Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Spoonbowl 2021.

With Collingwood dealing with severe off-field disruption as well as on-field inconsistencies and North dealing with not living up to even the low expectations that people had of them for this season, this shaped up as a game that might see a fair few social media messages to players about ruining their multis.

North fans saw this as a gettable game and a chance to peg one in the winners’ column, whereas Pies faithful seemed to already have this down as a win, but hadn’t ruled out an early 2000’s Richmond-esque membership card vs microwave moment if the result went the other way. Fortunately for those that dislike the smell of burning plastic, Collingwood managed to play themselves into some fairly decent form, and while North had some moments, they were far off the level necessary to compete for four quarters.

Before the match, much has been made of David Noble’s comments that North isn’t chasing wins, but rather trying to get the process right and let the wins come, but whether you judge the game by process or score, North were found significantly wanting across both metrics.

Because Collingwood are Collingwood, anyone wondering what is going on at the club can pick up literally any newspaper in the country or watch any sports report to find out. It may actually be harder to avoid mention of Collingwood in the national news cycle. I dare say more Australians could recognise Eddie McGuire than deputy PM Michael McCormack, even those that live in his Riverina electorate.

If, somehow you managed to miss it though, there’s been a lot made of the cut-throat contest for presidency, suggestions that Buckley has lost the players and will be out of the box, de Goey has been labelled as disinterested, and most players are generally spoken about as underachieving.

For all of the anti-hype around the game though, it wasn’t as bad as could perhaps be expected from two teams that have had mostly negative press for this season.

 

THE OPENING

Both teams would probably have been fairly positive about their first quarter efforts, while still expecting improvement.

Collingwood opened their account with Jordan de Goey being given some lace-out service and converting a fairly difficult set shot from about 35, just in from the boundary with all the confidence of a veteran forward. De Goey’s forward craft and explosive speed presented problems for defender Adrian Bonar all night, and coupled with low, flat delivery that drew him to the ball made it all but impossible to counter.

North managed to hit back quickly as Goldstein cleared the ball form his own ruck contest, and John Noble decided to punch through a rushed behind from about 12 metres out, resulting in a free kick to North, taken by former Pie Jaidyn Stephenson.

The thing I liked to see was that once Stephenson kicked the goal, every player came around him to give him a bit of congratulations. It’s the sort of thing that shows Jaidyn that his new team is happy to have him there.

While I’m sure he appreciates the sentiment, the occasional shepherd when he’s on a run might be welcomed too.

De Goey managed to out-body Bonar on another well-weighted kick into the forward 50 to kick his second, and Pendlebury took advantage of Luke Davies-Uniacke’s fumble shortly after for the third.

North then locked down the play, keeping possession and trying to lock the ball into their forward 50. They may have been a tad unlucky for Ben Cunnington’s goal being overruled, based on the video footage. While it may well have been touched, both the football and the hand of the Collingwood player were blurrier than the footage of an 80’s porn VHS tape. Not a great injustice as far as decisions go, but yet another reason why they need to have a goal-line camera with better resolution than an old LG flip phone someone found in a drawer.

Cam Zurhaar tried to level the score, but only managed to lose a boot. He attempted to kick around the corner from about 40 out when, in a rare moment of luck, he slipped on his besocked foot and miskicked right to the chest of teammate Jack Mahony. The only people who thought he intended that to happen were the AFL umpires, who seemed to hold it against him when he tried another snap at goal later on.

 

LEADERSHIP AND PRESENCE

Much has been said about the youth of this North side, but in terms of experience, they went into the game with fewer true rookie players than Collingwood.

Collingwood had five players (Poulter, Oliver, Keane, Murphy and McCreery) who have played fewer than 10 games in the AFL, to go with five (Cameron, Brown, Quaynor, Noble and Daicos) who all have less than 50 under their belts.

Compare that with three (Phillips, Lazzaro and Powell) with under ten games, and a further ten (Bonar, Taylor, Menadue, Young, Mahony, McKay, Thomas, Davies-Uniacke, Larkey and Campbell) with under 50. Campbell isn’t really in the same category as the others though, having been in the system for almost a decade.

So while Collingwood had more sub-ten game players, North had many more sub-50 game players, but when watching the game it seemed the difference between the sides was the way senior leadership integrated the players.

Collingwood had Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Crisp and Maynard acting as playmakers, who would then bring in the younger brigade such as Noble, Daicos and Poulter into the game.

North seemed to be relying more heavily on younger players to be playmakers, with Simpkin often given that role, though Aaron Hall stepped up yet again to provide some good forward 50 entries as well as link up with his teammates. Far too often though, it seemed that North expected young players like Powell and Taylor to take the playmaker role.

