North Melbourne cracked in early and should have put a bit more distance between themselves and the Eagles by the first change. Whilst holding West Coast scoreless earned them the lead, misses to Durdin, Hall and Murphy really could have set the Kangaroos amongst the Eagles, so to speak.

However, they failed to capitalise on what was a good quarter of hard-at-it footy. The Eagles responded and North fell away, just as they have so many times this season.

West Coast small forward, Liam Ryan again pushed his case for All-Australian selection. In trying conditions, he was restricted to zero touches by Luke McDonald in the first quarter before becoming the catalyst for the Eagles going into half time with the lead. Always dangerous, and always clean by hand, you have to wonder whether he has done enough to displace Tom Papley in the eyes of the selectors?

I guess we’ll soon see.

The Eagles lost Josh Kennedy with an ankle tweak and will be desperate to get him, and a plethora of other stars back for finals. Meanwhile, North limps off into the post-season wondering where it all went wrong.

We’ll cover as much as we can in The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

But before I do, I found it amusing to hear Jonathon Brown talking about players getting these poor kicks at goal and errors away now, saving their best for the finals as if conditions are miraculously going to improve over the next month and the footy will be elite as a result.

Does he not know that this is what football is for the remainder of the year? Any game played in twilight or at night in Queensland is going to resemble this kind of footy – a rolling maul of players unable to cleanly glove the ball, the pill slipping out of their hands as they kick at goal, or as they try to clunk a mark. This is it.

With the Grand Final in Brisbane, this is what we have to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Optus Stadium and the Adelaide Oval will be vacant. Sigh…

On with the questions.

 

IS THE BUMP ALIVE AND WELL?

Well, there were minimal highlights in this game, but one thing that made me smile was the return of the good, hard, legal bump as part of the game.

Shannon Hurn got Nick Larkey with a beauty and sent him from the ground, and it was great to see Larkey return after some treatment.

Tom Cole nailed Jy Simpkin early in the first and Simpkin went about exacting some revenge later on, knocking over Gaff and Sheed.

And Luke McDonald dropped the shoulder into the chest of an exposed Bailey Williams as well.

This type of game almost promotes physical pressure. It’s slippery, players are double-grabbing and as a result, are left open for that split-second longer. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was nice to see some of the players actually dip the shoulder and put the hurt on an opponent. And do it legally.

 

WHO WON THE GOLDSTEIN V NIC NAT BATTLE?

This was an interesting tussle, with these two the players most would be considering for the AA ruck position this season. Given the way my own team is shaping, I reckon there is only enough room for one, and going into this game, I had Naitanui ahead of Goldstein, though I know when we all last checked in, several of my fellow Mongrels believed that Goldy was having the better year.

I’m not sure if this game gave anyone a definitive answer, but I had them about even.

Ohhhhh, am I copping out of making a decision? Not really – I had Nic Nat in my personal AA team before this game and I had no reason demonstrated to remove him. You could point to the fact that Goldy had more of the footy, but Nic Nat had more taps in less time on the park. Goldy got forward, but cocked up a pretty important shot at goal. Nic Nat didn’t monster the clearances, but he did drive the Eagles inside 50 three times to Goldy’s zero.

In a nutshell, these blokes negated each other. If either one of them were proclaimed the winner in this duel, I reckon the other would have a strong case to dispute it.

As such, I rule it a no-contest. As a result, Nic Nat remains my All-Australian ruckman.

 

DO I SEE CHRIS JUDD IN LDU?

Truthfully, no I don’t.

People forget just how good Judd was in his first couple of seasons. He was a revelation for the Eagles and was the talk of the league. almost immediately, people were stating that Judd should have gone number one, such was his impact on the game. I don’t hear people stating that about LDU. Maybe in time, but not now.

Davies-Uniacke is in his third season and I actually think he was a little disappointing in his first year and a bit. Perhaps through no fault of his own – injuries don’t discriminate, but he was just a little slower to come on.

Now, it seems he is hitting on several more cylinders and he is making real progress. He finds time with the footy in hand, is happy to explore options when he gets the footy and will not be pressured into throwing the ball on the boot. That’s all great, but he does not have that Judd explosiveness? Not many really do, so I feel the comparison is vastly unfair to the bloke.

