Hawthorn v North Melbourne – The Good, Bad, and Ugly

 

Footy is a simple game, at times. You see the ball, get the ball and put it through the big sticks. In essence, you could explain that to a new fan and they’d get the gist of it, only to run into a million different nuances as the game unfolds before them.

Imagine for a moment, sitting with a new fan and watching Hawthorn versus North Melbourne in Round One. What would you emphasise as the next most important aspect of the game?

Fitness? Marking? Hitting targets? Not fumbling?

The last one would be pretty high on the list for me, and in many ways, it was the number of fumbles from North Melbourne that cost them the game. Whether it was double-grabbing at ground level, or completely botching a mark that simply had to be taken, North cost themselves any chance at winning by putting the ball to ground too often, and Hawthorn won the game by simply doing it less.

The endeavour was certainly there – both teams have players that are absolutely willing to crack in and win their own footy, and with experience will come more composure, but right now, we have two groups that will struggle to win games based on what we witnessed today.

In the end, it was the Hawks with more soldiers unwilling to shoot themselves or their teammates in the foot, winning by 20-points. Let’s jump in and see which of the young stars shines brightest, who showed they have a bit left to give, and who will be on notice after this outing with The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

WELCOME RETURNS

With a fair bit of talent still awaiting a place in this Hawthorn team (Will Day, Jarman Impey, Luke Breust, Ben McEvoy), the returns of Jack Gunston and James Sicily were always going to be huge for the Hawks. As bookends, how they slot back into this team is viewed as an indicator as to whether the Hawks could improve in 2022, or whether they were going to head back into the cellar.

With the Hawks emerging victorious, it is pertinent to look at just how influential both players over the course of the game.

Jack Gunston could have ripped this game to pieces had he kicked straight early in the contest.

With three misses before registering his first goal, Gunston took a while to get his bearings, but there were enough little moments to indicate that even if he had not hit the scoreboard, he would not be far away from doing so. His shimmy on the boundary and inboard kick to Dylan Moore was excellent (spilled by Moore, unfortunately) and his hands at ground level were clean. One of the first things to go and the last to come back is a players’  hands below his knees, but Gunston moved like he had not missed a beat. Once Breust returns (next week), these two have the capacity to be the perfect mentors/foils for Mitch Lewis and Dylan Moore.

At the other end, James Sicily looked excellent early in the piece before tapering off slightly in the second half, which probably should be expected.

It was good to see Sic speaking with emotion in his voice after the game about how good it was to be back out there, and to see him finish with 27 touches and seven intercepts was just about the perfect reintroduction to footy after over 12 months on the sidelines.

His presence in defence seemed to make Sam Frost walk taller, with both he and Changkuoth Jiath picking up a heap of intercept possessions.

 

MR FIX-IT

Where would North Melbourne have been without Luke McDonald in this game?

A lot further behind would be my guess.

There was a point late in the second quarter that belonged to McDonald, as he continually dropped into the hole and cut the Hawks’ attack off at the knees. For the second quarter alone, McDonald had 11 disposals and six intercepts as he continually found the right spots to position himself, and his hands were clean enough to drag in 12 marks for the game.

North missed his presence last season. Immensely so. His work rate, vision, and ability to see the game unfolding in front of him gives the team a reliable intercept option. Sadly, his defensive skills were needed to curtail the influence of Jack Gunston in the second half, preventing him from becoming a complete stats monster, but Gunston was much quieter with McDonald for company, only kicking one goal on him once the game was out of reach.

McDonald can be used in multiple roles. We’ve seen him in the traditional midfield position,but he was also able to switch things up, playing a tagging role at times as well. Looking at North’s structure, they cannot really afford to have him too far away from defensive fifty at the moment, but at points this season, it would be good to see him have a little more leeway to run forward and use his skills to set his teammates up.

 

DON’T SLEEP ON CJ

I have to admit, when I heard CJ described as “fit enough” to play in this game, I may have screwed up my face a little.

