At the SCG on Saturday afternoon, Sydney overcame a dogged and accurate effort from a gallant North Melbourne side to register a come from behind victory 13.8 (86) to 12.3 (75)

The Kangaroos were able to get on top of their much more fancied opposition in the first and third quarters, with the Swans gaining back ground to be leading at halftime and at the final siren. The pressure from both sides was fantastic, with North Melbourne, in particular, bringing the heat early, and the Swans unable to get much going. There were no less than ten “holding the ball” frees paid against Sydney, who decided to try to take on the tackles after over-possession of the ball in the clinches. There were mistakes aplenty, however, the class of the Swans won out in the end, as they rode a massive fourth term performance, which I will cover shortly.

 

The Gameplan

North Melbourne troubled Sydney early and often, with the ruck duo of Tristan Xerri and Todd Goldstein causing debuting import Peter Ladhams issues in the ruck, but also Paddy McCartin as the deep defender at times. Disposal was often rushed by Sydney, as North Melbourne maintained a high pressure rating around midfield, and left a lot of space for their forwards to operate in. David Noble deployed former skipper Jack Ziebell as a defensive forward on Dane Rampe in an absolute masterstroke, whereas at the other end John Longmire decided to counter chief rebounder Aaron Hall with small forward James Bell.

 

The Four Quarters

In this game there was a rare occurrence when there was mainly a single player that imposed their will on the game in a single quarter. In each instance, a player took over and went with the “jump on my back and I will take you along” mentality. Allow me to paint a picture of the quarters that mattered, and the players that stood tall..

Quarter 1- Jason Horne- Francis

The Kangaroos’ marquee rookie started off great in the first stanza, setting the scene for his fellow midfielders to get involved. Opposed to Swans magnet Luke Parker, the number one pick was everywhere early, accumulating seven possessions, three centre clearances, five contested possessions, and three tackles. JHF looked largely unfazed by the quality of his opposition and took the challenge of the battle-hardened midfield head-on. He demonstrated his trademark evasion and composure early, while Parker gave him somewhat of a “cushion of space” often setting up on the defensive goal side of him, wary of getting torched by his acceleration. When it was all said and done, JHF accounted for 23 disposals, four marks, five tackles and six total clearances in a “strength to strength display- taking the points easily against his chief matchup Parker.

Quarter 2- Chad Warner/Jack Ziebell

With Sydney lacking desperation and movement, up stepped the bleached bombshell Chad Warner. While his quarter might have looked average on paper, Warner played a cameo to turn the tide back in the Swans’ direction. Yes, he accounted for only four possessions in the second term, however, he kicked a goal, had two centre clearances and his fourth possession was a swift handball while getting dragged to ground that helped break up a 2v1 and allowed Sydney to march down the field for another shot at goal. While those contributions may look minimal at face value, rest assured, they also lifted the morale of his teammates. Adding to his damage with the ball, he was a menace around the ball user, accounting for a few vital deflections that broke up play at vital stages.

At the other end it was Ziebell stepping up to keep firing back for the Kangaroos. Providing a massive headache to gun defender Dane Rampe, Ziebell booted 2.1 from his three touches in the second term, adding two tackles and taking two marks. Despite his battle-worn body, Ziebell is still one of the most explosive “off the mark athletes” in the game in terms of pure power off a standing start. Ziebell booted a career-high equalling five goals from nine touches with three marks, while also clamping down on Rampe in an equally impressively defensive effort.

Quarter 3- Jy Simpkin

In the third quarter, Sydney had just completed the first comeback.. erasing a three-goal deficit during the second quarter, taking a three-point halftime lead into the sheds. With the momentum back with the home team, it was now the visitors turn to fire back… Enter Jy Simpkin

In a dominant “premiership quarter” with only points on the line, Simpkin got his second wind, lifting his side back into the lead at the final change, accounting for 13 of his game-high 33 possessions, Simpkin could not be stopped by the Swans brigade. Adding a goal and three inside 50’s he combined with Ziebell to once again wrestle the lead back from the Swans. Simpkin finished as the game leader in disposals, adding five clearances and six score involvements- to lead the Roos on ball brigade. Simpkin covered 15.2km for the match- tied with Errol Gulden for game high distance

Quarter 4- Justin McInerney

Sydney were on the ropes in the last term and needed something special.

Enter Justin McInerney. With the game in the balance, the returning midfielder was brilliant when it mattered most. The 21-year-old dominated the final term, with 14 of his 30 possessions, four marks, three clearances and a goal. Even more impressive was his workrate in the term, as he also added two I50 entries and three rebound 50’s working end to end tirelessly, capping off arguably a BOG performance. He finished up with an equal game-high  sevenclearances to cap off his day.

 

For Whom The Bell Tolls

For John Longmire, he put together a plan to stop Aaron Hall. For the most part, Hall still found the football- but it came at a cost.

If you were to take a look at the stat sheet, you would see the generic Hall game. 25 touches, 22 of which were kicks, a game-high 670m + gained and 88% efficiency. Sure, not bad at all. But let’s take a closer look.