If I was to find my own comparison for him, I would look to someone like Nick Dal Santo with a bigger frame. Dal was a very good midfielder with the Saints, and I reckon LDU could be the modern version of him. Whilst no Chris Judd, NDS is 16th all-time in disposals in V/AFL history and compiled the lazy 322 games. If you get that kind of return from Davies-Uniacke, you’d be smiling from ear to ear.

 

IS OSCAR ALLEN THE NEXT GREAT WEST COAST FORWARD?

He’s doing a wonderful apprenticeship right now, isn’t he?

Allen has been in the unenviable position of trying to bob up and be effective in a forward line containing Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Liam Ryan. If you’re a midfielder streaming out of the centre, where would your attention go when you’re looking to deliver to one of your forwards?

As a result, Allen has had a couple of quiet outings. He is forced to live off the scraps left behind by the Eagles’ big three as he learns his craft and does his time as the fourth option. However, being an excellent fourth option has its advantages.

There have been five occasions this season where Allen has contributed multiple goals to the Eagles’ cause. West Coast are 4-1 in those games. Doubling as the second ruck option, the versatility h has displayed gives the Eagles a viable option up forward should anything happen to Kennedy and Darling.

Lo and behold, Josh Kennedy tweaks and ankle tonight and Oscar Allen steps up to the plate. They gave him more responsibility and he responded.

Cometh the moment…

 

WHO COMES OUT OF THE ALL-AUSTRALIAN SIDE FOR LIAM RYAN?

Really, can he be denied a place in the team? I was on the fence, but I’m not sure you can finish a season stronger than Liam Ryan has as a small forward. When the chips were down and the Eagles needed someone to stand up and make a difference in this game, it was Ryan who put up his hand and… scratch that – he put up both hands, said “kick it to me!” and worked some absolute magic to drag his team back into the contest.

Yes, there was help, but let’s put this right out there now – if Liam Ryan is not in this Eagles team for this game, they limp into finals having lost to a team that hasn’t looked like it for months!

In a game where no one could score, he kicked goals. In a game where no one could take a contested mark, he jumped into the body of his opponent and dragged two down. In a game where everyone fumbled and bumbled their way around the park, Liam Ryan had clean hands, kept his feet and did damage.

So, is it Tom Papley or Dan Butler that gets the boot?

Both guys have been tremendous for their teams, with Butler probably adding more over the course of the whole season. Papley started strong but has fallen away over the last six games, with just three goals (two coming last week. After a brilliant first eight games, he has added just five goals since. He would be wanting to turn in a ripping performance against the Cats this weekend, or Liam Ryan may be receiving a call from the AFL’s tailor, asking about his jacket size.

 

HOW IMPORTANT WILL SHANNON HURN BE IN FINALS?

The former captain will be huge.

We’re all expecting the Eagles to get a home final in the first week and then walk back into this AFL version of slip ‘n’ slide in Queensland, right? And when they do, the presence of Hurn inside defensive 50 will be immense.

Look at me jumping forward – admit it… you have as well.

On their home deck, West Coast have already demonstrated that they are a team that can put teams away; do we expect anything less when they get one of the teams in the bottom half of the eight there in a couple of weeks’ time?

It’ll be when the action switches away from their home base that the real stuff begins, and when it does, Hurn will be front and centre.

He was huge in this game, running at 91% efficiency on his 21 touches, with just two turnovers. For the record, other West Coast defenders turned the ball over often – Sheppard had six,  Duggan had six and Nelson had seven, but Hurn was like an island of clam in a sea of chaos inside defensive 50. He had seven intercepts and nine rebound fifty touches as he rallied the troops and said “follow me!”

Hurn is a proven warrior. He is a premiership captain and no, I still haven’t let go of the fact that he was completely and utterly robbed of the 2018 All-Australian captaincy (seriously, Buddy couldn’t successfully lead a Frenchman to a brothel). The Eagles require Hurn to have another big finals series, and he is just the man to deliver one for the team he has served so well for so long.

 

WAS THIS JY SIMPKIN’S BEST OUTING OF THE SEASON?

I got whacked early in the year for not giving Simpkin the credit many believed he was due. I copped that – he’d been good, but just a level below some of the players I was praising in an article. North fans weren’t happy and they probably had a case considering they were 2-2 at the time and feeling pretty good about life.

