The result may shock no one, but what may surprise many people is that North were in this game for so long. While much of that can be laid at Geelong’s poor accuracy in front of goal, a contributing factor was the pressure North were able to put on the Geelong forwards—well, for half a game anyway.

The key players in applying the pressure were Ben McKay, who did a fantastic job of limiting Tom Hawkins’ impact, Kayne Turner who for the second week had a run-with role, this time with Joel Selwood, and new Roo Aiden Bonar who managed to keep Patrick Dangerfield to 22 possessions. Keeping Danger to 22 may not sound like much of an effort, but considering his best-ever haul of 48 disposals happened against North, it’s something for David Noble to put in the positive column.

The problem was, Geelong are no longer as dependent on Selwood and Dangerfield as they once were. Isaac Smith, Tom Stewart, Brandan Partfitt, Sam Menegola, Mitch Duncan and Zanch Tuohy all stepped up and relished the options that were laid out in front of them. With too many playmakers in the Geelong side, North had to try and keep it to a series of one-on-one contests, which they just did not have the class to carry off.

 

Youthful exuberance vs veteran experience

North came with added physicality through the middle, but the problem with playing the hard in-and-under type of game is that it’s very taxing on the body, and for the fifth week in a row, North faded and looked spent well before the final siren.

There’s no denying North have the younger list, and while that can sometimes mean a bit more youthful pace and energy, a veteran player knows when to sprint and when to cruise, something that the frantic attempts to form their structures show that this young North squad is yet to fully understand.

This was evidenced in a vast majority of times that the ball was in dispute. A Geelong player would attempt to gather the ball while every North player nearby left their man to attempt to collect the loose ball or tackle the Geelong player. So often, this resulted in a quick tap on or handball to the player they’d just left, and they had enough space to rebound and make an active play.

That is the difference between a team coming together, and a team that knows each other well. Geelong knew they could trust each other to earn their own ball, so they could stick to a structure running towards their own 50 that allowed them enough distance to be valid options. North however tended to want to help each other out when the ball hit the deck, which is great, honest footy, but it meant that the only disposal option is either a player at the ball-winner’s elbow that can be tackled by the same opponent pressuring the ball carrier, or a long bomb down the line forward that has been well scouted by opposing talls to intercept.

There will be positives North can take from this, but even with a long list of positives, consistently losing creates a culture that is not easy to break out of, and Noble will have his hands full keeping the players’ heads up, especially with the younger brigade. It’s like being invited out to dinner by your crush, only for you to find that they’re trying to set you up with their flat-Earther roommate. While it’s better than nothing, eventually you’ll be doubting yourself.

 

Rucking around

The hot word during the last trade period was that Geelong had numbers in front of Todd Goldstein. With Geelong seeming to run without a full-time ruck, if that rumour isn’t true then it should be.

Goldy has continued a bit of a resurgence with his 29 hitouts and three clearances, but even taking him out of the equation, second-string ruck Tom Campbell, a player that most non-North supporters might struggle to put a face to the name for, managed to amass the same number of hitouts as Stanley, Hawkins, Henry and De Koning combined.

Such was the class of the Geelong midfield, they won an equal number of centre clearances anyway, and managed to pants North 36-18 in stoppage clearances. With their off-season load up, it may end up being a recurring criticism that getting a decent tap ruckman could further improve those numbers.

It’s one thing to be shaded by Goldstein, a bloke that will be in top five ruckman lists for many, but while Campbell may be slightly underrated, he’s definitely not the sort of player that other teams will be queueing up to sign.

Stanley does have lots to offer besides his hit outs, and with 24 touches and six clearances he certainly justified his spot, but playing as a rover and conceding the ruck contest will hurt against teams able to execute the surprisingly rare tactic of tapping to the advantage of their own midfield.

Jenkins and Fort did look decent in their VFL runs though, so it could simply be a case of Geelong knowing that beating North would not require them to field their September squad.

 

The difference

Two elements set Geelong up for the win. Actually, it’s probably more than that, but we’ll go with the two big ones. The first is the class of their midfield. Despite losing the hitouts in dramatic fashion, they were not being hurt by a North midfield group that had the hitout advantage. It could be argued that Geelong read Goldstein’s taps better than his own midfield did.

To go with the ability to read the ball, Smith and Duncan in particular were able to find a player running forward with seeming ease. Brandan Parfitt had the ball on a string for much of the match, and his delivery into the forward 50 was very good.

The other factor was the ability to consistently lock it in their forward 50. Tom Stewart in particular was clinical in intercepting North’s clearing kicks, to find another attacking avenue.

Besides Goldstein, two other North players stopped this game from becoming an absolute rout. The first being Jack Ziebell, racking up the most touches he’s had in a match for 10 years with 38. His work in marshalling the defence during the absence of Robbie Tarrant due to his kidney operation was taken to another level in this game.

The other player is Ben Cunnington. While some may say he was fortunate to be playing due to being on report from the previous week, without his work in the middle North may well have been blown off the park. His ability to collect a game-leading 15 contested possessions was enormous, but unfortunately, he played largely a lone hand in that regard, with only Aidan Bonar being the other North player in the top ten of winning their own ball for the match.

