It’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round, which means all of the cool guernseys get a run. Of course, that’s not the only important aspect of it, there’s plenty of cultural significance behind it, but watching the North versus Sydney game today, all I could think was that it’d be brilliant if teams could wear Indigenous round guernseys every week.
Add the aesthetic appeal of royal blue against bright red of this particular match and you have yourself the visual equivalent of an orgasm. Let’s see if the skills were as good as the colour scheme (spoiler alert: they weren’t)
Spacemen: Someone call NASA, because North are creating a galaxy’s worth of space with their ball movement, releasing overlap handballs at just the right time and looking to switch angles instead of bombing the ball long down the line. Although the results of this movement aren’t immediately apparent on the scoreboard, it’s a new style from North, and with it should go some recognition, perhaps in the form of a stadium name change. I reckon the Marvel Galaxy has a ring to it, don’t you?
Gold-steindard ruck: (Just say this pun in a Kiwi accent and it’ll sound better.) Todd Goldstein has the beating of Swans duo Ladhams and McAndrew in the first term, winning five hitouts to advantage and sparking a dominance in the clearances for North that continues throughout the day. Turning 35 years old and arguably in the best form of his career in terms of the impact of his hitouts. Most blokes when they’re 35 are trying not to let that growing beer gut get out of hand. Take a bow, Todd
Lancespears his opposition: Lance Franklin has never been brilliant at overhead contested marks, but clearly no one told that to Lance Franklin, because he clunks a couple of beauties on his way to snapping his almighty two-game goalscoring drought. It’s reflective of an impending burst of form for the champ, and the fact that it’s in Sir Doug Nicholls Round makes it all the more fitting.
Contested handballs: Although Sydney are getting beaten in the clinches, their hands are lightning quick when they do gain possession of the ball in tight. Quick, flicked handballs are prevalent as they try to, and often succeed, in catching their opponents out flat-footed and working the ball to outside runners. They’re a well drilled unit, perhaps outdone only by those Japanese men on YouTube who march in that terrifyingly precise fashion.
Defensive upgrades: If, in previous weeks, North’s defensive unit had the resistance level of a papadum, they’ve now upgraded to a slab of slightly thawed out meat. Tackling and pressure levels are pleasingly high, with Hugh Greenwood and debutant George Wardlaw the two flag-bearers in midfield.
Advantage, umps: It’s impossible for me to remain completely unbiased, but some of the umpiring calls in the second term are baffling. Paul Curtis is pinged for holding his opponent after appearing to take a contested mark deep inside 50, and the replay of the incident doesn’t do anything to quell the fury of the North cheer squad. Shortly after, Errol Gulden is caught plumb holding the ball after roving a contest at left full-forward, but no free is paid and the Swans score a goal from the resultant stoppage. Another questionable decision involves a high free kick inside 50 that leads to a goal to Justin McInerney, who positions his head for the oncoming tackler to collect in a way that would make the Selwood brothers blush. I appreciate the difficulty of umpiring this sport, but I’m fuming at half time and so are the rest of the North contingent. The umps could’ve at least done North the dignity of letting them stuff up things themselves rather than doing it for them. The lads are more than capable.
What a mistake-a-da-maker: If by chance Allo Allo’s Colonel Alberto Bertorelli is in attendance, then he would certainly be putting his aforementioned catchphrase to good use in regards to Sydney’s decidedly unclean ball use. Aside from Luke Parker and a couple of others, the Swans have been subpar in hitting their targets and have let North get a look in several situations where it really could’ve been avoided.
Mark, handball, Luke and… nevermind: Such a shame that Sydney doesn’t have anyone called John on the field, otherwise this biblical pun would’ve worked. Anyway, Sydney seem to have received a directive from the man upstairs to give the ball off to a passing runner after a mark. It’s an aesthetically appealing game style that doesn’t always come off, but looks pretty good when it does. Their fans would be praying that this high-risk gameplan continues.