However, after a solid first six games of the season where he had 20+ disposals each week, Simpkin had his handbrake pulled and registered 20+ in just three of his next ten games leading into tonight.

Well, he went out with a bang in this one, accumulating 31 touches (his first 30+ game of the season) and laying five tackles. He was physical and combined with Jed Anderson to provide a very solid pairing in the middle for the Kangaroos.

There is little doubt that Simpkin will become a star in the league. At 22, his best is definitely yet to come and his retention will be vital to North Melbourne as they rebuild.

 

WHY ARE PEOPLE ALLOWED FREE HITS ON ANDREW GAFF?

This happens a lot and nothing is ever made of it. Is Andrew Gaff targeted after disposing of the footy? Is he seen as an easy target?

It certainly seems so. He copped a couple of knocks after disposing of the footy in this one and the umpires turned a blind eye and allowed play to go on, only to pay a soft pushing free kick or something of that ilk to someone else moments later.

I notice this happening with Lachie Whitfield of GWS as well. He, like Gaff, gets a heap of the footy on the outside. He’s a line-breaker and can kill a team with his run, but after he kicks it, players are seemingly allowed to bowl him over with no downfield penalty.

Gaff has been forced into the contest a little more than Adam Simpson would like with the injuries to Elliot Yeo, Jack Redden and Luke Shuey, and as the Eagles get these blokes back, Gaff should resume his role on the extreme outside. He will benefit greatly from those returning and his disposals will start hurting a lot more, particularly on the wide open spaces of Optus Stadium.

And if he could get a free kick once in a while when he takes a late hit, that’d be great. Cheers.

 

WHO IS THE NEXT NORTH MELBOURNE CAPTAIN?

This is an interesting one, as from the outside looking in, it appears as though Jack Ziebell is at that point of his career where you just don’t know when he’ll fall off the cliff.

Watching him, it feels as though he is teetering on the edge right about now.

After a pretty solid 2019, this season has not been kind to Ziebell. His body has failed him and he has returned just one goal for the year despite playing most of his time up forward. I have been an admirer of the way he’s attacked the contest for years, but this season he has just looked like he is nowhere near it.

If we deduct his game against Richmond, where he was injured before touching the footy, here are his last five outings.

7.5 disposals per game. 1.6 marks per game (five marks came in one game). Zero goals.

North are basically carrying him at the moment, and it is a shame to see. Aside from one lovely inboard kick in this game, he was unsighted. At 29 years old, Ziebell should have enough gas in the tank for a good season up forward in 2021, and he would be as eager as anyone to put this year behind him.

But he shouldn’t be captain next season. That would be like leading from behind.

And if that is the case, who should lead the team?

Is Jy Simpkin too young? Is Robbie Tarrant too old? Trent Dumont? Is he the sort of player you’d follow into battle?

North have a bit of a tricky situation; Simpkin looks the likely successor, but he is no Wayne Carey and is probably not ready to take the responsibility at such a young age. How about a season or two for Robbie Tarrant before Simpkin takes the reins?

 

YES, LIAM RYAN OWNED THE SECOND QUARTER, BUT DID LIAM DUGGAN ALSO CHIP IN?

Righto, I have a confession to make here – I love the way this bloke goes about his footy.

I LOVE IT!

You give him a job to do and he does it. You need a lift in the middle and he moves in there. You need someone to commit their body to the contest and he is throwing himself in there Joe Ganino on a half-eaten donut. He loves the contest, relishes the challenge and is one of the best small defenders in the caper right now.

But there is so much more to him.

West Coast were whacked in the first quarter. They looked sluggish and somewhat disinterested. I have already written about the impact of Liam Ryan, but Duggan’s second quarter was almost as responsible for the Eagles muscling their way back into the contest.

He collected 11 touches in the second quarter, powering the Eagles forward with monotonous regularity. He won’t receive the same attention that Ryan receives because… well, because he is not Liam Ryan, but given the steps he has taken this far in 2020, if the AFL got their act together and started awarding some other achievements, he would be a big contender for the most improved player award.

Actually, screw it – why don’t we do that at The Mongrel this season, and every season. Check the site after all the games this weekend for the chance to vote.

