Our first draw of 2021 – how many of you predicted it will feature either North Melbourne or GWS?

If you answered ‘both’, then you’re only lying to yourself and your loved ones.

This was GWS’ game to win and even though they were able to eke out a draw provides evidence that they will not be able to hack it in the business end of the season. Against a side that looks destined for the wooden spoon this year, they were basically playing catch up footy for large parts of the afternoon.

If it was against someone like a Melbourne or a Geelong or a Western Bulldogs. Those sort of teams will put you to the sword and stick that sword in a number of uncomfortable places.

A part of me feels for North Melbourne. I remember watching their loss to the Bulldogs on Good Friday and if we’re being honest here (I always am) I feared that North may not have won a game this season, thankfully that notion was put to bed a few weeks ago when they took down Hawthorn.

Am I the only one who reckons North Melbourne are collectively a different beast anytime they’re in Tasmania? They were approximately 30 minutes away from getting a second win here and I thought they ran and moved the ball incredibly well – the best I’ve seen from them this year, which probably doesn’t say much.

The point is, the Roos are a side that continues to build week after week and their on-field results are looking a little more respectable than they were at the start of the year. It was just unfortunate for them that they stopped attacking in the last quarter – whether or not they were gassed or they were looking to hold on to the lead by switching to a more defensive game style – I’m inclined to think there’s a bit of column A and B in this – GWS were able to storm back and at least claim some premiership points.

They didn’t need the draw though – heading into this game, they sat two games behind the eighth-placed Richmond (who did lose to the Eagles later in the day) and instead now sit a game and a half behind – having blown what was a decent opportunity for another win.

Let’s break it down here folks, it’s going to be a long one this one.

 

THE GOOD AND BAD OF DANIEL LLOYD

I’m not a big fan of him, but football’s always been a game about moments, and Daniel Lloyd came up big in the last five or so minutes of this contest.

Two goals and a shot on goal that missed the lot, which even a point would’ve given – no – stolen that win from North Melbourne. There wasn’t much else he could’ve done, there wasn’t much time left and in a high-pressure game, with the possibility of finals on the line, sometimes you just hit and hope. And that was his last kick – I have no issues about him taking on the responsibility of that kick.

Especially after the two kicks before resulted in goals to help tie the score up. The first one was on the back of incredibly shocking checking from the North Melbourne players – I actually counted about eight or nine players inside the defensive 50 who were standing around without a man – that’s where I put down North Melbourne being completely gassed.

The second one was on the back of excellent reading of the play in the top of the square and converted dutifully.

His consistency at this level sometimes concerns me. He can have these moments bob up from time to time, come up with a big tackle or a big mark inside 50 or a big goal – or in this case two – but a lot of the time it’s a bit like watching him in the first three quarters – feels like he’s not doing a whole lot with his touches, but maybe that’s just me.

 

KELLY CLASS

Quite often I look at a Josh Kelly game and think to myself: ‘geez he’s just blasé with the ball in his hands.’

I say blasé because sometimes it feels like he uses it without purpose – okay, actually I feel like a lot of his games he uses it and it doesn’t have purpose, but I know that’s absolutely wrong. Maybe it’s the fact I haven’t paid close enough attention to him over the years.

Watching him in this contest, there were so many elements in Josh Kelly’s game that I could talk about. It’ll be hard splitting the votes up in this one, but Kelly will be up there when it’s all decided. It was about as close to a perfect midfielder’s game as you can imagine. Everybody is going to have an interpretation of what a perfect midfielder’s game is. Mine is a high possession count – balanced number of contested possessions and uncontested possessions, fair disposal efficiency, a couple of goals and some good numbers of clearances, inside 50s, score involvements.

Back at the start of the year, I said on the A3 Footy Podcast that Clayton Oliver had the perfect midfielder’s game against St Kilda. If you remember that performance vividly, hats off to you – Kelly’s performance in this one reminds me of that individual performance.

He ran to be the ideal receiver of the footy, delivered the ball by foot at a fair 61 per cent – not as good as others, but he wasn’t dreadful either. Out of his 39 disposals, 17 of them were contested, he kicked a pair of goals, including a ripping one from the boundary to start the fourth quarter resurgence. He also had 12 score involvements, eight inside 50s and six clearances.

Nothing blasé about this performance – it was one from the top shelf.