Great Scott: Bailey Scott is having a blinder on the wing. Not only does he burrow into contests and emerge with the ball despite his scarily light frame, he’s also brilliantly damaging in the forward half too, with some lovely deliveries onto the chests of his forwards and a nice set shot conversion from 40m. It seems that Bailey has gained a desire for his footy to do the talking and is sick and tired of his only claim to fame being that he’s a member of the exclusive ‘same first initial and last name as his coach’ club, which I’ve outlined below after doing absolutely no research:
‘Same first initial and last name as coach’ club:
Bailey Scott ( Coach: Brad Scott, 2019)
Seamus Mitchell (Coach: Sam Mitchell, 2022/23)
Dogged: The Roos are ferociously determined not to lose this one, and you can tell. On multiple occasions throughout the third, it looks like the Swans will kick away, but North, without fail, find an answer, and go into the final break a mere nine points down. An interesting (or terribly disturbing, depending on who you ask) side plot is that they finally arrest a quarter-by-quarter losing streak which stretches back five weeks.
Hesitance: There’s a fair chance that Sydney have gotten their sports mixed up, as they repeatedly hesitate after marks in their forward half in situations where they really should just keep the ball moving forward. Hesitations are very handy in basketball, lads. Footyball, not so much.
Mosquito fleet: With a nasty injury and forced substitution to one of their few remaining talls, Peter Ladhams, Sydney become rather undermanned in the key position stakes. The remaining tall players on the field include Buddy, Aaron Francis, and Lachlan McAndrew, who’d be a great shout if a ‘gangliest-player-of-all-time’ competition was held. It’ll be up to the outside runners now if they want to win this one.
Coleman power: Callum Coleman-Jones is probably who you’d get if you ordered John Coleman on Wish and a language miscommunication occurred, but to his credit, he’s brilliant in the last quarter. Having taken the lead, (always a dangerous situation for them) North are pinned back in their back half and are forced to kick out wide hoping for a bail-out mark. And it’s Coleman-Jones who provides it, taking two awesomely strong marks to relieve the pressure on his defence. This game really could be a turning point in his North career.
Yin-and-yang for Harry: Harry Sheezel’s a central figure in the dramatic spectacle that is the final term. He nails his second goal for the game with a classy left-foot snap and hits the post with a difficult set shot. However, his biggest moment comes when a panicked Swans kick from full back lands in his arms around 35m out on a bit of an angle. It’s a huge moment for the young bloke, and would put his team 15 points up with six minutes to go. However, he gets inside his own head and the set shot never looks likely. No cheezels will be hoisted just yet.
Numbers in the centre: Throughout the last term, there is a distinctly high frequency of situations where Sydney outnumber the Roos in the vital area between the centre and centre-half forward, and in these situations, Sydney look extremely likely to score. Chad Warner in particular seems almost camped out there. I wouldn’t have been in the least surprised to see him whip out a tent and a trangia. Quite a scenic accommodation spot if you think about it. Nice lush green grass. Plenty of space to avoid your neighbours’ drunken renditions of ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’ You could do worse.
Opportunistic: Sydney haven’t gotten to where they are without an ability to capitalise on opportunities, and so it proves when the Swans have their backs against the wall, staring down a 16-point deficit and a fairly rabid North crowd. First, Errol Gulden takes advantage of a rushed kick from North to convert from 50, then Isaac Heeney roves from a contest and does much the same. Where it matters, the good teams stand up. I really wish they didn’t.
Special mention: Obviously it’d be remiss of me not to touch on the fiasco that saw North go over the interchange cap and gift the Swans a winning goal and a decidedly hollow victory. Whether the stadium steward allowed it instead of preventing the rotation from being made, whether there was a North employee who was supposed to be monitoring it and got it wrong, it doesn’t matter too much. Someone fucked up, and in doing so took an icicle to North hearts that have already had their fair share of pain over recent years.
In response to this latest anguish, I can only suggest that ‘North supporter’ becomes a recognised demographic of mental health patients eligible for a further Medicare rebate.
And so, the siren blared, the North fans booed, and the Swans fans basked in a three-point win, 14.9.93-14.6.90. It was a hell of a game, and will make a worthy addition to the ever-expanding chronicle of North’s close misses at Docklands against the Swans. So far North have lost their grip on such games through inaccurate kicking, mindless defending, and not one, but two interchange controversies, though admittedly one of those instances wasn’t their fault. What next, I wonder? A final-quarter flu outbreak? A temporary bout of amnesia that results in North kicking the wrong way and scoring a game-winning behind for the Swans? The opportunities are boundless. Boundless, I tell you.