It was not a game you’d write home and tell the family about. It wasn’t really something you’d stick in an email, either. Perhaps it could be best described with a series of emojis and a meme, but North Melbourne headed down to Tassie and picked up their second win of the season, downing a free-falling Gold Coast team by nine points.
In a game that resembled an arm wrestle in which both competitors were using their non-preferred arm, both teams had their chances to win this game. Really, had North Melbourne taken theirs earlier in the game, we’d not really be talking about how desperate things became late in the game. Really, they should have put the Suns away.
Having nine more scoring shots to win by nine points can be taken one of two ways. Either they were wasteful and were lucky to walk away with the four points, or they were wasteful and should have really won by more.
Whichever way you look at it, the game was up for grabs in the final five minutes, and it was then the Suns that failed to convert, costing themselves a chance to right the wrongs of 2021 with a win on the road.
There is plenty to get through in this one. Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
CUNNINGTON V GREENWOOD
If you like good, hard, contested footy, seeing Ben Cunnington and Hugh Greenwood stand next to each other at the start of the game would have brought a smile to your dial.
The best tackler in the game was given the responsibility of curtailing the influence of perhaps the toughest bloke in footy, and their first quarter matchup did not disappoint.
As the two bulls went head to head, their success has to be viewed through different prisms. You see, Greenwood’s value is not in how much footy he wins, but how he prevents others from gaining clean possession. He does this with tackles that, unlike 80% of the league, stick. He had five tackles in the first quarter, as he latched onto Cunnington in several vital contests, refusing to allow the Arden Street strongman room to move.
But even the most dogged pressure is going to succumb to the strength of Cunnington at times, and the only bloke who has had advanced hair treatment and doesn’t get ridiculed because people are too damn scared of him, went about his business, collecting eight touches and four clearances in the opener.
This is the type of contest I reckon both players would have loved. It was hard, tough and gave each of them a worthy adversary to test themselves against.
Just as I was getting set for Round Two, the coaches mixed things up, and we didn’t really get to see the two really compete against each other for longer than a moment or two until the last quarter. By that stage the fitter Greenwood managed to have eight touches and five clearances to go with four tackles, whilst Cunnington managed six touches and two clearances.
Given Greenwood was moved off the ball at one stage (I’ll get to that), you’d give the points to Cunnington in this one, but the former Crow really gave things a shake in the last quarter with his combative work inside forward fifty. He conjured three shots at goal, himself, and to be honest, looked like one of the few Suns to actually give a shit.
THE SIGNS ARE GOOD
In a little bit, I am going to be looking at the young Gold Coast Suns who were all seemingly down on form in this game, and in stark contrast, there was Luke Davies-Uniacke, who continued to demonstrate that his career trajectory is trending upwards, at a pretty good incline, as well.
LDU showed signs in this one. Without being the best mid on the park, his clean hands, great lateral movement when confronted with an issue, and his ability to lurch sideways to avoid physical pressure was a genuine highlight for North.
Looking like a tank at points, the way he would grab that footy, hold it up at shoulder height to ensure his arms remained free of tacklers, and dished off to teammates would have had North fans smiling., His 19 contested touches were the most on the park, and his excellent handles in traffic make a compelling case that he will be a star.
LDU was a bit of a slow burn, and in many ways, I think we could expect a bit too much from young stars in their first couple of seasons – they are not all going to have three-game stints like Matt Rowell in 2020, or Chris Judd in his rookie year. Davies-Uniacke, now in year four, is coming on quickly, and as North continue to acquire talent to play around him, his position in this side will be pivotal to its improvement.
Called “a bit of a plodder” in the preseason by Gerard Healy (which kind of sums up Gerard’s special comments on footy these days), LDU is now above 20 touches per game for the first time in his career. His contested work is better, he is tackling more, and his power to burst from stoppages t put distance between him and the next player in line IS, despite it seeming a real stretch, akin to the way Judd used to go about it. The difference is that LDU has taken a while to do it. Judd was doing that right off the bat.