Now, it could be that this is a way to get them to understand how to make that role their own as they grow with the club, and it may turn out to be a brilliant way of developing their abilities and careers.

 

THE DIFFERENCE

The difference that stood out the most was how well Collingwood understood the way each other played while North did not.

Take a look at Collingwood’s run of goals just before half time. De Goey in the middle of three North players. The ball is delivered into de Goey’s leading lane. Menadue is in front and can take up the space, but opts to go back towards de Goey, but is blocked by Bonar trying to make up lost space from his man, all while Simpkin comes in from the side, but opts out of the contest.

On the flip side, North’s third quarter comeback had Zurhaar managed to paddle a mark down in front of him to a waiting Thomas who had Taylor nearby, but opted to snap and goal. Both Taylor and Thomas have had some high-flying marks in their highlight reels, but wisely opted to stay down and let Zurhaar be the sole marking player—exactly what I expect Noble instructed them to do.

Unfortunately, shortly after we saw Larkey and Lazzaro careen into each other in an attempt to mark 30 out. Lazzaro managed to hold the mark, but it was lucky.

This should improve for North as the season wears on though, mainly because there aren’t many players in their VFL team making strong claims for a call up. This is mostly due to an average losing margin of around 10 goals, and back-to-back hundred point losses, as well as turning over half the list. Bailey Scott, Trent Dumont and Tristian Xerri are an outside chance, but will really need to show they can lift their teammates around them if they’re to have their won chance to shine.

 

IN THE MIDDLE

Sidebottom lead all comers in clearances with eight, followed by Pendlebury and Grundy with six and five for the Pies. North had Cunnington’s six, with Goldy chipping in with four. Simpkin, Thomas and Zurhaar all registered, but didn’t have the breakaway impact of Collingwood’s veteran midfield.

In the ruck, Grundy took the honours over Goldstein, amassing more of pretty much everything. More hit outs, more disposals, more clearances, more metres gained, more tackles, and more contested possessions. Goldstein definitely had his moments, but Grundy was far more creative in his tapwork and ability to find his mids some space.

Cunnington put in a workman-like game that was serviceable without being spectacular, but North’s best plays seemed to always involve Aaron Hall. With 37 touches (30 of them kicks) and a huge 925 metres gained, Hall broke lines with alarming regularity. He’s come into some form of late, and while he can still be wasteful on occasion, not all of that can be laid at his feet when the forwards he’s kicking to are lazy in their leading.

Josh Daicos played a very nice role on the wing, showing the dash and football nous that will have Collingwood fans thankful that his Dad’s contribution to the footy club continued beyond his playing days.

 

FOUR-QUARTER EFFORTS

North have faded in every game this year prior to this match. While Collingwood managed to withstand an early second-half comeback, they methodically ground North Melbourne down as the game wore on.

To North’s credit, they kept themselves in the game for all but the last seven or eight minutes, when they realised the margin was just too much, but they still maintained some run and structure in the fourth quarter, something they had not done up to this point in the season.

Collingwood, though, finished the game with plenty of run and dash in the tank. Their rotations seemed to keep everyone fresh, despite finishing with Murphy and Roughead on the sidelines with head knocks. Murphy may be facing a concussion exclusion, but Roughead didn’t look concussed from the vision.

 

THE KEY MATCH-UPS

Bonar on de Goey defined most of the game. Of de Goey’s six goals, four came while on Bonar. He simply outclassed his rookie opponent, out-muscling, out-manoeuvring and out-marking him. To his credit, Bonar kept his head up all game and kept looking at the next contest rather than dreading it. His injury seemed bad enough to put him on the sidelines though, which will give him plenty of time to look at the tapes and see where he can improve.

Darcy Moore seems to have smashed any hope he had of a career as a forward with an enormous game playing on (and off) Nick Larkey. While Larkey has struggled a bit as the spearhead of North’s attack, Moore was able to stifle his leads while also intercepting and launching counter-attacks from his own work.

 

UNDER THE PUMP

Winning can mask problems, but Collingwood seemed to cover over most of those nicely. Even with minimal input from a few players, they weren’t liabilities. The only one really under the pump for the pies will be Buckley. While this win buys him some breathing room, beating North isn’t going to quiet the criticism completely.

