R13 – North Melbourne v West Coast – What Caught My Eye

What a lovely Saturday arvo it was to watch the bottom-of-the-ladder clash that everyone has been looking forward to. The sixteenth-placed Eagles, who found themselves at their home ground floor for the second week in a row, took on the Roos, who sat in eighteenth.

The first quarter saw both teams fight hard to win the footy. Both teams brought pressure and looked to put speed on the ball. You could see each side wanting to slingshot the footy, but costly turnovers halted scoring opportunities. The Eagles, especially, looked pretty keen to take the game on at the start with handball receives and quickly playing on from the mark.

Although the Roos dominated clearances they weren’t rewarded on the scoreboard. A lot of credit deserves to go the way of the Eagles, who put on a decent defensive performance to defend the ball coming inside 50. Barrass and McGovern set up well behind the ball and against their direct opponent for most of the day.


West Coast’s inaccuracy looked like it’d prove to be costly. Again, it was their defensive work that kept them within reaching distance. North Melbourne, for all their dominance, just couldn’t apply scoreboard pressure. An interesting decision to drop the tag off LDU proved to be a costly one, as Davie-Uniacke was allowed to run around on his own. He was involved in two of North’s four-goal run in the third, allowing his team to almost put the game out of reach from the Eagles.


Although West Coast fought hard to start the fourth it was good to see North Melbourne still able to withstand the pressure.


The last quarter was the highlight of the game. Simpkin opened up proceedings with a marvellous goal from long range. This put North 33 points in front. It seemed like it was almost party time for North, but Waterman responded quickly, off the back of good ball movement. It was one of the only handful of times where the Eagles were able to transition the ball well from end to end. You could tell Yeo wasn’t going to die wondering either, willing his way into the contest. When the Eagles finally regained the lead with three minutes to go, I was keen to see how North would respond. The Roos eventually held on to arrest momentum. A snap around the body by Paul Curtis from 30 metres out all but sealed the game for the visitors


Just when it looked like the Eagles were about to make one of the comebacks of the season, it was tremendous to see North respond. They held on in what was a dramatic final quarter and managed to clinch their first win of the season.


Here’s what caught my eye in one of the games of the round.




The trend of dubious free kicks very late in games is beginning to become a very common occurrence. It’s like clockwork, now and happens in almost every game.


I’m talking about the decision to ping Elliot Yeo for holding the ball. Whether the free kick was there or not, you’d have to be a pretty brave umpire to make such a decision so late in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how hard it is to umpire the game. They are also not helped by the constant rule changes. We’ve already seen that the mid-season tweak in the holding-the-ball rule has already made umpires blow the whistle quicker and reward the tackler. All we ask for as fans is consistency.


Whether you agree with Yeo’s holding the ball decision or not, ultimately it didn’t cost the Eagles the game. Yes, it was a bit stiff, and it probably wasn’t there at all, but even before the tweaking of the rule, players have been made well aware that if they choose to lie on top of the ball, there’s every risk that they’ll get pinged for holding the ball. Not saying Yeo dived over on top of the ball. Just simply stating how the emphasis on rewarding the tackler will deter players from hunting for the ball in future.


There was even an instance halfway through the game where you could see the effects of the new rule change. Both Stephenson and McGovern were tasked with winning a loose ball in the pocket of North’s forward 50. You could see both players go to where the ball is but they were hesitant to jump on top of it. Instead, they both sort of bodied each other, and nervously nudged the ball with their feet, hovering around and waiting for someone to get to it first. If the AFL is going to come out and tick off that free kick against Yeo, which I don’t see how there are grounds for, then what message does that send? I hope players aren’t discouraged from winning the ball.


In Yeo’s situation, it’s hard for a natural ball-winner like himself to shirk the contest or skirt the pack. He essentially did what he only knows best – he fought for the footy and he won it. And by doing so, he simply paid the price demanded in the game as it stands..




For most of this game, it was almost all one-way traffic to North Melbourne in the battle of the midfield. The away team were able to blow the game apart with a sheer number of clearances being won at stoppages. Simmo’s decision to mix things up bringing Flyin’ Ryan into the midfield late in the third quarter seemed to ignite the spark the Eagles needed.