 

Heatproof undies

Several players on both sides will have a bit of a blowtorch applied to their posterior as a result of this match, but most will likely be for North.

Nick Larkey managed two decent goals, but had very little impact otherwise. With only five touches and just one tackle, he needs to up his forward pressure to the level that makes defenders worry when they hear him coming. As it stands, he can tackle well enough to bring the defender to the ground, but in such a polite manner that some of his opponents seem to be almost regretful about the obligatory marking contest scalp massage.

Charlie Lazzaro and Will Phillips didn’t trouble the stats counters too much, but Lazarro’s youth and injury will see him avoid too much of a spray, and Phillips being in only his third game will likewise see him get just a little reminder of what is expected of him.

One player that may start to feel some heat is Bailey Scott. Having burst into the side a couple of years back, injuries have hampered his ability to become an automatic best 22 name. With the current depletion of an already threadbare side, he should be cementing his career, but instead his form has been patchy. His six touches were not terrible by any means, but playing as an outside mid or rebounding off the back flank, he’ll need to up those numbers dramatically before the end of the season. It could be that he’s still yet to have a proper full off-season, or it could be the pressure of being a North recruit that the list management team has so much riding on his success, but regardless, he’ll need to show that he’s willing to be part of the core of young players that the club will rebuild with.

 

Finding another gear

Brandan Parfitt had a breakout game. With North playing largely negating roles on Dangerfield and Selwood, Parfitt became an easy option as receiver for the Geelong mids. His 34 touches are his career-best, to go with seven tackles and eight clearances.

For Parfitt to have the game he did, he needed a little bit of supply, which is where Isaac Smith stepped in. His work rate around the ball was brilliant, frequently linking up in a chain and pushing up to present well after his opponent had stopped chasing him.

While I’ve already touched on Tom Stewart’s game, it deserves another plug. His work at locking the ball in Geelong’s forward 50 was simply exquisite. His 30 touches were also a career-high for him, and his 11 marks were very handy indeed.

 

Hall floored

Another player expecting a bit of a blowtorch moment will be Mitch Duncan. In an attempt to spoil a shot from Aaron Hall on the 50, he’s leapt into the air, turned his body and collected Hall’s head with enough force that he took no further part in the match.

The shock of the incident was only increased when not even a free kick was awarded. Contact after kicking the ball, even blind contact, has been a downfield free as long as the AFL has been around. For it to be ignored here is an absolute howler.

Because Hall was taken out of the game, the tribunal will likely look at the incident. There seemed to be absolutely no ill-intent, and Duncan even went up to check on Hall as he was leaving the ground, but recent form of suspension based on consequence could see him in some trouble. Then again, consistency isn’t really the main part of the match review process, so maybe he’ll get a let off.

 

Up Forward

While 10.17 is not a great return, the sheer volume of scoring attempts shows just how capable the Geelong forward line was in this match. While North struggled to find a target on entry to forward  50, Tuohy and Duncan seemed to find options everywhere. Even if they were required to kick to a contest, Geelong were able to bring it to ground frequently for a shot on goal, or intercept the clearing kick for another forward 50 entry.

Hawkins had a bit of a tough night with some close checking from McKay, but he kept his workrate up and even managed to pull defenders away from Brad Close to open him up for a few shots on goal.

For North, there is a definite lack of options up forward. While Larkey managed a couple of goals, he wasn’t creating opportunities like a number one spearhead should. North looked most dangerous when shooting the long ball, with Stephenson and Hall both putting in goals from just beyond the arc. This is an area that North seem to be bucking the trend, and if they can work the long ball into their attack, it’ll go a long way to creating the space inside 50 that they need.

 

Other bits

It’s odd that both teams will have the same positive to come out of this encounter—both will get a decent little percentage boost from it. Geelong eke closer to 100%, while North get a little bit closer to 50%.

Geelong seemed very confident with their shots from 40+. Quite a few went wide, but they seemed to know that this was a “near enough is good enough” game, and they could well afford to challenge themselves.

Jack Ziebell amassed an enormous 946 metres gained. Unfortunately the ball frequently came right back to him with Geelong’s set up outside 50 able to intercept or bring it to ground to the advantage of their small brigade.

The main interceptor for the match was Tom Stewart, pulling in 14 to thwart North’s attempt to rebound from defence.

 

Final word

It was always a tough ask for an undermanned and inexperienced North side that’s taken such a beating to start the season that we could have seen a standing eight count at some stage today, but Geelong were able to keep things predictable and just grind away a spirited start to take the game away from North.

It was not the prettiest of wins, but every successful team has to be able to win ugly too.

 

Up Next:

North head to WA to take on the Dockers in a game that will be a big revealer for both sides, with Freo looking for enough of a percentage boost to bring them closer to Richmond, West Coast and an Adelaide side having a bit of a purple patch. While North are improving week-on-week, they’re coming from a long way back and likely will be run over in the second half yet again.

Geelong will host West Coast, and may welcome Jezza Cameron to create more forward options. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins or Fort come in to play a full-time ruck role against Nic Nat. Still, they will expect to win this one, and a bit of an improvement on this week will see them take the points.