I’ll start with this, and hopefully I won’t put every North Melbourne supporter offside in the process.

North Melbourne had absolutely no business being as close as they were in the dying stages of that game. To think that a free kick, a wild snap at goal, or a pack mark could have stolen that game from Sydney is almost incomprehensible.

As I sat and watched the final stanza play out, I could not believe that the Kangaroos might pinch this game. They were outplayed, outhustled and out-thought for all but the final 15 minutes of play, and I really think the result flattered them.

Without the greatest forward of the modern era in Franklin, and their undoubted spiritual leader in Josh Kennedy, the Swans were expected to capitulate rather meekly, and early on, it appeared as though they might.

But that is not the Sydney Swans way, is it?

Let’s get to it in the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

RYAN CLARKE

Wanna join me on a bit of a conspiracy ride? Buckle up.

Shaun Higgins has had a ripping year, but I get the feeling that during the week, Horse Longmire had a bit of a chat with former Kangaroo, and new Swan, Ryan Clarke. Here’s how I reckon it went.

Horse – “So, what do you know about Higgins that we can use?”

Clarke – “He’s not a fan of close checking.”

Horse – “Can’t handle it?”

Clarke – Nah, needs time and space, and if you don’t give him any, he gives up.”

Horse – “Looks like you’ve got a job this week, Ryan.”

Clarke – “Deal.”

Horse – “What are you doing later? Me and the assistant coaches are thinking of hitting the Cross and…”

Okay, so the last line started to get a little off-track, but if you think that Longmire didn’t tap into the mind of Ryan Clarke to find out what makes Shaun Higgins tick, you’d be a little naïve. Clarke played a hard tagging role on Higgins and completely nullified his influence.

Higgins came to the fore in the last quarter but even then his delivery was poor. His stat line flattered him, and should not diminish the excellent work of Clarke.

After being dropped earlier in the season, I think John Longmire got a glimpse into what makes Ryan Clarke tick this weekend. I’d expect some more big jobs coming his way pretty soon.

 

GEORGE HEWETT

Three votes in my book.

I wrote in the preseason that George Hewett was the player that Sydney would look to in order to fill the void left by Josh Kennedy when the inevitable decline comes. Tonight made me feel a hell of a lot better about stating that.

Not only did Hewett collect plenty of the ball, himself, he also took responsibility for the damaging North Melbourne bull, Ben Cunnington at stoppages. And he did a damn fine job of it, too.

Had Hewett been doing a strictly run-with role on Cunnington, and we made it to the half time break with the North star having just 12 touches, I would think he’d done a great job. The way Cunnington plays is so difficult to combat. As he wins so much of his own ball in the clinches, he is tough to stop, but Hewett is adept at winning his own ball as well, and when charged with limiting a player, few are better at splitting time nullifying and working off their man than Hewett.

The numbers tell a story.

Hewett had 20 contested touch amongst his 29 disposals. Cunnington managed 23. If anything, Hewett Out-Cunningtoned Cunnington. That last sentence may be the worst I have ever written (don’t worry, I’ll beat it soon enough) but the stats Hewett accumulated are the sort of results we usually expect from the man he’s minding.

This week some time I’ll compile a list of players who have had 20 contested touches in a game this season. I expect it’ll have Cunnington, Dangerfield, Tim Kelly, Lachie Neale, Nat Fyfe and Hewett on it. Not sure who else off the top of my head. He’s in elite company, that’s for sure, and the swans have found their new contested ball king.

Josh Kennedy may not be dead yet, but the heir apparent is ready and waiting.

 

JACK ZIEBELL

Talk about heart. With both Cunnington and Higgins letting their team down… yep, I said it – Ziebell played his ass off as he tried to keep North in it. he finished with 35 touches, which is the second-highest total of his career to date.

If games were won and lost on the effort of the captain, North Melbourne would’ve had the four points in this one.

Whether it was his bone-crunching tackle on Aliir in the first quarter, or his beautiful 55 metre delivery to Kayne Turner to set up a goal, Ziebell was the most influential player on the ground early in the piece. And it’s not as though his influence waned at all – it’s just that others stepped up as well.

