structures. Unfortunately, when they’re bad, they are absolutely directionless, have nothing remotely resembling a structure, along with unintelligible decision making and no hunger for the contest.
The third quarter against Collingwood isn’t the norm but it occurs too frequently, especially if North Melbourne are supposed to be a finals contender. Brad Scott and his chargers need a plan B when the proverbial hits the fan, and there need to be on-field leaders that can slow the play and control possession when the dam wall begins to crack. Jack Ziebell is the perfect person to fill this position. Leadership is a vital element of any formidable team.
Where to from here?
A positive for North Melbourne is their run home. Their last 10games feature only three current top eight sides, with Fremantle at Etihad is the only top four challenge. If they can work out the kinks in their game plan and display some consistency as mentioned, they could easily win eight or nine of those games.
In a perfect world they would finish the season on 14 wins and that would be enough for a home elimination final. From there it’s anyone’s guess, given how they shocked the footy world by making a preliminary final from sixth position in 2014. North Melbourne’s future is in their own hands: whether it’s mental or tactical, the change has to come from within the club.