MESSING WITH THE ZURHAAR
A career-high in disposals for the raging bull in this one, but it was one instance, or rather, two instances late in the last quarter that were the most impressive parts of Zurhaar’s game, in my eyes.
For a while, Zurhaar’s tank has been the issue for him. He was completely exposed last season when Brayden Maynard ran off him like he was made of stone on several occasions en route to being assessed as one of the best players on the park. Knowing Zurhaar was not in the best chape, Maynard simply disregarded him and went about running the footy out of defence.
Some work was required this off-season, and the fact we had this physical beast of a player cracking in with minutes left in the game, and doing it up on the wing, speaks volumes about the work he has done to improve his area of weakness.
Zurhaar not only busted a gut to put his opponents under pressure without the footy in the last quarter, he was also a vital target for the Roos earlier in the game, taking marks, kicking goals, and giving another hard-at-it player, Nick Holman, one of the best fend-offs you’re going to see, depositing Holman on his backside in the process.
I often see things in parallel with Dermott Brereton, and wholeheartedly agree that Zurhaar is a very watchable player. He is a heart-and-soul player, and you know that when he is going to compete for the footy, the competition is going to be tough. In many ways, he is a throwback to the type of footy that was played in the late eighties and early nineties, and I seriously think there are plenty of North opponents thankful that the rules have been tightened up since then. Zurhaar would sit quite a few of them down if he had the chance.
A RUCK LESSON
I have a ton of respect for Todd Goldstein. An absolute ton.
He could have walked from North Melbourne to pursue glory and fame elsewhere. Rucks are always in demand at successful clubs – imagine how he could influence the game at Richmond right now?
But he chose to remain a one-club player and help this Kangaroos team through the tough times rather than jump ship to make a late-career grasp at some silverware. I absolutely love that about Goldy – he is a Shinboner, through and through.
Matched up with Zac Smith in this game, the work rate of the North big man put Smith to shame. Goldy has been lone-rucking for years, and faced with a bloke who has been in the system, but really just in the system as in being on a playing list for a number of years, he was always going to outwork the Gold Coast big man.
Goldstein finished with 44 hitouts, 21 touches and six clearances as he continually worked over Smith. He picked up the footy in the middle, up forward and then slotted in behind the footy as well. It was a complete game for the 32-year-old, who continues to be one of the most reliable ruckmen in the game.
TOO TRICKY FOR HIS OWN GOOD?
Do we all think Stuart Dew is a good bloke? We all kind of like him?
I reckon that he gets a pretty good run in the media because of how people tend to enjoy what he brings to the table, but I cannot understand why you’d take your best contested football winner out of the action at a point where your team was being completely creamed at stoppages, and throw him into the area of the ground where the Suns simply were not getting the footy.
Anyone who has read my stuff for a while knows that I rate the combative abilities of Hugh Greenwood. There is no getting through his tackles, there are no easy touches, and when the ball is in despite, you had better be at your absolute best if you’re planning on extracting the footy against him.
Yet, 12 minutes into the third quarter, the Kangaroos, kicking with the wind, were dominating possession of the footy in their half. The Suns’ best defensive mid, and the only one truly capable of matching it with Cunnington in the contest, was nowhere to be seen.
He was sitting inside attacking fifty hoping the footy would be delivered to him. And it was just never going to happen. Not in a manner that would see him become dangerous, anyway.
When it did head inside 50, it was kicked on his head and he was forced to battle to bring the footy to ground… you know, like a key forward is supposed to do. Someone like.. Sam Day. Oh, we’ll get to him.
In the end, Greenwood was the one being forced to compete in the air across half forward, which robbed the Suns of their physicality in the middle, and the Kangaroos enjoyed an 11-5 clearance win for the quarter as a result.
North added 3.7 to the Suns’ single goal in the third, and really, it should have been all over. The move of Greenwood to half forward aided North Melbourne much more than it did the Suns.
AT DAY’S END, THE FORWARD LINE IS SHOT
Sam Day has been a warrior for the Gold Coast footy club, but as a second forward, he is just not cutting the mustard.