He sent North inside 50 on seven occasions, several of which were late in the game (admittedly, he probably could’ve lowered his eyes a little once or twice) and remained their heartbeat for the duration of the contest. On several occasions this season I’ve written about players you’d follow into battle and whether or not they’re captain material. Jack Ziebell is captain material – there is no question at all about his heart, his effort, and his ability.

I’d follow him into battle every single time.

 Click on through the Mongrel Player Power Rankings

Click on through the Mongrel Player Power Rankings

 

THE BAD

 

SHAUN ATLEY

Sick of waiting yet, North fans?

I follow Hawthorn and I am sick to death of waiting for Shaun Atley to become the player he was supposed to be. The more I watch him, the more I start thinking about whether his is a case of an athlete deciding he wants to be a footballer.

Watching him stream through the middle of the ground in the last quarter, game on the line kind of stuff, it was the sort of dash that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. He was in control, that fluid running style looking like a million bucks as he took the game on…

… right up to the point where actual footy skill and nous came into play. That’s when Shaun Atley hacked the ball forward, gave Ben Brown and whomever else was unfortunate enough to expect some sort of delivery absolutely no chance, and dribbled the ball out of bounds.

I think it’s time I cut my losses on Atley. This is simply what he is. He’s a runner. He likes to get the ball, tuck in under his wing, and dart away. Don’t worry about that pesky kicking to forwards… it’s all about the run an carry, right?

Wrong!

Even when you were doing that at times, you sat in third gear and were run down by a player you’re actually quicker than! When Robbie Fox made huge amounts of ground on Atley and dragged him down, I threw my hands up in the air. He’s a lost cause.

18 disposals. 56% efficiency. 15 uncontested touches. That tells me that Shaun Atley completely wasted the ball tonight, and he is what he is.

 

THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY

So, we all know the saying, right? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting the same result.

Yet here were North Melbourne, clearly insane, trying time and time again to bomb the ball high and long to a guy who doesn’t take contested marks on most days, let alone with two defenders dropping back to create the outnumber.

I don’t know why they kept doing it. I don’t know if they were instructed to do it. All I know is that North Melbourne tried to get someone… anyone to take a big mark inside 50, and no one was capable.

But hey, we’re a week away from a new game, and they can bang their collective heads against the wall by trying it all over again then.

That’s show them orderlies at the mental institution, right?

 

THE UGLY

 

SHAUN HIGGINS

Your team needed you tonight, Shaun.

Yes, you’ve had a great year to date, and yes you’ve been able to accrue some big numbers as you’ve roamed around and had things your way. But as soon as it wasn’t going your way, you looked a little disinterested to me.

In the third quarter, I watched as Shaun Higgins walked out of defence. The ball was about 30 metres away, and he was having a bit of a meander about Hobart, maybe thinking of returning there one day. He’d be popular – North have been going down there for a while… property prices are cheaper than Melbourne… the schools are pretty goo… hang on a second, there’s a footy game going on around me!

Looking at his game as a whole, you may be forgiven for thinking he wasn’t that bad – he was! 20 possessions at 65% are nowhere near where he should be. I’ll put this out there – a 30 disposal game from Shaun Higgins may have been the difference between a Kangaroos win and a loss today. If he works harder, if he breaks the Ryan Clarke tag, and if he does what he is paid to do, could the Kangaroos have snuck home?

Two moments in the last quarter wrap up Higgins’ night.

In a two-kick game, Higgins took possession at a stoppage deep inside the Roos’ 50 metre arc. He threw it on the boot and for a second, it looked as though he’d given North a chance and made it a one-kick game.

But the ball was touched off the boot. Only a behind was registered.

Minutes later…

One of the last plays of the game saw Higgins receive about 60 metres out from goal. In the trademark Higgins fashion, he started to wheel around to pump the ball inside 50 for North to have one last chance at pinching the game.

Enter Callum Mills.

Mills dragged Higgins down with a lunging tackle to earn the free kick and all but snuff out North’s chances.

Higgins almost made an impact. He almost kicked a goal to give the Roos a chance. He almost drove North deep into attack in the dying moments of the game. He almost did a lot of things in this game, but almost isn’t good enough, and if you’re compiling a list of the worst games Shaun Higgins has played for the Kangaroos, this one would have to be right up the top of the list.

