On a Sunday afternoon under the roof of Marvel Stadium, the equation for the Swans is simple for them in their bid for a top-four berth; win.
Against a lowly North Melbourne side destined for a second consecutive wooden spoon, you would’ve expected the Swans to do this win comfortably and really cement themselves inside the top four, with Brisbane playing (and eventually beating) Carlton later on in the day.
With Melbourne dropping their game to Collingwood on Friday night, a sizeable win over the Roos in this match meant that they could leapfrog the Dees into third spot at the conclusion of round 21.
After a first half that saw North bring the heat to the Swans around the contest, the Swans eventually broke clear in the second half with a burst that saw the Swans kick five goals in a row in the third term and led by as much as nearly 10 goals midway through the last quarter.
But the Swans parked the bus in the latter stages of the final term and North Melbourne kicked the last three goals of the match to turn it back into a respectable 38-point margin.
For Sydney, it’s a result that sets up a big match next week against a Collingwood side that are now on the search for 12 wins in a row, remarkable to think about considering that no one really rated the Pies at the start of the season.
The Swans have had good moments throughout the year, but have also had some games where they’ve severely wobbled and have looked nothing like a top-four-bound side, however, in the past few weeks, they’ve found the right form that will take them far into September.
They’d be disappointed with the efforts of the last quarter in which they could’ve really put them to the sword. In fact, at halftime, they had 18 scoring shots to six, they had enough of the ball and enough scoring shots to make it dead in the water by halftime, but North’s pressure kept things interesting for a little while.
It’s a bit late, apologies for it, but it’s been a busy weekend for yours truly, but the autopsy is out now from Sydney’s win against North Melbourne.
HOW GOOD IS JAMES ROWBOTTOM GOING TO BE?
From the early goings of his career, it looked as if James Rowbottom was going to be that grunt guy in the young core group of Swans, the guy willing to get his hands dirty for the benefit of others around him.
The stats indicate it; averaging over six tackles per game for the second season straight, but he’s steadily finding offensive layers to his game that are going to make him such a problem for the opposition in the years that follow. He’s 21, turning 22 next month, so to say that he’s already finding new layers to his game, I eagerly anticipate exactly what he can do in the prime of his career.
Rowbottom set the tone in the opening term through sheer work rate to push himself to be the next link in the chain in terms of general play. In his earlier years, the criticisms of his ball use by foot were quite warranted, often met with rushed decisions and a want to move the ball along without actually thinking about the next part of the play.
Well, he’s gradually finding his way in the Sydney side and in this one, I thought he was simply brilliant, it was a perfect two-way midfielders game, and he was able to find himself offensively able to help the Swans both through transition and in the contested situations, but defensively too, where his pressure and his tackling is as good as it’s ever been.
Rowbottom ended the first quarter with 10 disposals and finished with 22 for the game, but also had 11 contested possessions and 10 ground ball gets and two direct goal assists. His kicking went at 50 percent efficiency, but with only four turnovers, I saw more methodical and discipline with picking out options in general play, that if I was John Longmire, I’d be happy with how he’s looking to use the ball.
Defensively, he was great too. Six tackles in this one keeps his season average of 6.5 tackles per game hovering around the mark for another week, and 21 pressure acts are a good example of his defensive work as a midfielder.
HOW GOOD IS CHAD WARNER NOW?
Every week this kid plays, I immediately ask myself how the hell he slipped as low as pick 39?
Admittedly, I hadn’t kept much tabs on Chad Warner during his draft year in 2019, but back then were much different times personally. However, one big visual swig of his draft highlights were enough for me to state that the kid can be something at the top level.
One big constant in his highlights is his repeat efforts. At any level of football, the willingness to work and the willingness to push to the next contest is so pivotal for not just individual success, but the teams too, and Chad does a lot right in terms of work ethic and willingness to put his head over the ball and make it his.
What I hadn’t expected so soon is just how impactful he can be on contests and the impact he has when he gets the ball forward of centre. We saw a bit of it last year when he was still working his way to being a best 22 player for the Swans, but this year, he has firmly cemented his spot in the Sydney team on the back of an insatiable appetite to run with the ball and to move it forward at all costs.