You simply can’t stop trying to find the answers in this league, especially when a challenge presents itself. As they say, “Don’t get beaten by what you know”. As good as the Eagles were defensively, they ultimately had to even things up in the midfield. Ryan’s inclusion in the midfield immediately gave the Eagles a bit of spark and speed. All of a sudden Yeo started to become a factor, Flynn began giving them first use, and the rest followed.


Even though Ryan was only able to get the footy half a dozen times, he was prepared to tuck the ball under his arm and run with the footy. He was able to apply pressure and even go in and win the ball himself. It worked for both his team and also himself. Ryan got into the game more and was able to move up the ground. As a result, the forward line started to function better, and the midfield started to gel a bit more.


I love coaches who aren’t afraid to throw the magnets around and try different things when things aren’t working. It’s a bit of a ballsy move to chuck in someone who hasn’t been exposed to the midfield too often, straight into the heat of things. Ultimately the Eagles fell short by nine points, but it could’ve been much, much worse had Ryan not been thrown into the mix.




I never want to see this guy venture back into the forward line. Unless it’s while he’s resting up there or if he is covering for injury or something.


I’m going to give a pump-up to the North Melbourne coach also. I’ve touched on Simpkin’s role early in the season, where he was played as a high half-forward. I thought he was being wasted there as he wasn’t a natural forward and I believed he has much more impact in the midfield. Firstly I applaud Clarko for at least trying to make it work, but since it hasn’t worked, he’s reverted to putting Simpkin back where he plays his best footy.


This game proved why Simpkin is arguably North Melbourne’s most important player when he’s at full flight, and it also proved how dynamic he can be when he plays in his natural position. 28 disposals, 12 contested, seven tackles and two goals is an absolute day out. You could see that having Jy back in the guts helped out guys like Wardlaw, LDU and Sheezel, who had a mature body in there taking the pressure off them.


Having Jy move out of the half-forward not only helps North Melbourne’s midfield, but it looks to also have helped the forward line function a bit better. It allows the likes of Curtis and Zurhaar to have more space in attack, and it gives the young North midfield a bit of a chop-out. Hopefully, it’s a move that remains for the rest of the year and we start to see Clarko’s men reap the benefits.




I’ve loved watching 2024 Elliot Yeo this year, throwing it back to 2019. There are not many players who are as devastating as Yeo in full flight.


Without his partner in crime, Reid, it was almost a one-man show in the midfield, with Yeo laying bone-crunching tackles stopping his opponent in their tracks. 13 tackles in this game demonstrated how hard Yeo worked without the ball as he was able to put clamps on North Melbourne players. Hopefully, his recent setback that saw him miss a couple of games a few weeks ago is the last time he spends on the sidelines this year. The Eagles and the footy world desperately need him to stay on the park, because when he’s out on the field, the Eagles are definitely worth watching.


Yeo made a big contribution to the Eagles coming back in the last quarter. The goal he kicked in the last gave his side a boost in momentum. He wasn’t only winning the Sherrin and kicking for goal. If there was a ball in dispute and there was a small chance of winning possession or halving the contest, Yeo was there getting his hands dirty. He was throwing his body around and stopping opponents in their tracks. Without Yeo, the Eagles don’t even get close in this one.




The quick side steps to dance around opponents were a feature of Luke Davies-Uniacke’s game. Almost no one can lay a finger on him when he’s given so much room. Give him half a metre and watch him prance around like a ballerina and twinkle-toe his way out of traffic.


After being well-held in the first quarter, West Coast paid the price for taking the tag off him. From the second quarter onwards, he had a run where everything he touched turned to gold. He complements the hell out of North’s midfield brigade to perfection, and when he has the ball in his hands, he usually does good things. When North started to get a bit of a run on and open the game apart on the scoreboard, it was LDU who was weaving in and out of traffic and using deft touches to help a teammate hit the scoreboard.


As he comes out of contract at the end of next year, I hope North are seriously doing everything they can to keep him at the club. It’ll be a major loss for Davies-Uniacke to leave when he’s almost at the prime of his career.




After overcoming an injury-riddled last couple of seasons, we’re starting to see why Jamie Cripps was once labelled one of the most underrated players in the comp. Apart from kicking a bit straight for goal, there was not much else he could have done to help his side snatch victory.