Hall is a very dangerous player when he is allowed time and space to carry the football, yet I don’t believe he is as damaging with the ball as some suggest. He largely gets bailed out with going long to his tall timber down the line, and largely that works, but seldom does he lower the eyes anymore outside of a 20m give and go. Longmire decided to counter with speedster James Bell, and it worked very well, because if you asked any AFL viewer that knows some of the players, they can surmise that Hall is anything but accountable.

Don’t get me wrong, Hall played a very handy game and launched many Kangaroos counter attacks, however, he managed to shoot himself in the foot a few times in crucial spots. Bell tallied eight disposals, took four marks and kicked two crucial goals. Let’s be honest, Hall paid Bell about as much respect as a coriander garnish and forced North Melbourne to employ another defender for the task of running with Bell.

 

O’Brother Where Art Thou

If you were to do a google search right now to locate Nick Larkey, don’t bother, as he is residing in either the left pocket or right pocket of Tom McCartin. A few weeks after feasting on half a WAFL team, Larkey was completely outworked by the young key defender for the Swans. Despite collecting only four touches himself, Tom was in control from start to finish. Adding a contested mark to go along with eight one-percenters, a goal assist and two score involvements he demoralised the Kangaroos key forward, almost appearing to mentally wear him down, as Larkey looked uninterested and argumentative at times. His work rate appeared non-existent.

Older brother and converted key forward Paddy, was in good shape too. He did have his hands full very early with Goldstein in particular and the odd occasion he was switched onto Ziebell. The synergy with his brother is a sight to see, as he had continued his transformation from “Draft Bust” to one of the better key defenders in the competition. Nine of ten possessions were intercepts, and he added three rebound 50’s for good measure.

 

The Stat That Mattered

Here’s something that might sound blasphemous at first, but hear me out.

One of the chief reasons that North Melbourne lost this game was their inability to stop the ball in general play. They possess two of the best “behind the ball” players in Hall and Luke McDonald, who shared 53 possessions and 15 marks between them, however as a pair they tallied only nine intercept possessions – incomparison, three Swans defenders: Braeden Campbell, Paddy McCartin and Dane Rampe all equalled that total, which tells me that something has to change. To be fair, McDonald was situated on a wing so his positioning could have been somewhat compromised, and in this game it showed with Hall, in particular, what flaws he brings to the table. He reminds me a bit of Russell Westbrook in that his individual game can take over for what the team needs, and that he is capable of brilliance and brain fade.

For the Swans, having more calculated ball movement from defence was a massive catalyst when it mattered most, Nick Blakey copped a great negating tag from Kayne Turner for the majority of the game, however, he still managed seven intercepts, combining with improving young gun Campbell- who I believe should be in the talk of the best kicks in the AFL. Simply put, they need to find a way for their ball users to get involved when it counts, perhaps moving McDonald to half-back and using Hall on McInerney- who roasted McDonald on the outside before moving inside late in the quarter opposed to Jason Horne-Francis, could have been the play.

 

Battle Of The Bulls

Outside of the main attraction of the marquee midfielders, I’d be remiss if I did not speak on the duel of James Rowbottom and Hugh Greenwood, they went at each other like two rams in a paddock, and this contest proved extremely vital in the second half of this game. On paper, Greenwood may have had the upper hand- with his basketball background being the x factor (we all know how much that’s glossed over by commentators) and for solid portions Greenwood gained the upper hand, able to get Simpkin, in particular, off and running. Rowbottom was able to mix up battling in close, with getting out on the run as well in an encouraging display as well. The pair finished dead even on 17 disposals, however, Greenwood did give away two free kicks that stopped scoring chains in the last quarter.

 

McKay vs Franklin

Buddy looked to be moving freely early in this one, almost as if he was relieved of having met his goalkicking milestone it was back to business as usual. McKay was under siege for a vast majority of the game, and played Franklin pretty well- all things considered. Franklin finished with 2.0 from seven disposals, six marks (two contested) and also showed a willingness to apply some forward pressure, which sadly proved to be his undoing.

In the third quarter, Franklin was on the charge and laid a tackle in the forward pocket, but was slow to rise. He came from the ground with what appeared to be a wrist injury, and at first sight, I questioned the substitution as more-so “tactical” than anything. As Ben Ronke was injected into the game, kicking a goal almost immediately and lifting the defensive pressure of the Swans forwards. Cut to Franklin and it was noted that there was no ice, splint or anything on his hand while he was sitting on the bench, so I sat there wondering if the injury was in fact legitimate, or a tactical manipulation. The injury in fact turned out to be legitimate, with Franklin breaking a finger, however with Logan McDonald and Joel Amartey kicking 7.6 between them in the reserves game, backup is there.

McKay was solid in the contest opportunities as well, and could hold his head high, as Franklin gave away three free kicks, and the Roos linchpin accounted for 11 disposals, five marks (two contested) and six one percenters.