He had eight disposals to quarter time and very little influence on the game and it looked like at multiple times throughout that he had Jy Simpkin for company, and he is no fool of a football player either; I think 31 disposals, six tackles, six clearances and 11 contested possessions attest to that.
But Warner flicked the switch in the third term and put in a massive second half that saw him kick 3.2 – could’ve easily had been four or five goals if he steadied up, but the fact that he can find himself in scoring opportunities so often as a midfielder speak volumes about not just how good he’ll be in his peak, but how good he is now.
Warner finished with 20 disposals, but it felt as if every one of them were damaging; 633 metres gained, along with six clearances, four tackles, 11 score involvements and seven inside 50s.
Simply put, this kid is something special.
BIG BAD BAG FOR LARKEY
Regardless of who is coach at North Melbourne next year, whether it’s Alastair Clarkson, Leigh Adams or my Mum, the first order of business for whoever is in charge of this team needs to find forwards to support Nick Larkey moving ahead to 2023 and beyond.
With seven goals in this one, Larkey pulled down the pants of Tom McCartin nearly every time the ball went in the direction of the pair and it often resulted in McCartin panicking and giving away a free kick. Not all of it is his fault, the kicks towards Larkey were actually very good, a lot of them were placed to his advantage and it forced the hand of the Swans’ defender at times.
McCartin was the direct opponent and conceded five of the seven goals, Dane Rampe was responsible for the other two.
But having said that, the forwards surrounding him are spotty at best. There’s Cam Zurhaar, who chipped in with two goals in this one, but was well held for about 80 percent of the game.
Paul Curtis has a future at North, but in this one, he struggled to look dangerous anywhere near goal, Curtis Taylor was playing further up the ground as a half-forward type and Callum Coleman-Jones is someone I’m not entirely convinced about as a forward option either.
In amidst this dark period for the Kangaroos, the development of Larkey has been one of a few rare positives. He kicked seven last year when they pantsed Carlton and made them look like a ship of fools and kicked six earlier this year against a depleted West Coast side.
It’s going to be scary to think about just how much damage he can cause when the team finds more winners around the ground so that they can get around 50-60 inside 50 entries on a more consistent basis, he’d be up there with the rest of them for the Coleman Medal race.
SPEAKING OF BUILDING A TEAM AROUND SOMEONE…
Luke Davies-Uniacke. There hasn’t been much to cheer about if you’re a North Melbourne supporter the last couple of years, even Jason Horne-Francis is making a few supporters a bit anxious about where it’s all heading.
But the man that people sometimes call him ‘LDU’ or if they’re a few cans deep, ‘UDL’, was in ripping form in this game and heading into the next era of this club, will be the number one midfielder going forward.
We’ve touched on Jy Simpkin’s game just briefly and whilst he was very good, he doesn’t have what Davies-Uniacke has, and that’s pure power to burst away from stoppage. Simpkin is a good extractor and has got the tank to cover the ground for a large amount of game time.
But seeing Davies-Uniacke just power through the middle of Marvel Stadium a few times just makes you think that this guy is destined to be a big-time player when he gets the midfield support around him and North become a side that is jostling for the mid-tier again.
Jed Anderson has been serviceable for the Roos over the years, but is he in their next premiership team? Same can be applied to Hugh Greenwood too and Ben Cunnington just got through his first VFL game since being diagnosed with testicular cancer, but you’d have to imagine he’s almost on borrowed time as well, being 31 years of age, being the tough bastard that he is, he won’t let it bother him too much, it’s something to think about going forward.
Davies-Uniacke’s ability to not just win the ground ball, but also the ability to take ground when he does have the ball is fast turning into his lethal weapon in a North Melbourne side that is barely wielding any.
30 disposals, with almost half of them being contested situations, to go along with 11 ground ball gets and five clearances are good inside numbers, but 1.1 and two goal assists are numbers that suggest that he’s getting forward of centre and is getting his lick of the ice cream as they say in certain parts of the world when it comes to sport; nine score involvements are also a good indicator of his impact with the ball.
He also led all North players for pressure acts with 24 for the match, to go along with five tackles in a strong defensive game.
