The Kangaroos refuse to be that which the experts predicted them to be. Easily the best story of the AFL season as we near the half-way point, the Roos travelled west and beat the Dockers on their home soil.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
The Kangaroos’ spirit
I was going to do the obligatory “Shinboner Spirit” tagline, but as great as that is, this is something else. This is the kind of self-belief that a team needs to overcome anything thrown at them. This is unique to this team and this season, because no one outside the club thought they'd play like this.
For Melbourne teams, the West Australia trip is the hardest in footy (makes you wonder how the WA teams do it so often in reverse, huh?) and this would’ve been a game that Fremantle penciled in at the start of the year as a big chance to get a win.
North Melbourne got the erasers out and squashed whatever plans the Dockers had in place. To a man, the Kangaroos play accountable, hard and fierce football. They take no backward steps and play with the sort of passion several teams running around at the moment would envy.
I admire the way North have gone about it this season. Many wrote them off, and many forecast them finishing last. Every win for the Roos must taste just that little bit sweeter because of that.
Shaun Atley’s last quarter
Twice in the last quarter, Shaun Atley’s clean hands made a huge difference.
With the wet ball coming out the back, Atley gathered it as though it were dry and gave Jarrad Waite a great start to the quarter with a handball that sent him running into the open goal.
But wait, Atley wasn’t finished. A chaos ball headed his way just inside the centre square, and again, Atley’s hands were perfect. He took possession, wheeled and found Ben Jacobs inside 50. Unfortunately, Jacobs was unable to convert, but Atley’s ability to take and control the wet ball demonstrated just how good he could be.
I’ve long thought he doesn’t do enough for North, but if what he does do ends up being little things like the two mentioned above, he’s doing plenty.
Oh, but wait, did I mention his running goal in the last quarter? I didn’t? Well, I’ll get to that a bit later, because he probably shouldn’t have had the opportunity to kick it.
But I will mention that it was his feed to Goldstein late in the game that enabled the big man to kick the sealer in his 200th. Great quarter by Atley. Hurt the Dockers with everything he did.
Nat Fyfe v Ben Jacobs
Ben Jacobs going to Nat Fyfe at the start of the game was certain to create some series of events to take notice of. This time, they were all in Fyfe’s favour through the first quarter.
Compiling 10 contested touches early on, Fyfe was incredible. The usually reliable tag of Jacobs seemed like nothing to Fyfe as he ran, carried, marked, kicked and handballed his way to 13 touches in the first term to be far and away the best player afield.
Jacobs was by no means disgraced, picking up nine touches of his own, but in terms of negating Fyfe’s influence… it just didn’t happen early on.
But then the clamps went on. I reckon the turning point came when Fyfe tried to fend Jacobs off and got him high. You can almost see Jacobs thinking “I got ya now” as he takes the free kick.
Fyfe added another 18 touches after quarter time, but he was matched, and some would say beaten by the dogged Jacobs, who finished with 29 touches, nine tackles and a goal.
Fyfe is spectacular when up and running, but Jacobs is as determined a player as we’ve seen in the league, and his ability to claw back into the contest and at least have it scored a draw is admirable.
The Dockers have missed this guy. After going down early in the Derby, Walters sat out for several weeks. His last two weeks have been excellent, and his ability to continually be the most dangerous player on the ground keeps defenders on edge.
His soccer goal to draw the Dockers within a kick in the last quarter elicited a huge roar from the Docker faithful, and rightfully so. For Freo to improve, Walters simply has to perform up forward and be able to move up to half forward when they need a lift.
An injury-free second half of the year would be just what the doctor ordered… pardon the terrible pun, if Freo are to climb the ladder and challenge for a lower spot in the eight.
Banfield v Higgins
If Fyfe v Jacobs was the main event, this one was the match up that threatened to steal the show.
Banfield, in his first season, was given the unenviable job of putting the brakes on the North Melbourne Rolls Royce, and man, did he take it seriously.
In the first half, Banfield limited Higgins to only seven touches, and those touches were at just 43% effective. That is a complete shutdown job, particularly when Banfield himself had 10 touches at 90%.
A lesser player would retreat into his shell, petition the umpires for help, or look for another role in the team. Not Shaun Higgins. He finished the game with 25 touches, breaking the Banfield tag as the rain tumbled down. As much as I enjoyed the Fyfe v Jacobs clash, this one is where the story of the game was really told.
I loved the grit shown by Higgins to fight back from being blanketed. I loved the rookie taking it up to arguably the most skilful player on the team. I loved that there was genuine feeling in their clash and that it rubbed off on those around them, and I loved that we saw a bloke overcome a poor first half to have a big influence in the second half.
There was a time when I wondered why North was moving Drew Petrie on and keeping Waite.
Now I know why. He is the kind of player who I look at and think “He’s sneaky.” Now wait on – I don’t mean that as a put down…not at all. I admire some good sneakiness. He finds space, gets out the back whenever he can, and just seems to be in the right place at the right time more often than not.
Seeing him head down back in the later stages of the game was good to see, as well. Still plenty in those old legs, it seems. Three goals in a game like this were golden.
I have no dog in this fight, so I reckon I can safely say that some of the 50 metre penalties in the first and second quarter were complete garbage. They were awarded to keep control of a game that didn’t require control at that point.