I know Gold Coast are really struggling for someone to step up and be a consistent presence inside 50, but given what we saw today, the battered 28-year-old is not the answer. Not now, not next season.
Working close to attacking fifty, he had 11 touches for the game – just one of them saw the Suns score. He laid no tackles inside fifty. As a matter of fact, he laid no tackles at all, and in a game where forward pressure is King, Day contributed bugger all.
You look at players like Day – those who have not sought greener pastures over the journey, and you want to see them do well, but wanting them to go well and them actually going well seem worlds apart, particularly when the player seems a fair way from putting it all together.
With Ben King a ghost for most of the game, the bulk of the forward work rested on the shoulders of Josh Corbett, and despite his best work, he ended up having to do the jobs of his two other marking targets. King’s second efforts are non-existent. Day’s game has been so restricted by his injuries over the years that it almost amounts to a day off for those playing on him.
The Suns need to get help for King this off-season, or risk the young big man starting to eye other opportunities. But from where does this help come? Based on today’s game, it is not going to come from Day. He has been part of the furniture for Gold Coast for a long time, but eventually, you need to buy yourself a new couch, no matter how comfortable the old one is.
The Suns have had some really high draft picks over the last few years, haven’t they?
At the moment, their team boasts the likes of Izak Rankine, Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson, Ben King, Jack Lukosius, and Ben Ainsworth – all top ten picks and all set for excellent careers in the league…
We hear about the brilliance of Rankine, but for everything brilliant he pulls off, there is at least half a dozen acts of such laziness/stupidity that reduce his value to the team. Casual little throws when the handball was there to be made, silly decisions with the footy, a distinct lack of defensive pressure… these are the things that are becoming as synonymous with Rankine’s game as the intelligent taps to advantage, or the outrageous skill. Perhaps they’re becoming the most prevalent part of his arsenal?
What the Suns want to see him from him is more meat and potatoes and less fancy desserts. If he was responsible for feeding this club, they’d be fat, yet still bloody hungry.
And then you have the “great kick of the football”, Jack Lukosius. Not only does this bloke completely botch anything under a 35 metre kick, as we saw twice in this game when he blew short passes to teammates and put his team under pressure, he also shirks the issue too often for my liking. And when you are charged with playing in defence, you have to attack the contest, even when you don’t know what’s coming the other way.
Yep, he heard footsteps in this one.
Guys, it’s happened to all of us at some stage. You don’t know what’s coming, you get the “should I go, or shouldn’t I?” kind of feeling, but you know in your heart that you have to put your body on the line and take contact. So you do it, right? You jump up and expose yourself – not in the Joe Ganino fashion – I mean expose yourself in a situation where you might get hurt. It can inspire your teammates, lift them seeing that you’re willing to do that for your team, and it can compel them to do the same.
But did Jack Lukosius go as hard with the flight as he needed to halfway through the last quarter? Did he inspire his teammates with an act of courage?
Nope, he slowed, threw a fist up, ducked his head, made no contact with the ball or the oncoming player and the amazing thing is… nobody batted an eyelid. It was almost as though it was expected.
If you would like to know what is wrong with the Gold Coast Suns, then rewind the bloody game, watch the lack of commitment from this bloke at this point of the game – it was right in the balance – and you’ll get your answer.
Gimme a player like Nick Holman, who doesn’t have the same skill level or footy pedigree as Lukosius, or a bloke like Cam Zurhaar, who would throw himself in front of a bus for his team. Don’t give me Jack Lukosius, who looks content to pick up easy touches from defensive fifty without paying the price when it is there to be paid.
Maybe he was spooked from a bit of friendly fire in the first quarter. Maybe the thought of a big collision got to him. Irrespective, you learn a lot about players when it is their turn to go, and I reckon those who were a little confused as to where Lukosius is at had it spelled out for them in one moment in this game. His heart is not in it and things like that can be contagious.
IS TOUK MILLER A REAL AA CHANCE?
He’d have to be close. That was the eighth-straight game where he notched 30 touches, and his relentless running is right up there with the best in the competition. He does let himself down a little by foot, but I reckon that’s because he is bloody exhausted half the time!
