After two rounds of the 2020 AFL season, the Kangaroos sit at 2-0, and have shown me enough already to justify my pre-season claims that they’ll be the big improver of 2020.

Yeah, damn right I’m blowing my own trumpet here – no one else is going to do it for me. North Melbourne played a lockdown style against a team that had it all over them in terms of top end talent, and when the shackles were released, they finished off with six of the last nine goals to record a ripping road win over the GWS Giants.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE FIGHTER V THE BOXER

We’ve seen a few of these kinds of match-ups over the years.

On one hand, you have the team that will get down and dirty, and do whatever it takes to win… not in the way Essendon tried to… you know what I mean.

That is North Melbourne – they continually get written off and underrated but in terms of effort, you can never, ever discount them.

On the other hand you have the Giants. They possess all the skill and finesse you could ever ask for. Power forwards, sublimely skilled mids, and ruthless defenders.

But what are they missing???

In boxing parlance, they’re missing the heart to get up once they’re knocked down. They’re boxers. They like to dance, jab… stick and move. They win on points, ducking and weaving – they don’t go for the knockout.

So there’s North, who throw some wild haymakers, and if one connects, it is game over. They’re the punchers – fighters on instinct, and though they don’t have the skill and finesse of the boxers, they are to be feared. They are capable of landing the knockout blow after absorbing punishment.

And that’s what they did against the Giants today.

North took the jabs of the GWS and returned fire in the second half with a withering flurry of hard blows that knocked the Giants to their knees. As the Giants struggled to their feet, North knocked them down again. With four of the last five goals, it was North Melbourne who stood victorious today, their hand raised as the team who wanted it more and were willing to get down and dirty to win it.

It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t a beautiful boxing match that purists would watch and admire for technique. It was a brawl, and that is right up North’s alley. The fighters beat the boxers today and went to 2-0.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

 

GOLDY

I watched the ruck duel with great interested, particularly after David King talked up how pivotal it could be early in the game.

I’m glad I did, because we saw one of the best and most underrated rucks of the last ten years turn in an excellent performance to clearly take the points from the new Giant, Sam Jacobs in the battle of the big men.

Todd Goldstein led the game in clearances… let that sink in. In a game possessing talent like Cunnington, Higgins, Coniglio, Hopper and Kelly, it was Goldy leading the way with nine.

He topped the 50-hit out mark in this game and gave Jacobs a complete bath around the ground, picking up 19 touches (Jacobs had just five) and moving forward to take clean possession of the footy and slot a vital goal for North in the third quarter as the Giants were pressing.

Over the last few years, all the talk has been about Grundy and Gawn. Throw in a bit of Naitanui and there are the headline grabbers, but Todd Goldstein put on a complete clinic in this game to control the ruck and be the most influential man on the ground.

Three votes, Goldy.

 

THE ZURHAAR

There are a few blokes I simply love watching in the AFL due mainly to their aggression and their willingness to invite contact without thinking of their own well-being.

Cameron Zurhaar is one such player.

In a game where goals were pretty difficult to come by for a long stretch, his efforts early in the piece to kick North’s first two goal were evidence that there is still a big place in this game for blokes with a bit of mongrel in them.

His hip and shoulder on Isaac Cumming (payback for a late hit earlier in the game… how sweet is it when that happens) was pure Zurhaar, and you could tell he relished the opportunity to put Cumming on his backside.

That sounds a little dirty, but whatever…

When Jarrad Waite retired at the conclusion of the 2018 season, I was pretty worried about where North would find additional avenues to goal, and how they could take the heat off Ben Brown. Back then, the only options available seemed to be Mason Wood and Taylor Garner – you can see why I would be worried, right?

However, the emergence of Cam Zurhaar, and even though he didn’t play today, Nick Larkey, has me breathing a little easier. All three of this forward trio offer something different, and it is one of the reasons I was so high on north coming into 2020.

There is so much good footy ahead of Zurhaar, and I sincerely hope that little bit of mongrel is never watered down. It is players like him that make me want to watch the footy.

 

JARED POLEC IN YEAR TWO

This is the year for Jared Polec. You could see it coming off in the distance like a cyclone.

He played his way into form in 2019, after a start that saw him often sold into trouble on his wrong foot. He was learning the North Melbourne style and the preferences of his teammates. Now, it is all starting to come together.

Polec collected 23 touches, and ran at an impressive 74% efficiency as he collected 466 metres for North Melbourne (second only behind the ever-reliable Robbie Tarrant).

One of the key factors for a wingman is how potent they are when they get the footy – what good comes from them touching the ball a heap of times? Well, lucky I am here to answer that.

Polec had ten score involvements in this game. In a game where his team had just 20 scoring shots, this is more the kind of number you would attribute to a key forward on a good day. When he touched the ball in this game, good things happened.

Can you get decent odds for Polec to win the Syd Barker Medal? Might be worth a bit of an outlay the way he’s going.

