Essendon v North Melbourne – A Different Lens

The Bombers are in the eight and looking to consolidate their position as they head to Superhero (MARVEL) Stadium on a Sunday afternoon. The Roos are navigating life under Brett Ratten and are looking to continue their development. Under the roof, with no adverse weather, there are no excuses. Will North stay in the hunt for Harley Reid, or can they claim a scalp and therefore force the Bombers to keep scratching and clawing to stay in the eight? Here’s what happened.


Control of Possession
Pre-game, North Melbourne interim coach Brett Ratten made mention of what they had to curtail in trying to secure the four points – the kick-mark and control game of the Bombers. They regularly get over 100 marks; today getting 118 marks and were +30 for the game. Again, they dominated the uncontested possession count.

Much of this was set up in the first quarter, where the Bombers went +7 clearances, +9 I50, +7 CP, +10 marks, +20 points. Their control and speed on the ball saw them fly out of the blocks and they caught North napping. They were changing angles, lowering their eyes, and building their ball movement, emphasising why they are #1 in the league for scores from defensive 50 and it looked as if this would be a blowout.

After quarter time, it was a different story. North held Essendon to just four behinds in the second quarter, with the increased pressure forcing Essendon to dump kick from contests and go long down the line. North got themselves back into the contest in the second, and then Essendon re-took control in the third. North’s early pressure and contest work after half-time saw them temporarily take the lead, and then they conceded a run of Bombers goals.

When North kicked the first two of the final term, it was game on. The young Roos midfielders were brutal at the contest and dominated stoppages, however, this didn’t coincide with field position dominance, as Essendon lead the inside 50s for the quarter, despite an evisceration at clearances. It was a back-and-forth final term, with enthralling football, clutch moments, terrible errors, and heroes for both sides. The Bombers walk away with the four points and it kinda feels wrong that North got nothing from it. Brave in defeat, but an honourable loss is still a loss.

For the Bombers, they solidify their spot in the eight, while North remain in 17th despite their clear progress. Their second half was all the more impressive given they lost Jy Simpkin and Hugh Greenwood in the first half and, I know this will frustrate some Bombers fans, North were on the rough end of the umpiring stick a few times in key moments. With all that said, we’ve probably just watched the game of the year to this point, we were privileged with hard-edged football (both sides with a pressure rating upwards of 200 in the final term) and they were still incredibly accurate and efficient. Here’s to both sides for making the usual afternoon nap timeslot must-watch!

Key Match Ups
16 disposals, 81% efficiency, 6 contested possessions, 5 clearances, 3 I50, 4 SI, 2 goals, 253 metres gained. Many players would be pretty happy to finish the game with this stat line. When you’re Zach Merrett, this is just a casual Sunday afternoon first quarter. The Essendon skipper set the tone early and was a significant catalyst in the Dons’ fast start.

After the first break, Liam Shiels was shifted to Merrett and was tasked with following him around for the rest of the game. Merrett finished the game with 34 disposals, 12 contested possessions, 8 clearances, 10 score involvements, 578 metres gained, 7 inside 50’s, 2 goals, and 77% disposal efficiency. These are great numbers, but what it shows is that Shiels was able to mitigate Merrett’s threat at stoppages (only 3 clearances in the last three quarters), thus allowing the North mids to get on top at the coal face. Merrett was still in the top handful of players on the ground, but Shiels should get some credit for limiting Merrett at bounces and throw ins.

On the wings, we saw Nic Martin and Bailey Scott patrol all over the ground. Both hit the scoreboard, both were important to their sides’ ball movement, and both continue to develop into very good footballers. Martin gets the points in this one, as he was present for the whole game, but both were important in what their side did.


A Tale of Two Youngsters
Much has been said about Tarryn Thomas and all of his off-field indiscretions. I’m not going to list those, nor condemn North for keeping a genuinely talented player on their books. I’m a big believer in second, third, fourth chances and allowing people to redefine their legacies. However, I do believe in taking responsibility for one’s actions – and I hope this is the case for Thomas. I think there’d be some women in the game and who follow the game that were uncomfortable seeing him run around on field. That’s for others to discuss.