Fit enough?

It kind of made it sound as though he should be right, but if something went wrong, well… we were kind of expecting that, too.

Nothing went wrong in this one for CJ, as he played the role of floating defender brilliantly in the first half, before putting on the jets in the second half and stretching his opponent. At that point, his opponent was no other than the number one draft pick, Jason Horne-Francis, who opted not to run with CJ as he took off from half-back.

Two possessions later, Jiath had played a big role in Jack Gunston’s second goal, and JHF was still standing in North’s attacking fifty, perhaps wondering if it was a good idea, after all, to allow Jiath to run off him and pay him no respect.

Jiath had nine intercepts amongst his 24 touches, and added seven one-percenters to his totals in one of the better outings I’ve seen from him to date.

 

THE DUKE

When I looked up the numbers for Jai Newcombe in this game, I had to do a bit of a double-take. Just 18 touches? It felt like a hell of a lot more than that.

He had a quiet second quarter, but late in the game, his hard run and carry aided the Hawks to put distance between them and the Roos. Newcombe is never going to be accused of being a finesse footballer, but his bullocking work, and willingness to throw himself at the footy provide the kind of example that compels teammates to do the same.

Not only did he hit the scoreboard for a goal of his own in this one, but he also dished three direct goal assists to make him the most popular player at the club this coming week. He won’t buy a coffee all week.

 

TIME TO BLOOM?

I like Ben McKay. At times I think he might be a little passive, but as a big defender, he is difficult to move and gets to the right spots.

That’s what makes Mitch Lewis’  first quarter so great.

The big Hawk kicked two goals and clunked six marks (four contested) as he made a big statement about his trajectory in 2022. The Hawks picked Lewis ahead of Jacob Koschitzke, and he repaid their faith in a big way, providing an excellent marking target both inside the arc and up to the wing on occasion.

If I am being honest, I had Lewis behind Koschitzke last season, mainly due to age and similar output, but Sam Mitchell must like what he sees from Lewis, as he went with him as the number one option and it proved to be the right call.

Lewis finished the contest with three goals, 13 touches and nine marks, falling off the pace as the focus moved to Gunston, but his start to this game is the type of effort that puts a defence into panic mode. Once that happens, and chaos ensues, it is then that players like Dylan Moore and Luke Breust can wreak havoc.

When a team improves suddenly, it is usually due to players in that 22-24 age bracket making the move from boys to men. At 23, Lewis is right, smack-bang in that window. He has the veteran support around him, and his confidence will be up after this outing. Sometimes, all it it takes is two or three consistent games to instil faith in a player. Mitch Lewis has cleared the first hurdle. Let’s hope he can do it again over the next couple of rounds.

 

THE BAD

 

TOP HEAVY, OR THE WRONG SORT OF TOP HEAVY?

When Ben McKay was forced to sit out the remainder of the game with a possible concussion, the fact that North played three ruckmen in the team looked as though it may have come in pretty handy.

McKay is their best big defender, and the Kangaroos’ reliance on him has increased since the departure of Robbie Tarrant, but as the game wore on, it became apparent that none of Todd Goldstein, Tristan Xerri, or Callum Coleman-Jones had the skill set to to move into defensive fifty and help the defence out.

Goldy did go forward and provided a solid target inside 50, whilst Xerri looked combative around the ground and did some nice things.ut in terms of helping out in defence… well, they’re are not really suited to that role.

That left Coleman-Jones as the only other option with the size to go back and lend a hand on Mitch Lewis and Jack Gunston.

Only… it didn’t.

CCJ meandered about the forward line, doing a whole heap of bugger all, leaving Jack Ziebell and Luke McDonald to play much bigger than their actual sizes to counter the marking strength of the Hawks forward. They combined with Aidan Corr, but it quickly became apparent that they were severely outgunned.

Gunston was excellent when matched up on Ziebell. Elusive with and without the ball, he could have finished with five goals, but had to settle for 3.4.