 

ROCK SOLID TARRANT

Underrated. Neglected when it comes to the AA team every year… thy name is Robbie Tarrant.

When Scott Thompson retired after 2019, and Majak Daw went down injured, a huge weight was placed onto the shoulders of Robbie Tarrant. It became his sole responsibility to carry this North Melbourne defence.

And that’s exactly what he did today.

Tarrant blanketed Jerry Cameron in this one, and anchored a North Melbourne defence that held the fort all day.

Interestingly, North also looked for Tarrant to be the distributor in this game, a he racked up a game-high 492 metres gained.

Could 2020 be the season Tarrant gets the highly deserved AA blazer?

 

 

LUKE MCDONALD

Toby Greene is one of the hardest assignments in footy. He is supremely balanced, creative and ever dangerous around goal. He can take a 50-50 situation and make you look like a fool in the blink of an eye.

But there was none of that today.

Luke McDonald has been a player that has copped a bit of criticism over the journey from North Melbourne fans. Between him and Jamie MacMillan, I reckon North had a couple of defensive whipping boys for the last couple of seasons, but they’d be smiling widely at his performance this afternoon.

Greene was held goalless, and his impact was stunted by the dogged efforts of McDonald, who managed to provide some great one-on-one defence, as well as help out when the team needed him in this one.

Whenever you encounter a player like Toby Greene, walking away with a break-even result would be something a coach would take, every time. Today, Rhyce Shaw got a bit more than that. He got a clear win over a player I reckon will be regarded in the top handful in the competition by the end of 2020.

That is a big scalp in a big win.

 

THE HIMMELBERG FLURRY

It was pretty hard to pick a clear winner for the Giants. For all their abundant talent, they really lacked some spark in this game. North Put the clamps on, and they had either not enough desire to fight through, or North were just too desperate for them to get free.

But one man broke the shackles in the last quarter and threatened to drag the highly-fancied Giants over the line.

Harry Himmelberg is in many ways the third banana in the Giants’ forward 50, but with Cameron well held by Robbie Tarrant, someone had to do something.

That man was Harry Himmelberg.

With two goals and a direct goal assist, Himmelberg gave the Giants every opportunity to win this game. He was string, quick and his goal around the corner from 40 metres out was a thing of beauty. Sadly for him, it wasn’t enough.

He took the wheel of the GWS forward line in the last quarter, but it was bogged down by too many passengers.

 

THE BAD

 

ZAC WILLIAMS – NOWHERE MAN

So, I’m looking at this GWS team and the roles Zac Williams played last year. Half back rebounder and midfielder.

And here he is this week lining up as a half forward.

It is common knowledge that Williams is out of contract following this season, and there will be several teams making overtures toward him. He proved late last season, with WS stars on the sidelines, that he could ably step into the role of midfielder and carve teams up, but he was out of position in this game, and out of sorts.

He ran at just 53% efficiency despite having nine of his 15 touches come uncontested, and looked a step behind the play way too often. Maybe the break negatively impacted him, or maybe he was just having a poor game, but this version of Zach Williams was not a patch on the 2019 version.

This one was close to a liability today.

 

MASON WOOD IF MASON COULD, BUT MASON CAN’T, SO MASON WON’T.

I’m tired of hearing about his potential. I am tired of seeing him gifted games despite rarely producing anything, and I cannot wait until Nick Larkey gets fit and comes back to take his place in this team.

This should be the last season Mason Wood plays at Arden Street. The experiment is  over and patience should finally be wearing thin.

Seven disposals, one mark and bugger all impact were his return for the day.

Part of me wonders whether he has pictures of Rhyce Shaw, and had some of Brad Scott as well… maybe photos of the two of them together, because if we’re looking back over the past couple of years and judging on output alone, how he is in this side is a complete fucking mystery to me.

He’s a restricted free agent after this season. I’d be very surprised if North match any offer thrown at him. I wouldn’t.

 

JOSH KELLY

So, I was really disappointed with Kelly’s 2019 season.

It was just a few years ago people were talking about him as a certain future Brownlow Medallist, and speculating on how many All-Australian berths he would collect.

Well, since then, Kelly has not made the necessary steps to become a superstar in this game. Looking at the makeup of the GWS midfield, and what each is capable of producing, I am not sure I would have Kelly in the rotation right now if all were healthy and firing.

Callan Ward is a hard nut and will win the hard footy.

Stephen Coniglio can do it all as well as sneak forward and hit the scoreboard.

Lachie Whitfield is a running machine who uses the footy beautifully.

Tim Taranto is a perfect combination of inside/outside.

And Jacob Hopper is the grunt worker collecting the hard ball.

And Matt de Boer is your stopper, and despite what happened today, there is no one better.

Tom Greene is waiting in the wings. Lachie Ash looks like a keeper, too.

