North Melbourne v Western Bulldogs - The Good, Bad and Ugly

A wonderful game of football saw the Kangaroos steal a last gasp win over the Western Bulldogs by two points. Jack Ziebell snapped through a goal with 20 seconds remaining to give the Roos the lead, and the win.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

Shaun Higgins… wow

He had Josh Dunkley to contend with all day, and he broke the shackles in the third quarter to combine with Ben Cunnington and bring the Roos back from a three goal half time deficit.

Higgins was instrumental in the final score of the game. He had a disposal and then went on a gut-run, with Hayden Crozier in hot pursuit. This was exhilarating play. Higgins had busted his backside all game and still had enough to get on his bike and make the play after already being involved. He collected, handballed into the path of Ben Brown who got it to Jack Ziebell for the winning goal.

I’ve watched a fair bit of North this season, and Higgins has had a great year. He was good last year, but he’s gone to another level this season. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more impressed with him than I am right now.

18 second half disposals despite close attention, 17 contested possessions, five centre clearances and two goals - what a game! For those who had him on the periphery of the All-Australian team, I think he may have just walked straight into the side on tonight’s performance. Again… wow.

Ben Cunnington as hard as nails

And as if it wasn’t enough having one star rise to the occasion in the second half, Ben Cunnington decided to take matters into his own hands in the second half as well. His 30 disposals included 22 contested touches in addition to five centre clearances.

He was so good in close and fought through a patch early where the Dogs were attacking the contest with ferocity. When the Kangaroos needed someone to stand up, Cunnington was right there in the thick of it. He was excellent in the air (though he did get a little greedy and spoil Marley Williams in the last quarter, costing a goal) and he is just so good at feigning a handball to buy time, ala Scott Pendlebury.

Another game of 20+ contested disposals for Cunnington. What a player.

Majak Daw’s last quarter

There was a point in the third quarter where the ball went long into the Bulldogs’ forward line and Majak kind of had the ball fall into his lap over the back of the pack. I found myself wondering why he wasn’t contesting in the air and killing that contest.

Well, he contested in the last quarter. He took intercept marks, he laid big tackles and he was THE MAN down back when it mattered most.

This season has been a huge leap for Majak. He has been a lightning rod for criticism over his career, but Brad Scott has shown a lot of faith in him, and it was repaid in the last quarter tonight. He was integral in the Kangaroos’ win, and made only one “mistake” which saw a free kick paid against him – incorrectly. We’ll get to that. It was a disgrace.

Billy Gowers’ last quarter

And while Majak was good, so was Billy Gowers. A team like Carlton could really use a forward who plays like him. Oh yeah, they used to have him and they let him go. Nice…

He kicked the goal to put the Dogs in front and made some quality plays as the quarter went on. His gather and kick inside 50 to the one-on-one with Naughton v Sam Wright was fantastic. It allowed Ed Richards to run onto the spill and slot the goal to keep them in it.

Add to the two score involvements the big contested mark on the wing, and you have the sort of last quarter a young man can build a career on.

Todd Goldstein

It is a real indictment on the Bulldogs that Tom Boyd is still toiling away in the ruck. He doesn’t have the tank, guys – he just can’t go with elite ruckmen. Goldstein was once an elite ruckman, and he is still quite handy. Boyd couldn’t go with him tonight.

He had 20 touches and seven marks, leaving Boyd for dead at times. He also had 42 hit outs and put the ball down the throat of Higgins and Cunnington time and time again to help swing the result the Kangaroos’ way. Great job by the big fella.

Marcus Adams v Jack Ziebell

Ziebell may have kicked the winner, but what a last quarter Marcus Adams had. He was everywhere, and when he wasn’t killing contests, he was winning them in the air. I loved seeing those two going head to head all night.

Adams is a tank with arms and legs, and Ziebell is all guts… not as in a fatty, as in courageous. Maybe I should’ve just said that instead. Anyway, when you get two players who play like they do, matched up against each other, you know you’re in for a treat, and I hope they match up again when the Roos and Dogs clash in Round 21.