 

THE MATCH-UP ON GREENE

I generally make notes to talk about who’s lining up on who to start the game and see if it sticks. Probably wasn’t many really that stood out, but one that had me glued to my computer screen was the match up between Toby Greene and Kayne Turner – bit of an odd choice that, but Ben Jacobs isn’t here anymore so you’ve got to try something, right?

The stats will read in favour of Toby Greene, and I actually thought he played a pretty good game aside from his kicking for goal. But I will give Turner credit, because there were a lot of moments that looked like he was gone for all money, but managed to break even and force the contest and the ball to go to ground.

He’s been in the league for about seven or eight seasons now, but I’ve never really thought of Turner to be more of a defensive-minded player. He showed plenty in this one, but he did learn quite a few lessons from Greene in this one.

Quite a few times he got out bodied or outworked and a couple of times Greene himself was a bit of an agitator as only he can and it resulted in him getting his hands on the football, it was quite a good battle.

Toby Greene kicked 1.4 from 16 disposals – quite often you don’t see him being that woeful in front of goal, and he did miss some shots he would usually kick, but that comes with the territory of being put on the shelf for a little bit. He’s at least getting the opportunities in front of goal, and he’s consistently been doing that for years.

 

HAS AARON HALL RESURRECTED HIS CAREER?

Having watched a couple of North games this year, Aaron Hall is looking like he’s actually wanting to prove something to people.

Over the years – both at Gold Coast and at North – there’s always been knocks about work-rate, efficiency by foot, defensive efforts, consistency problems  -. Always – and it’s not stuff that happens every now and then, it happens with him a lot.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with his disposal when I watched him against the Bulldogs on Good Friday, but I think his disposal has by large improved since then. His two biggest strengths are his positioning when his team has the ball – I mean receiving on the outside – and his run. I don’t know how or why it’s taken to this point, but half back is right in his wheelhouse.

Out of his 27 kicks, 17 of them hit targets, which meant that he was travelling at about 63 percent – again, it’s not great, he definitely still had some poor turnovers in this one, but hell he has certainly done worse off in other games, I could put my life savings on that one.

Despite the 35 disposals, nine rebound 50s, nearly 800 metres gained and seven inside 50s, his defensive efforts in this one I thought were very good. A couple of times he had to run back or peel off his direct opponent to affect the contest – one particular play stands out was when he ran back to stop Bobby Hill, who had got goal-side and killed the play when he spoiled it over the line – good work-rate and commitment to the contest.

Five years ago at the Gold Coast Suns, he’d look at stuff like that like it was an allergic reaction. He might not be the world beater, All-Australian defender, but he’s definitely involved into an important player for the Roos.

 

THE MASTER AND APPRENTICE

By full-time, North Melbourne were +4 in the overall clearance count – A large part of that can be attributed to the pair of Ben Cunnington and Jy Simpkin – 16 clearances, 56 disposals, 24 contested possessions, 10 inside 50s between them. I thought both were outstanding in large parts of the contest.

When Ben Cunnington is not gut-punching blokes off the ball, he’s great to watch. Tough, unassuming, takes no bullshit –  a true blue-collared midfielder. He also came up with two goals to his name before half time – He has never been a big-noted goal-kicking midfielder, so for him to pop up with a pair, it’s quite good to see – you’d love your best midfielders getting on the goal-kickers tally a bit more consistently.

Simpkin is in his fifth season of league football – I’d say this perhaps the second full season that he’s had where his primary position is in the midfield. Before that, he was sort of high half-forward with part time stints in the midfield, but he’s slowly emerging as a player before our very eyes. He’s learning under one of the better in-and-under players in the league right now too.

Imagine a midfield when North finally get into that position where they can contend for finals again – say about four or five years at best (you may laugh at this, but it’s not that simple) – If Luke Davies-Uniacke can stay fit, if Tom Powell and Will Phillips get some continuity in their games – it becomes a very tough and uncompromising midfield group. I could get really excited by that proposition if I was a North fan.

 

INTERCEPTION AT ITS VERY BEST

This was one of Nick Haynes’ best games for the season and it’s hard to say that when he’s often been pretty consistent with his role as that intercepting third tall defender in the back line.

There were quite a few moments from him where his intercept marking saved the Giants from leaking out anymore goals than what they already coughed up. Jack Buckley and Connor Idun are going to be very good players in the future, but they had their hands full a fair bit in this one. Nick Larkey was quite the threat up forward in this one.