In a way, he reminds me of Adam Treloar… which a much better defensive side to his game. Wins his own footy, never slows down, and will wrap you up like a cheap gift if you have the audacity to take him on. In the end, it will be the Suns’ poor record that consigns him to the squad of 40 and prevents him going anywhere else.
WHAT CAN TARRYN THOMAS BE?
Seriously, with his skill and ability, his upside is enormous. But he still goes completely missing for too long during games.
He was close to the most impactful player on the ground in the first quarter, with all of his five touches being meaningful, but then, he kind of goes into his shell and plays the type of free-flowing, non-committed footy that sees teams get themselves in trouble.
If he plays a full four-quarter game, we are going to be in for something special, but he has to be more than a flashy half forward that pinch hits in the middle now again. Like some of the others mentioned in this article, he is a baby in AFL terms – 21 years old – but the seeds are there and we’ve seen what he is capable of. He just needs to start delivering more often.
IS LACHIE YOUNG AFL STANDARD?
Nup, and there is no other way to say it.
Maybe a year or so more in the VFL to get some body strength would be helpful, but he has a fair bit of “deer in the headlights” about him, and I just don’t trust him at the top level yet.
HOW FAR IS ROBBIE TARRANT OFF HIS BEST?
A bit yet.
He looks as though he is easing into the season. This was what – his third game back? He crashed a couple of contests in this one, which was good to see, but we’re yet to see him plant himself across half back and pretend to be a brick wall. You’d hope it’s on its way soon.
WHAT IS NICK LARKEY’S CEILING?
I oscillate on this quite often. I’m not sure he is the answer at full forward, but I can see him being a pretty damn good centre half forward, and – a stretch, I know – a very good centre half back at some stage.
Of course, good forwards are very difficult to find, and kicking multiple goals on seven occasions this season is nothing to sneeze at. You’d like to see him at two goals per game for the remainder of the year, and bump his numbers up to around the same number for contested grabs. If he can do that, maybe he does become the key forward the Roos need.
Did Nick Dal Santo mention that Alex Sexton should be inserted into the middle of the ground to give the Suns some bite around stoppages? Well, the medicinal cannabis industry is quite prolific in Tassie, and I reckon NDS may have had some shipped to him in his prep for this game.
Sexton has had one clearance in 2021… yep, for the whole season. Yet here is Dal Santos L Helper wanting Dew to throw him in the guts? Give is a rest, Nick.
I hated, hated, hated the dangerous tackle that was awarded to Hugh Greenwood in the last quarter. I am a big believer that the player being tackled should not get rewarded when he is contributing, purposefully, or by accident, to the momentum of the sling tackle. Greenwood threw a foot at the ball, completely giving up any leverage he had and crashing to the ground in the process. He was as much part of the dangerous aspect of the tackler as the tackler, yet he was rewarded for it.
The deliberate decision against Robbie Tarrant… sorry North fans – it was there. I know the commentators were saying it was in the contest, but it wasn’t in a marking contest, and that is the only instance you can spoil the footy over the line. Crap decision, but technically, it was right.
Geez, the Suns miss Sam Collins. North were without Robbie Tarrant for the season up until a couple of weeks ago, but the loss of Collins has murdered the Suns. With his power and size in defensive fifty missing, it’s up to Caleb Graham and Charlie Ballard to do their best. Nick Larkey is not a huge goal kicker at the moment, but their best was nowhere near enough to curtail him.
Oh geez… the Suns get the Tigers on the rebound next week. At the moment, it is scheduled for Metricon Stadium, but who knows where it’ll end up? This could get messy, and puts into context how much they needed to get a win in this one.
The Roos get the Dogs, and damn it, I am really looking forward to that one. Sounds strange? Maybe, but North plays honest footy, and there will come a day when Thomas, Taylor, Stephenson and company all fire at once, and when it happens, they’re gonna give a big shock to whichever team they’re playing. I just have a feeling it might be against the Doggies.
That’ll do me. Hope you enjoyed. Massive thanks to our members who make this all possible. Your ongoing support is greatly appreciated.