Ziebell really sucked Adams in after Ben Brown marked in the third quarter. He slapped at him a couple of times, and when Adams retaliated, he went limp, fell to the ground and allowed Adams to get stick into him. It was great baiting by Ziebell, and the umpire awarded Brown a 50 metre penalty as a result.

THE BAD

Mitch misses the mark

Oh, it’s so unfair to pinpoint Mitch Wallis missing the target with 45 seconds left, but it was just so pivotal. All he had to do was keep the ball in play. That’s it. It would’ve been easy for Gowers to rush it over or cause a stoppage but he never got the chance.

Under implied pressure, Wallis miskicked and the ball floated out of bounds on the full. It allowed the Kangaroos to rebound, which set off the game-winning play.

Wallis’ future at the Dogs has been questioned of late. It is incredibly unfortunate that he was the one to make such a momentous mistake, but here at The Mongrel, we call it as we see it… and that was the sort of mistake that cost the game.

It was a nail in his Western Bulldogs career coffin. 

Free kick after a goal

Whether this was there or not, I hate this. Marley Williams threw Gowers to the ground after Zane Cordy kicked a goal. Gowers was awarded a free kick right in front of goal. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

Players earn those shots, and to see them handed one for a little scuffle always rubs me the wrong way. If there is an infraction, pay a free kick from the centre bounce. Gifting goals is too big a penalty for something so trivial.

THE UGLY

Five minutes of questionable umpiring swings the game

OK, I should make this very, very clear. I had no dog in this fight, and i do not dislike the Western Bulldogs or the umpires, but what I saw from the umpires in the last quarter was some of the worst knee-jerk reactions to physical contact in recent history. The majority of the decisions just happened to benefit the Dogs. Overall, I loved the game, but I think there were some very questionable umpiring decisions that had significant influence on the game. Each of the terrible decisions for the sake of making a decision gets its own paragraph.

1 – Jason Johannisen received a free kick against Jack Ziebell in a marking contest deep in the Roos' forward line.

Apparently, Ziebell “never tried to mark the ball” according to the umpire. Well, that’d be because big Marcus Adams came across and killed the contest in front of Ziebell as he used his body to get rid of Johannisen. He didn’t contest it because Adams killed it before it got there. But Johannisen fell over, so it must be a free kick. Ziebell just used his hip to move JJ out of the way. You shouldn't be penalised for that.

2 - Marcus Bontempelli got the superstar call.

It occurred on the wing when he took possession, faked a handball (prior opportunity) and then was tackled, swung 360 degrees and taken to ground by former teammate, Nathan Hrovat. No call. Really poor interpretation of the rule, and this is exactly why players are thumped into the turf in “dangerous tackles” because holding him up and not hurting him is NOT rewarded. This was as blatant a case of holding the ball as we saw all night. Complete superstar call... if only he was still playing like a superstar.

3 –Bailey Williams free kick against Majak Daw

You ever seen that episode of The Simpsons where they’re playing cards and Carl calls Homer slow. And Homer sits there, thinking about it before feeling compelled to respond? “Something said… not good…” That’s what the umpire’s response to this was. “Physical contact… not good…” Bailey Williams should have held the mark. He fumbled it and Majak crashed into him completely legally. It should have been play on and instead, Williams was bailed out by an umpire too afraid to allow physical contact to go unpunished. In the spirit of the game, this was the worst of all the calls. It is the sort of contact people pay to see. If you take it out of the game, people will stop paying to see it. I think this was the first time in recent memory I’ve agreed with Cameron Ling, who couldn’t understand what it was for either.

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4 - Aaron Naughton free kick in the marking contest v Sam Wright

I have to ask… what for? It was a great tussle between the two, body to body, about 40 metres out. It was man-on-man, like the movies my mate Joe Ganino watches, and should’ve been let go. But as Ed Richards ran onto the spill, there was the trusty old whistle blowing in the background. “Physical contact… not good…” Overall, it wasn't that bad as the play was continuous, and Richards goaled anyway, but let the boys play!