At half time, it was as though the umpires had a discussion and decided to let the game go. It rained and the game turned into a rolling maul of players falling all over each other. At this point, it was under-umpired. Decisions were required at this point to help the game move a little more freely. The whistles were seemingly put away. Perhaps they were overused in the first half (25 free kicks awarded) and needed a rest?
Early kicking for goal
Anderson, Higgins, Atley, Goldstein, Ziebell, and Brown – all of these men missed very gettable shots before Mason Wood guided home a goal in the first quarter. Ziebell then added another point, and Kayne Turner two more behinds before the Roos kicked their kicking into gear. See what I did there?
Had they lost this game, Brad Scott would be furious at those missed opportunities. On the road, you need to make the most of every chance that falls your way, and the Roos squandered them. Credit to them for continuing to fight, and win, but geez they made it hard on themselves early.
No free kick to Hamling
OK, I know a fair few North supporters will read this – please don’t try to justify that non-decision. It was blatant, and even if Hamling did accentuate it, the hold was still there.
I have no idea how the umpire – I can’t be bothered looking up which one it was – decided to allow play to go on, which resulted in Shaun Atley kicking a goal, when there was an obvious free kick to Hamling against Ben Jacobs.
Fremantle were within a kick when that happened, and it deflated them. The next goal to Mason Wood put it out of touch, but that decision, or non-decision was a pivotal moment.
Sandilands and Durdin head clash
I love a good bit of physical contact… just ask around. What I hate is head clashes. No one wins in a head clash, and that was evident as both Sam Durdin and Aaron Sandilands were helped from the ground after a shepherd from Sandilands went a little awry in the last quarter.
Sandi’s ruck duel with Todd Goldstein in Goldy’s 200th game was probably tracking about even when Sandilands went off. Goldstein then took the opportunity to sneak forward and snap a late goal, giving him the edge. In light of the Burton-Higgins head clash, you’d expect Sandilands to have no case to answer for his collision with Durdin.
The game could’ve been close to over at quarter time, and if not at quarter time, by halfway through the second quarter. At one stage, North had kicked one goal and ten behinds.
When Walters kicked the first goal for Fremantle, the scores were six points apiece despite it being six scoring shots to one.
Brad Scott must hate David King rabbiting on about his set play from the kick outs. When it comes off, it’s beautiful to watch, but it must be frustrating to see your tactics blatantly pointed out to all and sundry by a bloke who used to play for the club. Tone it down, David!
David Mundy was so good in the first quarter. He is so strong through the torso that he can take a hit and then use his skills beautifully after he rides it. Behind Fyfe, he was Freo’s second best early.
Fyfe into the ruck was nice, as he won a nice tap, but I always fear seeing an elite mid going into the ruck. If I was an opposition coach, I’d get the ruckman to absolutely pole-axe him at the stoppage, even if it cost a free kick.
And then North had no ruckman against Sandilands not long after. Durdin was forced to go up at half back, and what do you think happened? Sandilands tapped to Neale, who went to Walters, to Cerra and a shot at goal resulted. The miss from Cerra was a big let off.
Joel Hamling probably had the better of Ben Brown all day, but he’ll be remembered for the free kick that wasn’t paid. I’d prefer to remember him for his excellent defence in the second quarter, neutralising two North attacks in a row.
The one area Fyfe had it over Jacobs was in the air, and he got him isolated inside 50 late in the first. Mark and/or free kick resulted to Fyfe, as did a goal.
Imagine having a shot on goal taken from your team because you felt like giving an opposition a clip across the back of the head? David Mundy knows how that feels as he clipped a North player as Cam McCarthy was lining up from 50. Dumb mistake from a bloke that was playing so well to that point.
Tarrant was pretty good again today – not All Australian good, but still pretty good. Loved his one-on-one win against Walters in the second.
Jy Simpkin would wanna hope Ben Brown doesn’t lose the Coleman by one goal, right?
Billy Hartung’s run and carry was very important to the Roos in the second. When he gets those legs pumping, you just hope he makes a mistake, because you aren’t going to catch him.
Ed Langdon and David Mundy were waxing in the second. Both gave passes inside 50 to each other. Mundy converted his. Langdon didn’t.
Quieter game for Lachie Neale today – just couldn’t get his hands to it as regularly as he has been.
The quick hack out of defence is either feast or famine. You're either off to the races, or it comes back. This time, it came back. Jarrad Waite was on the end of one as Freo tried to clear the area. It didn’t have enough on it and he made them pay.
North really locked the ball in their half in the third. It was a horrible quarter of football to watch – so scrappy – but a Ben Brown mark and goal made an 11 point lead seem a little better.
Not sure about Michael Walters limp in the third quarter. It seemed to disappear quickly when the ball came his way.
Great goal by Michael Johnson from 50 after the 50 metre penalty against Ziebell. Such a harsh penalty for holding a guy’s leg for a second too long. I can’t believe he’s 33 years old. Makes me feel old.
Walters’ goal off the ground was nice, but I hope someone went back and patted Joel Hamling on the head for his big win at half back to set it up.
How fitting that the last real act of play was a goal from Ben Brown… after a 50 metre penalty. Just a few too many of those penalties for my liking in this one.
And there we go – another round done! If you like what you’re getting from The Mongrel, please give us a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter. The more people we have in our little footy community, the better, and we really appreciate the support. Cheers