But Haynes took nine intercept marks in this one. 14 of his touches were ones that he plucked off from opposition forward 50 entries. Granted, some of them were a little fortuitous as he was in the right spot at the right time, but you still have to be able to take the mark and cut off the entry completely and that’s exactly what Haynes did in this one.

Overall, he had 26 disposals, 14 of those being intercept possessions, which is again a true testament in his game. Imagine how the Giants would be going if he wasn’t playing…

 

IS MATT FLYNN BETTER SUITED UP FORWARD OR IN THE RUCK?

Bit of a difficult one, this.

I think it’s safe to say that since his debut this year, Matt Flynn belongs at AFL level. His tap work is solid, he covers the ground well for a big and his marking hands are quite the big, big sound.

Playing as the key forward that was pinch-hitting in the ruck to resident thug Shane Mumford, I really liked him playing up forward. Leads quite well towards the ball, showed good, contested marking hands – four contested marks this week out of his six with five marks taken inside 50, and his kicking is…. Well, it’s there – he kicked two goals this week, one of them was a real ugly floating ball that somehow didn’t go 45 metres to the right.

But the point is that Matt Flynn could be that perfect second ruck option that goes forward and kicks goals – the better teams have them: Bulldogs have Tim English, Melbourne uses Luke Jackson, Richmond in past weeks have used Callum Coleman-Jones and he’s kicking defenders to the kerb like a good kebab.

All he needs now is a first ruckman who won’t hurt opposition players for fun every chance he has. Seriously? How is this man still on a list after all this time? Get Kieran Briggs back in this team Leon for Christ’s Sake!!!

 

OTHER BITS

I thought Jaidyn Stephenson played a really good game, until I saw his kicking efficiency went at just over 50 percent. A number of times, he looked quite poised and determined to find the right option – I like that in players, a lot of them tend to just hack it forward any chance they get.

Cam Zurhaar’s defensive efforts in this one were quite amazing to watch – Laid five tackles and had a number of instances where he got in the face of a Giants’ player with ball in hand and made sure the ball wasn’t going anywhere.

Not sure how I feel about Tristan Xerri – Looks like he can leap and take a good grab, but everything about his kicking is horrible – take his license off him David Noble!!

A few key players well down on kicking efficiency for the Giants – Tom Green and Jacob Hopper went at just over 57 percent, whilst Toby Greene and Tim Taranto at 46 and 44 percent respectively. Also, Isaac Cumming, a guy who I think has been a bit of a revelation for the Giants this year off the half back line – also went at 50 percent efficiency off 22 kicks. These numbers will absolutely crucify any chances of them playing finals this year.

Thuggery aside, the ruck battle between Todd Goldstein and Shane Mumford had interesting results – 29 hitouts to 23 in favour of Goldy, 11-9 hitouts to advantage Goldstein’s way, five-all in clearances and Goldy had 14 disposals and six marks to Mumford’s seven and one. I thought Goldstein was the better man in the contests for most of the day, but Mumford I guess did do something useful.

Great to see Robbie Tarrant in for his first game of the season after missing the first half of the year due to kidney problems – a little rusty on return, but that was expected after missing a huge chunk of footy. He’ll be better in the long run.

I’d love to see Bailey Scott play a bit more. The kid’s got some height and some speed about him, and he is also very clean at ground level, the next phase in his game is kicking, because it lets down all the other good stuff about how he goes about his game.

Yes, a congratulations to Sam Reid on 100 games, not quite sure how he managed it, given he looks like one of those guys you see in the cartoons all bandaged up like he’s just been mauled by some bizarre creature. Never been the flashiest player, but god he’s a pretty hard bastard to defeat in defence.

And on that celebratory note, it’s time to put an end to this review. I feel a bit strange about this game, just sort of leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling.

The Giants will see this game as an opportunity missed to really gain some ground back on the top eight. Especially with the talent they had on the park, coming off the bye, there’s not much of an excuse to not getting all the premiership points against a battling team. It makes next week’s game against Carlton even more important to their season and their finals hopes.

As for North Melbourne, they’re continuing to improve, but that final quarter shows that there is still a ton of work to be done before they can get even close to the eight again. Their search for a second win in 2021 will come with a difficult challenge next week as they tackle the Brisbane Lions, still red-hot after losing to Melbourne the week before and coming off a bye, you think they’d be stewing on that second half capitulation a little more than usual.

But, they do have the Gold Coast Suns the following week back at Blundstone Arena – that is a game I’d be circling down as a very winnable game if I was David Noble.