Lewis started like he had a firecracker up his bum, taking clunking marks even with McKay on him, before finishing with three goals for the game as the most imposing big man on the park.

So, I guess the question needs to be asked – what the hell was happening with Coleman-Jones and why couldn’t David Noble move him into defence, even as a floating option to provide some aerial support for his overmatched defence?

It’s not as though he was a vital presence up forward, as four disposals and one mark can attest. Why not move him down back to get him involved?

The Richmond folk were all so high on CCJ, right up until the point he wanted to leave the club. At that point, they started to list his faults. Doesn’t compete hard enough. No urgency. Runs to the wrong spots.

You think they may have been telling the truth once they were no longer compelled to defend him? This game would indicate… maybe.

 

UNDISCIPLINED MITCHELL?

I’m a Tom Mitchell fan – I have never hidden the fact, but in this game he committed two really dumb – and that is a word I never thought I would associate with him when it came to footy – actions that cost the Hawks goals.

Stepping off the line when an opponent feigns a handball is somewhat forgivable – you’re trying to prevent the handball to a player in a better position, and until 12 months ago, you were always permitted to cover off those options. When Nick Larkey cocked the handball and threatened to dish it off to the running Luke McDonald, Mitchell fell for it, hook, line, and sinker, giving he North full-forward a 50 metre penalty and allowing him to slot the goal from 40 metres out.

The other one was a little worse, as it is one of the tweaks the umps have made this season, but it just comes down to common bloody sense. When the umpire calls for the footy, give it to him!

As the umpire repeatedly said “straight back… straight back…” it quickly became apparent that Mitchell was stalling to allow his teammates to get set up around the stoppage. The ump, however, was having none of it and pinged Mitchell for wasting time.

If you’ve got your Hawthorn hat on, you may be tempted to argue that it was a harsh and unnecessary punishment for such a minor infraction, right? You’d be correct on the first part – it was harsh, but this was the EXACT type of scenario that was outlined to teams prior to the season commencing. Was Mitchell playing Wordle when this instruction was given?

The ensuing free kick drove North inside 50 where Todd Goldstein took a contested mark and kept the Roos in touch. I may be a Tom Mitchell fan, and I have never bought into the garbage “his disposals don’t hurt” commentary, but I do have high expectations of him. With two silly indiscretions in the same game, he aided North to remain in the hunt when the Hawks should have been putting the game beyond doubt.

Let’s hope this was just a hiccup.

 

MISSING IN ACTION

One thing about the AFL – you simply cannot carry players who are having a poor run.

One poor performance…. that’s okay, but as we head into Round Two, there are a few blokes needing to pull their fingers out.

JAEGER O’MEARA – A horrid game from him – maybe the worst I have seen from him in brown and gold. Four disposals in the first half before picking things up late. Nowhere near having his perfomance match his reputation.

TARRYN THOMAS – Did not deliver. Struggled to remain involved and in a game where players were fumbling way too often, his sure hands would have been pivotal. I have no idea where he got to for long stretches, but one thing is for sure – he was not where the footy was.

CAM ZURHAAR – He’s a bull… yes, yes… he likes to hurt people, yada yada… He managed eight touches and no scoreboard impact in this one, and despite how much the commentators love him, he did bugger all in this game.

JAMES WORPEL – If you can tell me how a bloke can have 12 touches, with four turnovers and still go at 92% efficiency, I’d be grateful. Little to no impact in a performance that is becoming a little too regular.

THE UGLY

 

IS THIS AS GOOD AS IT GETS?

Okay, take your seat in the Mongrel Time Machine, put your seatbelt on, hold onto the Jesus bar and off we go…

The year is 2018 and a young, thin, rake of a player has just slotted 38 goals for the season en route to winning the Ron Evans Medal as the league’s Rising Star. Playing for Collingwood, the future looks incredibly bright for young, Jaidyn Stephenson, with a blistering burst of pace and an ability to find space inside 50 to punish the opposition.