As we all know, life as a small forward isn’t easy. There’s lots of unrewarded running and effort you’re required to do in the modern game as a small forward. It can get a bit lonely down there when you’re not getting much service. At 32 years of age, Cripps doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon and looks like he’s got enough in the tank to push on another year. He was gallant in this one, working between the arcs, running high up the ground and slingshotting back to goal when his team won the ball. He doesn’t only create an outlet for his team when they’re bogged down, but he also creates lots of space for the other forwards to work into.


He was easily in the top five best players on the ground and the stat sheets say so. 21 touches, eight marks and one goal, and he could’ve easily ended up with a bag. If he did, then surely West Coast are victors.




I can’t end this review without talking about Tristian Xerri. He continues to grow before our eyes. He played like a proper big man in this game, and his stuff without the ball continues to improve as his career goes on.


It looked like he’d miss the start of the season after a training mishap in the preseason saw him require surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone. Thankfully for North Melbourne, Xerri was able to recover in time and play a part in the early rounds and he’s settled well in the number one ruck role. In this game, he led the hit-outs with 32 to his name and contributed with ten strong tackles. What was impressive was his run-down chase to do enough and lay a hand on the breaking Liam Ryan which affected his kick going inside 50. It was almost a momentum-saving chase, and it was impressive watching a big 200cm ruckman chase down one of the quickest players in the comp. His work rate around the ground is impressive and his follow-up is equally brilliant.


The much-maligned Alex Witherden looks to have cemented his spot in the side with recent performances. He does the basics well and isn’t afraid to take the game on or put his body on the line. There’s a lot of maturity about the way he plays. It was good seeing him get on the end of a goal, after working so hard throughout the game. Witherden had some mates in Brady Hough and Jamaine Jones, who both played terrific games. Hough continues to be a wall down back, blanketing opposition small forwards and defending well with good positioning and smarts. Jones just never stops running and loves to take the game on. A lot of good things happen when he has the ball in hand. Along with Barrass and McGovern, they form a solid defensive unit.


The big forwards at either end did well against good defensive efforts from both sides. Larkey was arguably the player of the game with a haul of five straight goals after it looked like Barrass was getting a hold of him to begin the game. For the Eagles, Waterman continued his hot streak of elite contested marking which saw him take some crucial marks up forward when his side was making a comeback. Waterman finished with 3.2, but it could’ve easily been a five-goal haul just like Larkey at the other end. Ultimately, inaccurate goal kicking was what lost West Coast the game. There were some almost moments for mid-season recruit Jack Hutchinson, who could’ve been on the end of some high-flying grabs that he couldn’t quite hold on.


North’s backline and team defence have been questioned throughout the season, and rightly so. Today, I thought they did well as a back-six to keep the Eagles to a low score for the whole game. It wasn’t perfect at times and they were helped by the Eagles’ inaccuracy, but I thought the leaders down there in McDonald and Corr did a pretty reasonable job against Darling and Waterman.




Apart from a small window in the first quarter where both teams repeatedly turned the ball over and neither side could score, it was a pretty good game for the most part.


It was exciting watching the North Melbourne midfield brigade challenge the Eagles’ midfield and match it with them for the majority of the game. Wardlaw continues to take it up to the best players in the league and isn’t scared of putting his head over the ball against seasoned bodies. He’d certainly be a smokey for the Rising Star now that Reid and Darcy are ineligible. Sheezel provided some class and managed to find himself in some nice spots. His creativity in the front half could be vital for the Roos, going forward. LDU and Simpkin add much-needed grunt and experience in there that makes them a formidable midfield unit.


West Coast didn’t lose any admirers today, even though it was a game they should’ve won. The forwards and mids started slowly but came home with a sail in the end. It’s good to see the Eagles improve dramatically fitness-wise, they’re able to play deep into games and run games out until the final quarter. Their ball movement let them down at times but they were able to continue to take the game on and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.


For North Melbourne, they have the reigning premiers next week and hopefully, this win can give them confidence in matching it against a vulnerable Collingwood who have some injuries.


West Coast go into the bye in what has been a respectable start to the season. Hopefully, they can take some learnings into the latter half of the year and build on what they’ve done to date.