For North, Ziebell is likely to get some stink come Monday. His workrate in defence is exemplary, but he seems to be trying far too hard to be everything all at once. He’s taking the kick ins, he’s contesting the marks, he’s trying to tackle the ball carrier. The problem is that he’s not delegating any of it. A good leader knows that leadership is often about delegating responsibility. This means he has to understand when to call someone else into a mark and stay down for the crumbs. He needs to be able to bring someone else into a tackle while he zones off on the likely handball option. Even having someone else do the kickouts mean the opposition has to adjust tactically.

It’s a credit to him that he wants to put the team on his shoulders and lift them up, but it’s just impossible for him to do everything.

Zurhaar has had a pretty ordinary start to the season, but his second half showed a little more of what he can do. He’s still not quite back to his hyper-aggressive best, but he seems to be starting to understand how he can bring in his other forwards to complement his own strengths. If that form continues, he’ll be in clear air. If it was just a blip and he reverts to his first half style of play, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to justify his spot once some players start coming back from injury.

One last bloke who may dread the Monday meetings would be Dean Margetts. His call of deliberate on a shanked snap from Zurhaar simply begets belief. He’s umpired more than 400 WAFL and AFL games so he’s far from inexperienced, but it’s up there for the worst call of the season, if not the AFL era.

It had practically no bearing on the game, but coupled with some pretty aggressive 50s, while ignoring de Goey running to the interchange and then back into play within a metre of a North player taking a free kick, Noble will likely stretch the boundaries allowable when “requesting clarification” of the rules as they are applied during the game. I’m sure AFL house fields those calls from a majority of coaches every week (or in the case of Clarkson, an invite to high tea), so I wouldn’t expect anything to come of it.

 

OTHER BITS

Mihochek had a spectacular hanger over Josh Walker late in the third quarter. It’ll likely be up for mark of the week, with an athletic leap onto Walker’s shoulders and a full-extension grab. I would expect there will be a few kids putting it up on their walls this year, much to Walker’s chagrin.

Jaidyn Stephenson’s return against his old side was a solid game for him. While he didn’t set the world alight, he did manage to get the Collingwood crowd involved as they booed him whenever he got near the ball after his first goal. Usually, crowds only boo those who leave, rather than those kicked out, so this is a bit of recognition for his capability. Unless of course they simply dislike him for not sharing his horse tips or something.

North’s defence injury woes continue, with Bonar looking like he’ll be out for a while with an ankle injury. With Tarrant, McDonald, Bonar and Corr all best 22 defenders out of the team, McKay will be relied on even more heavily to be the backline general. Ziebell’s leadership down back can’t be ignored, but his quality of disposal has been questionable. It may be that McKay’s trial by fire could be what he needs to fill Tarrant’s boots as the linchpin of the back six.

David Noble mentioned that he and his son would be unlikely to talk to each other in the lead up to the match. It may be a bit hard for John to talk too much trash now though, considering he was the one who gifted North their first goal with a long rushed behind.

The North banner seemed to be given over to Telstra’s “Big plugs for small business” and the business in question may be rethinking the exposure. The banner had their logo, big and proud, but the text was just doggerel.

“Kanga Kanga Kanga,
Mush Roo Roo Room
Lettuce squash the pies.”

Now, I love a good veggie pun as much as the next bloke, but I’m not sure the little veggie patch co is expecting a surge in clientele from this effort.

“But JB, you try making up a banner line that matches the company”

Fair point, random voice in my head. Let’s give it a crack:

“Little Veggie patch Co
Are what every garden needs
And almost as good as Carey
At spreading some seed”

See, it even has a bit of a Mothers’ day tie in. It’s layered. It’d also bring great exposure for the company, as Wayne would likely go on a 20 minute tangent about himself on Triple M, drawing even more attention to the banner. Speaking of which, how come there’s not a dozen little Carey’s in the AFLW by now. Seems like it should be about that time.

 

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

North head to Tassie to take on Hawthorn. While it’s a winnable game, North will enter as long-odds underdogs as their backline is stripped of even more talent. Last time they played, Chad Wingard tore the forward line apart, so he’d be a likely inclusion considering North won’t really have someone who can run with him. Hawthorn have their own struggles at the moment, and while they’re no strangers to Tassie, North have a bit more experience at Launceston, so I’ve talked myself into tipping North to break their duck. The fact I’m well behind in my pub tipping comp and need some upsets is completely coincidental.

Collingwood head to the SCG to take on the Swans. The latest news is that their whole team and officials had clear corona tests, but the disruption could linger a bit. It’s a hard game to tip, with both teams capable of great footy, as well as some ordinary efforts. I’m tipping Sydney in a tight one, but if de Goey’s confidence boost stays with him into the second quarter, he could make all the difference.

 

 

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