NOTHING FAZES THE BUD
Lance Franklin, being the high-profile, Hall of Fame legend in waiting that he is, doesn’t seem to shy away from the spotlight when it comes calling his name.
The news and talk about his contract situation with Sydney grows with each passing day, but in all honesty, I cannot see him going anywhere else at 35, going on 36 by the time season 2023 rolls around.
But all the talk didn’t faze him in this one. Aidan Corr had the direct match-up on him in this game and whilst I’ve lamented about his defensive capabilities for a lot of his career, he actually held up well against the big fella, backing himself in to commit to the contest a number of times and actually winning.
And in all actuality, there were a couple of instances in this game where North Melbourne set themselves up around Buddy, knowing full well that Sydney love kicking it down his direction more often than not, gave Corr more than a good chance to break even.
In spite of that, Buddy went home with a bag of four in this game; but it didn’t exactly feel like he commanded this game like he has in many games over the course of this journey. Actually, a lot of the Sydney forwards got their lick of the ice cream and contributed to the scoreboard.
Papley kicked three goals and crumbed beautifully, Isaac Heeney contributed with two, Logan McDonald had a good patch in the second half where he was used a little bit more and Sam Reid had a great five minutes up forward in the second half, continuing his renaissance as the second ruck/key forward man.
But with 4.3 Buddy continues to be the cornerstone of the Sydney forward line, how good was it seeing him celebrate a goal with his right foot? He’s nearly done it all as one of the great key forwards in football, but he is still managing to find ways to enjoy himself at such an age.
Let’s start with the game of Jaidyn Stephenson; offensively, he was actually okay – he was getting involved with the ball in his hands and he was creating well enough. Just a couple of major lapses in concentration cost his side a couple of goals when it could’ve easily been prevented.
Mentioned Isaac Heeney’s game before, just a further breakdown indicated that he was playing a little further up the ground in this one, but his delivery with the ball in hand is beautiful; he had 11 kicks and went at 82 percent kicking efficiency and had 11 score involvements with his 21 disposals.
Great ruck battle between Tom Hickey and Todd Goldstein, the big Roo ruckman had some good moments, but Hickey beat him out on ruck hitouts and clearances, outlining just how good his repeat efforts have been over the past 12 months; 38 hitouts, nine to advantage to Goldstein’s 19 and 3, but also chipped in with nine clearances, four from centre bounces and 20 disposals, 15 of which were contested.
On expectations for a number one draft pick, it wasn’t a great statistical game by Jason Horne-Francis, but I thought he bore in for the contest at a lot of points in this game. he finished with five clearances and nine contested possessions.
Another player with sublime talent is Ollie Florent. Every time he had the ball in his hands, he looked like he was willing to split the game open and was quite good with his kicking skills – 12 kicks at 92 percent and 17 disposals at 88 percent is quality numbers for a wingman.
The commentators made mention of Ryan Clarke’s job of Aaron Hall during this game, but I’m not entirely sure if they matched up for the entirety of it. Hall finished with 20 disposals, so a little down on his year to date, but also kicked a great goal from long range. Clarke had the nine disposals, but missed a sitter of a shot early on.
I love Errol Gulden. Great speed, great foot skills – he looks more and more like a natural footballer every time I watch him play, just picks out the right options and does such a great job of linking up to be the next runner in the transitional play.
I also love Will Hayward, only finished with 1.2 in this game, but I thought the way he leads and presents to his teammates as a mid-sized forward option is almost second to none in the entire competition.
And on that love dump, that’ll do me for this one. Apologies for a massive delay in this one. It’s been a long weekend of double stacking on commitments outside of the Mongrel, only further compounded by the fact that my car broke down on the way to University on Monday morning – how good is it being me right now?
Anyway, the Swans are back in the top four and have set themselves up for a mouth watering clash against the white-hot Collingwood outfit next Sunday afternoon at home at the SCG – a win there would see them almost lock in a top four spot and further cement their rich vein of form that they’re currently in.
As for the Kangaroos, they tackle an Adelaide side who have found some winning form the last couple of weeks and at the Adelaide Oval as well, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of avoiding a second-straight wooden spoon.