 

WHO PLAYED FOR NORTH THAT WILL NOT BE THERE NEXT SEASON?

Uh oh… time to make some enemies.

Those who have read my stuff this season will know that I expected much more from North this season. Injuries to key players (Cunnington, Brown, Thomas, Turner all vital to this team) derailed their season in a big way, and the depth just wasn’t there.

So, who played their last game in blue and white tonight?

Jared Polec? Not because he’s not a good player, but because I recon the club has pissed him off. Was made the scapegoat for a team underperforming and had his heart questioned by some in the media. I’m not sure what was being asked of him, but being a hard outside runner would be all I’d want from him at any club. I wouldn’t blame him for wanting out.

Aaron Hall. Looks like a million bucks. Plays like ten cents. I’m not sure what he is thinking with the footy in hand way too often, and if I can’t pick what he is going to do with it, how the hell can his forwards trying to lead to him?

Taylor Garner. Restricted free agent, but cannot stay on the park anyway. Any bids that come for him should not be matched.

Sam Durdin. Did you watch him closely in this one? He completely lost track of the footy a couple of times, was slow to react and cost scoring opportunities. At 24 he might be worth holding onto very cheaply, but he is out of contract and on tonight’s performance, how do you justify a spot on the list?

Add a few more who didn’t play tonight.

Jasper Pittard – I am astonished as to why he is not getting a game. If anyone knows anything, give me a yell, will ya?

Mason Wood – Yep, time’s up.

Ben Jacobs – Love the guy when he does play. And that’s the problem – he doesn’t play. Wish him the absolute best, but I’m not sure he ever gets back.

Paul Ahern – Does not look like he is in great shape.

Dom Tyson – Ill-advised recruitment.

Jamie Macmillan – Just occupying a spot now. May have minimal value elsewhere.

Tom Campbell – Nup…

And Ben Brown – I actually really hope he stays, but I would love to see him put a bit of weight on and start providing a contest in packs again. Too easily moved off the ball this season – makes Mason Cox look like a tower of strength.

There you go, North fans – how’d I do?

 

CAN WEST COAST WIN THE FLAG IN QUEENSLAND?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

I picked the Eagles to win it all before the start of the season, and whilst I don’t mind being wrong, I would like to right occasionally.

These shitty conditions are not conducive to the West Coast game plan. Skills are diminished and class gives way to pure, animalistic grunt. Games won in this year’s finals played at the Gabba (yes, I know this was at Metricon… settle down) will be won on tough work in the clinches and by the team that goes the hardest for the longest. West Coast have the players that can provide this grunt, but they have to get them fit.

They’ll need Luke Shuey fit. He is a hard worker in the wet and has the uncanny ability to extract the footy and get his team moving forward. They’ll need Jeremy McGovern straight-lining the footy and anyone who gets in his way as well. Tom Barrass is a wonderful defender – he is even better with McGovern allowing him to ride shotgun.

And then there’s Elliot Yeo. This bloke is the key. He is the competitive beats, the gut-runner, the two-way mid that can win his own footy and restrict his opponent. Is he the Dusty-stopper? I remember their 2018 clash vividly – he did the job then. Is he the Danger-stopper? Can he outwork Travis Boak?

The sooner the Eagles get Yeo back into this line up, the sooner their pressure and desperation at the contest rises. If he is back and legitimately fit for the first week of finals, I look forward to see what he can do and if it is anything like I expect, we will be speaking about him plenty well into this finals series.

 

WHERE TO NOW?

For North fans… I’ll be starting my season reviews for each club in the next little while. Keep your eyes peeled – it is not all doom and gloom. Brendon Bolton used to speak about green shoots at Carlton, but you can definitely see them blossoming at Arden Street already.

West Coast head home, recuperate and rest up. They went 3-2 back in the Queensland hub and could have been 4-1 if not for the crappy AFL goal-line technology against the Dogs. Seriously, that kind of bush-league stuff decides top four positions.

 

Anyway, on that bright note, I’ll leave you. Thank you to all who have jumped on as members this season. We have a MASSIVE finals series of content for you all coming up including previews, features, players ratings for each finals game and, of course, our game reviews and analysis. Without you, there is no us, so I am extremely grateful.

 

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