Some are asking whether he could be the next great small forward. Others are wondering whether he could move into the midfield and use both his speed and supreme kicking skills to tear games open. One thing is for sure, this young man is a can’t miss prospect who will be thrilling AFL crowds for years to come.

Ow was that trip down memory lane? Do you remember it well enough that you look at the game today and your heart just sinks?

What the hell has happened to Jaidyn Stephenson over the past four years? 38 goals in his rookie season, and 55 in the three years following have seen him go from “can’t miss” to “barely ever hits”.

At 23 years of age, he looks like a player that is taking steps backwards and to the side every time we see him.

He had plenty of mates who failed to show up in this one, but what makes it worse for him is that we know what he can do. We’ve seen him play great footy. Others may be battlers, or have not yet found their niche, but Stephenson has provided footy fans with more than just glimpses of talent – he has delivered.

But it seems so long ago, now.

Many will focus on his dropped mark as the Roos exited defensive 50 in the last quarter, but his shot at goal from 40 metres out earlier in the quarter did not even make the damn distance. To compound things, the Hawks marked his errant shot at goal and moved the footy to the other end of the ground without a North player touching the ball.

Stephenson is on record as saying he wants to make Collingwood regret trading him away. How much do you think they regret it right now? I reckon he got only the first two letters correct – Relieved. The Pies would be relieved they traded him away. He’s North’s problem, now. They have to work out how to extract his best footy from him.

Assuming, of course, this is not the best he can conjure?

 

OTHER BITS

 

Jason Horne-Francis… geez, it was as though David King wanted to get up close and personal with him, the way he salivated over the kid. He was handy without starring in this one. I mentioned the non-chase of Jiath, above, but even those clamouring over his ability and potential said he was starting to play for free kicks at one point. Don’t become that player, JHF.

Josh Ward was also quiet, notching 13 touches before rolling an ankle in the final quarter. He spent a bit of time in the guts, but this will have been a great lesson on the difference between practice match intensity and the real thing.

I was glad for Finn Maginness slotting a goal late in the game. At that point, eight of his 13 touches had been turnovers, so to see him slot one was gratifying.

If you’ve ever wanted to see someone taking time to learn a new system, check out Hugh Greenwood in this one. He is always going to put in, but he is evidently still learning the ropes of a new system at North. It might take a while.

I couldn’t help but think how much of a difference Ben Cunnington would have made as the Hawks got a run on in the third quarter. He is the type of bloke that would physically put a stop to that type of stuff. Man, I hope he gets back this year – get well, Ben.

We got the standard mix of blistering run and questionable disposals from Aaron Hall in this one. He looks so damn dangerous at times, and was the only bloke over 30 touches in the game, but a couple of his decisions, they made me want to tear the hair of someone else out. Not my own… I like my hair.

Really solid outing from Jy Simpkin, with 29 touches and a couple of goals, but he looked completely cooked halfway through the last quarter. Ran himself into the ground in this one.

LDU started like a man on a mission. With nine touches and two clearances in the first quarter, my prediction of him being the next Christian Petracca was starting to look good. Alas, he was unable to maintain the rage.

Connor MacDonald was pretty good for the Hawks. Unsung, considering who else was debuting, he quietly went about picking up 16 touches around half-forward.

Finally, I had the feeling this was a crisis/opportunity moment for Curtis Taylor in this game. I’ve rated him for a couple of seasons, but that breakout game remains a little too elusive for him. Moved to the wing in the third quarter, he picked up eight touches and I thought he may have been grabbing this opportunity for a bit of freedom with both hands, but by the time the game was over, he’d gone back into his shell, with just two touches and little influence in the last.

 

And that might just about do me. Great to see Sam Mitchell get his first win, and wonderful to see both big returns from the Hawks. For North, they will rue some of those fumbles and poor handballs to grass. The Hawks kind of made them pay, but if they’re displaying those skills against a top four team, things could get a bit messy.

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!