In terms of what he produced on field, he reminded everyone of what he can do. He moves well, and has multiple strings to his bow. He finished well in front of goal, and was, at times, very important to North’s ball movement. Thomas adds a level of polish and flair that few others in his team possess. He has all the potential in the world, and a ceiling we cannot quantify. Let’s hope he can get the support around him that enables him to stay out of trouble, do his penance, and then build a long-term, successful AFL career. My advice to Tarryn would be to reach out to Eddie Betts and Tyson Stengle and learn how he can redefine the perceptions and come back from the brink.

On the flip side, is Nic Martin. In just his second season, the young Bomber is arguably the best wingman in the game. The feedback I received during the week for my rolling All Australian team was Martin’s non-inclusion on the wing, so I sought the opportunity to watch him intently today. He runs all day, and is nearly always in the right position at contests, on when the Bombers rebound. The fact he is so young, yet so important to his side speaks volumes to his work ethic and skill set. He finished with two goals from 21 disposals and was again among the best players on the ground. If he keeps this up, he will likely find himself in our Rolling AA team come year’s end.


From the Viewing Gallery

Nick Larkey had his moments today. The North spearhead finished with 2.3 and with a bit more polish, could have got his team across the line. That said, he competed well, and made sure to bring his teammates into the contest.

The Package – Jake Stringer – has a great record against North. Today, wasn’t one of the games he’ll remember. He threatened at times, but it wasn’t the polished or complete performance we are used to. However, the good players take their moments. With two minutes remaining on the clock in the final term, he smothered a clearing kick, and then followed up with a great tackle that resulted in the winning goal for his side. This shows the value in staying engaged, as your moment will come.

North Melbourne have been a top four stoppage side in recent weeks, and today, they maintained that for much of the game. They had two more clearances (which is +9 after quarter time). North is showing that when they can control the stoppages, they can be in or control the game.

I don’t often lambast the commentators; however, the Fox team today had a bit of a mare, particularly early. Between getting players wrong, and not knowing some of the rules, it wasn’t their best day behind the microphone.

Sam Weideman and Callum Coleman-Jones have the potential to be great key forwards for the respective teams. However, they won’t achieve much if they can’t stick their marks consistently. Credit to CCJ who got better after a shaky first quarter, and began to have a great influence in the forward half. On the flip side, Bombers fans would be frustrated with the ex-Demon as Weideman couldn’t stick his grabs. He’s had some good games, but they will remain few and far between if he cannot mark these consistently.

A shout out to Jayden Laverde and Jordan Ridley who were defensive walls for the Bombers, marking and intercepting everything at one stage. Defenders who can read the play and intercept are worth their weight in gold.

The Bombers were sensational with their set shots today. 11.1 from set shots to 3QT is extraordinary. They maximised their time in forward half and having the majority of the inside 50’s for key parts of the game.

North’s baby oil budget could be in danger with Eddie Ford and Nick Larkey. The way that they were glistening to start the second half was close to Tom Hawkins-levels of oil. It did allow Ford to escape a few tackles though.

The Roos’ young mids – Phillips, Wardlaw, Sheezel, among others – are exciting to watch. Wardlaw looks incredible in just a handful of matches. He is clean, tough, and unafraid to take the game on. It’s going to be fun, even as a neutral supporter, to sit back and watch him and his teammates for many years and see what they can do.


In the end, it was a happy day’s work for Brad Scott up against his former side. It was a cracking game, it see-sawed in the second half, and showcased some of the great skills of our game, and brought the crowd alive. No matter whether you supported the teams or were a neutral, these two put on a great game! The Bombers look ahead to next Sunday night, prime time, against the old foe Carlton at the ‘G, while North will host the Giants in Tasmania. To see how those matches, and all the others play out, make sure you follow and subscribe to The Mongrel Punt.


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