The Anzac round and its appallingly unsatisfying fixture are upon us. In this particular conflict on the Metricon battlefield, the Gold Coast Suns sit patiently in their trench, looking to use their heavy midfield artillery to good effect against their opponents. On the other side of the battlefield await North Melbourne, nervously aware of the fact that they’ve not won a battle at this ground since around the time of the Boer War, or perhaps even earlier. Let’s see which army came away with the four points.
Out-Clarkoing Clarko: The Suns seem to have received a directive from General Dew to employ a precise kick-mark gameplan. It’s rather resemblant of the Hawks’ style of play when North’s General, Alastair Clarkson was at the helm, and is supremely effective. The Suns notch up four times as many kicks as handballs in the quarter and are already running their opponents ragged.
Social distancing? Yes, please: In a nice little recognition of the Zeitgeist, Gold Coast are being given oodles (oodles, I tell you) of space by North. Clearly North believe that the lockdown is still in place and are accordingly maintaining an ample physical gap from their opponents. It’s a lovely gesture but in a supposedly fierce battle of wills, endurance and guts, it’s rather conducive to Gold Coast’s aims, and the Suns take full advantage, with uncontested possessions and easy transitions into the forward 50 hallmarks of their play in the first quarter.
Small, far away: Unfortunately North fans are unable to use the logic of Father Dougal McGuire (who struggled greatly to differentiate between instances where a creature was small or simply a long way away), in explaining why the North players appear so much smaller and weaker than their counterparts. Seeing Tom Powell matched up on Touk Miller, Bailey Scott on Lachie Weller, Jaidyn Stephenson on Ben Long, is an unpleasant sight for North fans and suggests an incoming belting in the contest.
How’s the humidity?: North have begun the contest in a concerningly lethargic manner. Players aren’t shepherding, they aren’t running to provide an option offensively, they aren’t sticking tackles. I understand the Gold Coast is humid, but it’s autumn, lads. I remember one summer in the Sunshine Coast in which I sprinted full pelt upon seeing the ice cream truck. If I can do it in the height of summer, professional footballers have no excuse not to be able to do it in April.
Holman’s snack preferences: Nick Holman is sent to Harry Sheezel to quell the young lad’s influence off half-back, and it works a treat. Sheezel gets just one touch for the quarter and is entirely ineffectual. Clearly, Holman has taken Sheezel’s presence personally. Maybe he’s more of a Twisties man.
Matthew the Menace: It’s not quite as catchy as Dennis, is it? But it’s nevertheless applicable to Matt Rowell, who is absolutely relishing the contest. He stands up in tackles, hunts his opponents with ferocity, and consistently ekes out handballs to his outside runners. He might not ever get that pre-injury explosiveness back, but he provides a bloody good argument for why effort is so important in this sport.
Bombing it in hope: It may be Anzac round, but North aren’t exactly embodying the war nous of the ANZACs with their disposals as they consistently launch bombs at both ends of the ground without any regard for accuracy or tactical effectiveness. It’s likely the result of perceived pressure and bears a distinct resemblance to the David Noble days. It’s really quite remarkable that they kick three goals for the term, and the 21 point half time margin isn’t reflective of what’s taken place on the field so far.
Hero Stepho: Jaidyn Stephenson is the one unruffled player for the Roos, cleverly waiting down at a contest and converting for his second goal of the game, and then weighting a lovely pass inside 50 for Curtis Taylor to mark and goal. Either Clarko’s helped completely switch his mentality this year or he’s gone colour blind and believes he still wears a Collingwood guernsey. To be honest, I don’t really care either way.
The ease of rebounding: Not since Bill Russell played for the Boston Celtics has a professional sporting organisation dominated rebounds to such an extent. Lachie Weller and Wil Powell in particular are having their way in the two non-attacking thirds (yes I made that up just then, sue me), and the pressure from North is non-existent. In many ways, North, with their complete lack of leg speed and reliance on the contest, are an ideal opponent for the Suns. It must be nice for Stuey Dew to have this matchup to look forward to whenever he’s feeling the heat.
The King shares his feast: Having kicked a lazy four goals in the first half, Ben King vacates his spot at the scoring banquet and lets his entourage get in on some of the scoring action. Amongst the feasting names are the Jester Jack Lukosius, Sir Humphrey of West Gippsland, and… Ben Ainsworth (sorry, that name’s just too bog-standard for me to put a royal spin on it).
You’re contesting with the wrong team, boys: The communication in the North ranks has been poor and continues to be poor. On a couple of occasions, for reasons that have yet to become apparent to me, a North player swoops in and takes the ball out of the path of his teammate, or gives the ball to a teammate in a worse position. This sort of miscommunication and subpar use of space is one of the classic attributes of an average team. I remember refereeing a basketball team that managed to stuff up a 5-on-0 situation, and though North haven’t quite reached that sort of nadir, there are resemblances.
Tackling technique: The North tackling technique is also appalling. Weak bear-hug tackles from behind are commonplace, and the sight of a Suns player either waltzing out of congestion or disposing of the ball with ease whilst being tackled becomes the norm. Apparently, it’s too much to ask for an arm-pinning tackle or any sort of physical force to be applied whilst tackling. I know Monkhorst is supposed to be the ruck coach, but I reckon he could show the team a thing or two about tackling too. The lads certainly wouldn’t forget what it feels like being tackled by that man.
Mac Andrew: I know I’ve been harping on about North’s thinness, but the talented Sudanese swingman really does have every North player covered there. Watching him leap throughout the course of his seven marks, I genuinely worried that his legs would snap in two upon impact with the ground. Someone give the man a sandwich, for crying out loud.
Anderson and Anderson: Has anyone ever seen Noah Anderson and Keanu Reeves in the same room? Because Anderson’s obscene ability to sidestep or accelerate his way out of trouble and avoid being tackled is almost reminiscent of Reeves’ bullet-dodging ability in The Matrix. And the similarities don’t stop there either. In the Matrix series, Reeves’ character’s last name was Anderson. Coincidence? I think not. Might be something to follow up on, AFP.
That’s what it takes: It takes a moment of brilliance from Harry Sheezel for North to score their first goal from open play since the second quarter. Sheezel gathers a loose ball, spins out of trouble and handballs to Liam Shiels, who duly converts. It’s concerning that he’s in the three or four best players on his team given he hasn’t even played double-digit games yet, but on the flipside, he gives the fans a ton of optimism about what he could be in the future.
Curtis big strong boy: Paul Curtis is just 20 and doesn’t have a huge frame but his strength is evident as he outmuscles Charlie Ballard twice in aerial contests, dropping the mark in the first instance but gobbling it up the second time around. He also threw Ballard aside effortlessly earlier on in the game whilst contesting a ground ball. Tonga, if you have any more of these insanely strong specimens, I’d be very grateful.
And so, when the last bullet was fired and the last casing had exploded, Gold Coast were the emphatic victors, 14.13.97-7.12.54. It was not a visually appealing battle, with close-to-epidemic levels of wayward firing, but North Melbourne’s dismal record at the Metricon field held true. Back they fly to Melbourne to reassess their wartime strategy, whilst Gold Coast’s home turf remains unconquered by enemy forces for another fortnight.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we won’t remember this.
Finally, apologies to any North fans who expected a flattering mention of Goldy. I thought about it but decided that the video put out by the club detailing others’ compliments of him was higher praise than I could ever hope to articulate.