A behind goal camera highlighted the amount of off ball movement that Franklin was implementing on a lead setup early in the second quarter – and I love those sort of angles, showing the exact movement patterns used to get position on (what appears to be) an uncontested mark on the lead. For those that didn’t see it, just imagine McKay and Franklin waltzing in a phone box before Franklin was able to break off and get a few steps on his defender. A great insight into how a player can set up his defender to gain a step.

 

Roos Small Forwards

The heat bought to the contest by the Kangaroos smalls was outstanding, and Sydney looked completely underprepared. North Melbourne bought a kamikaze attack on the ball carrier, which was not helped by somewhat of disrespect by Sydney, who looked like they were of the belief they could waltz through the tackles, to no avail.

Ziebell set the standard early, kicking the first goal of the game after running down Nick Blakey 30m out from goal, to duly convert. Led by Jack Mahony, North kept up that pressure for a long period of the contest, and that kept them within striking distance the whole game, players like Stephenson, Bosenavulagi, and Taylor all bought the heat and stopped the Swans from having an easy day. It was pleasing to see, but also worrisome that Cameron Zurhaar couldn’t impart much in the way of physicality for most of the game, until he brilliantly put his body on the line against McCartin in a head on collision to win a loose ball at half forward, though the Roo came off second best, being subbed out shortly after, as both men felt the effects. Sydney’s defensive intent was evident, as there was only a difference of one tackle for the game, the main difference was that North were able to capitalise and get more reward for effort. Mahoney was vital, kicking a goal from 14 possessions, taking five marks and laying eight tackles (three inside 50)

 

Mills On His Merry Way

With Heeney reduced to a defensive role until he drove the nail into the coffin with two late goals, it was Mills that carried the load for the game until McInerney took over in the last as well. His workrate from midfield was a massive catalyst around the ground, as the rest of the midfield had up and down patches, there was one consistent.. Mills

He did a little bit of everything, accumulating 28 disposals (86% efficiency), seven marks, four tackles, two goals assists, eight score involvements, seven clearances, six inside 50’s and three rebound 50’s in a great four-quarter effort. Mills continues to slip under the guard in regard to the “best of the young midfielders” discussion, but he has stepped up big time with the move of Josh Kennedy to half-back, after also serving his apprenticeship as a rebounding half back as well.

 

Brett’s Blast- Peter Ladhams

Granted, it was his first game in Swans colours, and John Longmire went with the interesting call to drop backup ruck Joel Amartey after losing Tom Hickey to injury. Ladhams battled two legit rucks in Goldstein and Xerri however he gave away five ruck free kicks and also failed to play to the whistle on multiple occasions, turning in and appealing for free kicks while in the vicinity of the contested ball. He is saved from an absolute roasting as he made arguably the most vital defensive play of the game; with under a minute left he made up for his earlier troubles by spoiling an ill-advised Bosenavulagi 20m chip to Todd Goldstein at centre half-forward, starting the counter-attack that saw Heeney goal to ice the game. With Tim Nic Nat looming, Ladhams simply has to be more involved next week otherwise they might be in for a rough day in the coal face.

 

Quick Takes

Errol Gulden really needs to lift. He struggled to have an impact in this one, despite his numbers in the contest- all I can tell you is that he showed he has a nice right to left step move.

Luke Parker really needs to tighten up on his defensive work, possibly he had been a bit complacent after finding the scoreboard a few times in the opening rounds. He didn’t seem to adapt well, especially when JHF was able to get ascendancy in the first term.

I think LDU could still be finding his feet again from his concussion, he attended “only” 15 centre bounces and managed only one clearances to go with 20 disposals, a bit of a down day from the young inside midfielder. Speaking of inside mids, Greenwood spent almost a third of the game on the bench, and I think he should be able to impact the game still even when not in the midfield, as he had some success as a makeshift Centre Half Forward in his stint with the Suns.

As previously mentioned, Larkey’s work rate needs to lift, as he has the look of a downhill skier at times, but also the question must be asked – How far off is recruit Callum Coleman-Jones? His John Hancock was highly coveted from Punt Road in the off-season, and perhaps Larkey’s attitude changes with the new recruit breathing down his neck? The VFL club had a bye on the weekend, so the pressure may be off for now, and Larkey is only young, however even if he struggles against the better defensive units- that’s ok. However, when the workrate drops right off it has a really bad look, especially with what he is capable of.

Swans would have been happy to have Sam Reid back. The 30-year-old was flying for marks and moved pretty well, booting 1.2 and taking five marks as well as keeping underrated defender Josh Walker honest. With Hickey out for around 4-6 weeks, some of the ruck backup will fall on the key forward. He will play a very vital part in the upcoming weeks in the absence of not only Hickey, but Franklin.

Handy performance from Bailey Scott in defence, he accumulated 19 disposals, eight intercepts, three inside 50 entries, five rebounds in an encouraging game. I’ve always liked the way he goes about it, unassuming and sticks to his task whatever he has to do. A good honest football player, the type of player every team needs.

 

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