With Jackson Hately showing plenty in his opportunities, you have to wonder where this leaves Kelly? And if you’re wondering that, maybe it is time to start considering selling high and maximising what you can get for him?

He was out on the wing today at times. He was lost and looked like a player without a position. Six clearances will tell you he did some good work on the inside, but watching the game as a whole, his influence was minimal.

And unless things start changing, and the Josh Kelly that promised so much starts delivering, I reckon he may have a future somewhere other than GWS. And like when Dylan Shiel sought greener pastures, it won’t be as big a blow as people expect.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE PRE-EMPTIVE SWITCH

This might go a little long, and I don’t really care. Since when have I ever cared about word counts at The Mongrel?

After a first quarter that saw Matt de Boer completely take Ben Cunnington out of the game, I expected more of the same in the second.

But it didn’t occur.

Shaun Higgins moved into the centre after spending the first quarter out of position on the half forward flank, and de Boer turned his attention to the North Melbourne ball magnet.

I have to ask the question – why?

Matt de Boer has a history of being able to completely nullify some of the best winners in the game, and in a game where he was already performing that role, why push him onto someone else when that player has had no impact on the game at all?

Higgins had two touches in the first quarter, and whilst he had the potential to be damaging after quarter time, I feel that Leon Cameron jumped at shadows as he switched his best defensive player onto Higgins almost out of fear.

The impact was two-fold. Firstly, Higgins’ running power was enough that he was able to get separation from de Boer and collect plenty of the footy (26 touches after quarter time), and Ben Cunnington was allowed to go head-to-head with Jacob Hopper and work himself into the game (16 touches in the second half).

Cameron opted to move away from a match-up working in his favour to attempt to create another match-up, and he lost on both accounts.

I haven’t seen Matt de Boer look beaten in any game in the last couple of seasons, but he was beaten in this one. Higgins got off the chain, and Cunnington worked to become one of just seven players with 20+ disposals on the game. It was a disastrous error in judgement from Cameron that cost GWS dearly.

I like Ben Cunnington, but when de Boer clamps down on him, Cunners has no ‘Plan-B’ other than to lose his cool and perhaps break de  Boer’s shoulder again. After being held to one touch in the first quarter, de Boer was already inside Cunnington’s head. Leon Cameron gave the North champ a free pass, and in doing so set up his tagger to fail.

There have been a couple of bone-head coaching moves thus far in Round Two, but with GWS looking like the better team at quarter time, Cameron made a fatal error, and the result is four points for the Kangaroos.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS SAM JACOBS THE ANSWER, OR JUST ANOTHER QUESTION FOR THE GIANTS?

I don’t want to base the answer on this performance, because it was a poor one. Jacobs will still be worth the effort come September. There’ll be a few occasions that see him break-even with established rucks and give the Giants a shot at winning the footy.

He might not be Max Gawn or Todd Goldstein, even, but he will be serviceable. Today was just a bad day.

 

IS BEN BROWN FIT?

Look, I think he is, but this season more than ever, players who are a little slow off the mark are starting to look slower than ever before. Not that Browny is a slouch – it just seems as though the game is very quick and quite a scramble. It makes the blokes who plod a little seem cumbersome.

Maybe we get a dry day under the Marvel roof soon and any worries about him are dispelled quickly.

 

CAN AARON HALL BE A CONSISTENT BEST 22 PLAYER?

Remember, he was rated as ‘elite’ by Champion Data last season. I don’t really rate Champion data as elite, however.

Hall’s preferred position is on the wing, but with Polec and Dumont occupying one each, he has had to find another role. It might be a few weeks before he starts to look completely comfortable.

 

IS SHAUN HIGGINS A MACHINE, OR WHAT?

Hey, good question! The bloke just keeps on keeping on.

After posting career-high numbers in each of the last two years, he could have topped it again this year had we not been playing watered down quarters. As it stands, he is sitting at 24.5 touches per game, and if he continues on that trajectory, another AA blazer could be in his future. At age 32, that’s ridiculous. He and Travis Boak have both gone to another level in their thirties.

 

OTHER BITS

Great to see Callan Ward back and getting through the game. That he led the team in disposals speaks volumes about where the rest of the Giants’ heads were at today.

Disappearing acts by both Lachie Whitfield and Josh Kelly after quarter time today. Whitfield had 11 touches after quarter time. Kelly had just ten.

Good signs from Curtis Taylor, standing up when required. Between he and Tarryn Thomas, North hit the scoreboard hard when it mattered most.

Still loving the work of Jasper Pittard for North. He looks like the kid you’d pick on in school, but he has slowly removed the little brain fades from his game to become a stellar defender. Not completely removed them, but enough to not have your heart in your mouth every time he goes near it.

 

And that’ll do for this one. Great win to the punchers over the boxers, and a tremendous start to 2020 for the Shinboners. I’m telling you – finals are beckoning for this team.

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