5 – And finally, Ben Cunnington called for holding the ball at the centre clearance

So the ball was in dispute on the ground following Ed Richards’ goal. Both Cunnington and Luke Dahlhaus were on the ground. Cunnington grabbed it and it was pinned to him whilst he was stuck on top of Dahlhaus. The logical decision was to ball it up, as he didn't dive on it. Nope… apparently, Cunnington dragged it in. At this stage, I started to get the feeling that North were perhaps not destined to win. Of the five listed, this one was maybe the only one I thought could have been there, but it still probably shouldn’t have been paid.

There was a very iffy free paid a couple of minutes later against Ed Richards to Tom Murphy as he ran out of defence. Richards lunged at Murphy as he got rid of it and tackled a bit late. The ball had travelled to Atley, who was collared immediately. Unnecessary stoppage and a soft free kick.

And there you go… five minutes of over-umpiring that had a big influence on the game. When I go to the footy, or when I watch it, I want to see players win the game. I want to see Gowers get it over the back and kick the goal. I want to see Higgins bust his backside to stay involved and set up the goal to Jack Ziebell to win the game. I do not want to see free kicks that may/may not be there guessed at for the sake of it. Put the whistles away, please.

OTHER BITS

Disappointed to see Ben Jacobs have to sit out with delayed concussion symptoms. Have really enjoyed watching him this season.

Loved Majak’s chase on Billy Gowers early. The Bulldogs were intent to attack the ball and man early in the piece, and tackles like the one Daw laid on Gowers matched that intensity.

I am a little critical of Shaun Atley at times. Has all the tools to be a star, but goes missing at times. He was good tonight, and he was instrumental in creating the Ziebell goal in the first quarter, taking on two Dogs on the wing, and winning.

Probably fell away late, but the first half was the best football I’ve seen from Josh Schache this season. Showed a bit, had good hands and made some intelligent footy decisions.

Five goals from Ben Brown and I didn’t even add him to the ‘Good’ category? Yeah, might be an error. He was excellent tonight, and is such a great target. He just goes after the ball. If a defender wants to hold and grapple, they do it at their own risk. He makes the ball his objective, always.

His toe-poke to Captain Jack wasn't half bad either. 

I think we may see a little more of Aaron Naughton up forward. He looked really good in patches tonight. Great to see him get his first goal in the game. Even better to see him get a couple.

Hayden Crozier had 23 in the first half. Only added seven in the second half.

Josh Dunkley seemed pretty happy whenever he was able to tackle Shaun Higgins all game. Pity he couldn’t do any of that in the last quarter…

Lovely little kick from Caleb Daniel in the second quarter to find Aaron Naughton. He was working in a tight space, and the kick was perfect.

When Josh Schache marked on the wing with Kangaroos closing in on him, the totals for the quarter were 18 marks to the Dogs, and one to the Roos. Eek!

Great mark by Lipinski with Majak bearing down on him. It was a hard hit, but Lipinksi one-grabbed it. Nice hands.

I’d be really interested to have a deeper look on the goal review where the ball appeared to come off Jack Ziebell’s foot and go through for a goal. That was one that I would not have minded the reviewers taking their time with. Coming straight from the kick in, the Dogs went coast to coast and Bailey Williams goaled. Big turnaround if it did come off Ziebell’s foot.

You’d lick your lips if you were Ben Brown and saw Shaun Atley with the ball. His delivery to the Coleman Leader in the second quarter was sizzling.

One block was paid tonight – the one to Jamie MacMillan where he fell over. There were dozens of potential free kicks for blocks tonight, but the one where the player fell over was the one that was paid. There’s a lesson in that, and players learn lessons quickly.

Finally a big contested mark in the forward line to Tom Boyd. Shades of 2016… for a minute or two.

Dale Morris is such a warrior. I loved that he wouldn’t go off after copping the knee to the back in the marking contest. Toughness… it’s innate. You can’t teach it.

How horrible would it be if you’re Josh Dunkley, shanking a kick out of defence, only to see it come back over your head for a goal, kicked by the player you’re directly responsible for? Dunkley saw that happen as Higgins snapped a goal in the third.

The last quarter was an absolute ripper. I know I criticised the umpiring in the ‘Ugly’ category, but the football was excellent as a whole. I loved the game. After sitting through the painful Hawthorn v Gold Coast game, watching this one was an absolute privilege.

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