 

NO SECOND FORWARD

Yep, this was the knock on North going into the year. With Jarrad Waite gone, no one was going to draw the heat away from Ben Brown.

Look, there’ll be days when he plays well, days when there’s space, and then there’ll be days like this, when the walls close in around Brown. It’s not his fault that North have no other viable option at this stage. Larkey will take time, and though he shows a bit, he still leads to spots where he is not at all a threat, allowing his opponent to zone off and help against Brown.

Then there’s Mason Wood. Guys, he had one touch in the first quarter, and it was a glorified Joe The Goose that resulted in a goal. That’s it. You can no longer pin your hopes on this guy. I expect he’ll be offered as trade bait and you’ll receive very little interest.

Hell, if GWS couldn’t get a nibble for Jeremy Finlayson (how good would he be as the foil for Brown, by the way?) what chance does Mason Wood have?

The Roos looked lost going forward. They would’ve been better off kicking repeated chaos balls inside 50 and going small, only Brown can’t play anywhere else.

Brown, Wood and Taylor Garner had a total of 17 touches and two marks between them for the night. They kicked 2.1 and were basically non-factors. Garner and Wood are 25 years old. These are no longer project players. The experiment with Wood has completely and utterly failed. The investment in Garner is not looking great either.

North are in trouble up forward, as it was feared.

 Grab a Mongrel Bumper Sticker - click the image, grab a sticker and help spread the Mongrel word. We’d really appreciate it.

Grab a Mongrel Bumper Sticker – click the image, grab a sticker and help spread the Mongrel word. We’d really appreciate it.

 

QUICK BITS

The first quarter was more like the Jared Polec we saw last year at Port Adelaide. He had some blinding starts there last season, and he started like a rocket here, notching 14 touches.

How was Cameron Ling’s form, basically throwing Luke Parker under the bus on commentary for a pretty innocuous “high hit” in the second quarter. Thanks Cameron… nice work.

I have to say, James Rowbottom cut a striking figure on the bench as he stood there waiting to come back on in the second quarter. It prompted someone in my house, who shall remain nameless *cough… Mrs Mongrel…cough*that he looks like his own pretty sister.

Tom Papley’s goal… what a stunning display of keeping the ball alive and sheer speed. There’s been times when Papley’s little legs have been pumping this season, but it seems he’s not getting anywhere. This wasn’t one of those times. He left Marley Williams for dead on the boundary, and slotted a beauty.

The commentators are really pumping up Nick Blakey’s tyres, huh? I’ve never heard them get so excited about someone nearly taking a mark. He flew at a lot, but ended with a goose egg in the marking column. Contested well, though, and you can tell he’ll be a player.

Speaking of players, Jordan Dawson looks to have made the leap. 24 touches and seven score involvements tonight… he knows how to find it.

Loved Tom McCartin’s attack on the contest. For all the hooting and hollering about Blakey, McCartin is the one who impressed me tonight. He only had the one contested grab, but he is a pack crasher.

Another week, another team choosing not to have someone run with Jake Lloyd. The result? 28 touches at 82% efficiency. With Jarrad McVeigh out, the options for rebound 50s are limited for Sydney. Will a coach actually decide to have someone play as a defensive forward on him one day? He only had ten rebounds this evening. I mean… it makes sense, right?

31 touches for Trent Dumont… how did I not notice him more? Six clearances, nine inside 50s… the numbers say he had a good one. Why was he so inconspicuous to me? Only I can really answer it, and I don’t actually know. Happy to entertain your ideas.

I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I think I’m giving the top votes to two defensive mids in this game. Clarke and Hewett… both were huge.

And whilst I would love to give Dane Rampe a vote for his work on ben Brown, I actually think North Melbourne’s midfield contributed just as much to Rampe’s success as his own ability did. He beat brown in a couple of one-on-ones, but for the most part, contests were killed because of poor delivery as much as defensive brilliance.

So we head into next week, and the Swans get the visiting Pies at the SCG in what has to be a season-defining game. If they win this, who knows what they’re capable of. If they lose, they’re well and truly done. Selfishly, I hope Buddy gets back for this. I want the best players playing on big Friday night games.

North gets the Bulldogs, and from memory they played a blinder last year with the last gasp goal deciding the game. We can only hope for something similar.

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