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North Melbourne v Adelaide - The Big Questions

NORTH MELBOURNE VS. ADELAIDE: THE BIG QUESTIONS

The Roos started the game slowly, but the Crows lack of work-rate was eventually exposed as North’s run and carry was the catalyst for their first victory of the season. Here’s the questions that came out of the Kangaroos win.

 

What has happened to this Crows side?

In looking at the 22 Adelaide players that took the field in the 2017 Grand Final, 9 players; Jake Lever (Alex Keath), Paul Seedsman (Brodie Smith), Luke Brown (Wayne Milera), Charlie Cameron (Lachlan Murphy), Richard Douglas (Myles Poholke), Sam Jacobs (Reilly O’Brien), Hugh Greenwood (Chayce Jones) and Andy Otten (Cam Ellis-Yolmen) were missing tonight. Their replacements are in brackets, and indicate the talent, albeit some younger players still to find their best, which has been brought into the side in the 18 months since that loss. Injuries have hurt them, but not enough in my opinion for them to have missed the finals in 2018, and to have started this year 1-3. Their usually devastating forward setup looks devoid of any confidence and structure, and Don Pyke seems resistant to make any match day changes to his game plan.

The Crows lack a killer instinct, and their work-rate has dropped significantly since 2017. Too many players are out of form, and there is no quick fix to their woes. The talent of this team is obvious, but if Adelaide have another wasted season like this one is turning out to be, Pyke will not last much longer in the cut-throat City of Churches.

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Where do North find a second tall forward?

A statistic was pulled up by Channel 7, demonstrating how much more effective Ben Brown was when Jarrad Waite was by his side up forward. With Waite now retired, Brown has started to struggle as the Roos sole target. Big Ben was excellent with 4 goals, but for North to start surging up the ladder, they need a tall forward capable of kicking 35-40 goals and easing the pressure on Brown. Looking at their list, Mason Wood returned, but was only serviceable, and young soldiers Nick Larkey and Tristan Xerri are the only other options, but are nowhere near ready to take on the challenge.

 

Was dropping Bryce Gibbs the right move?

As North Melbourne piled the scoreboard pressure onto the Crows, veteran experience that Bryce Gibbs brings to the Crows would’ve been enormously helpful to the cause. A calming presence on the wing or off half back, Gibbs' leadership may have helped steady the ship. Cam Ellis-Yolmen was brought in for Gibbs, and to be fair, his tagging of Cunnington was effective, but he didn’t get enough of the ball himself, and only had two inside 50 entries, an aspect of the game dominated by the Kangaroos.

 

Is Luke McDonald in trouble for his hit on Chayce Jones?

In addition to not having the greatest game, Luke McDonald could come under scrutiny from the MRO for his late hit on young Crow, Chayce Jones. Awarded the 50 metre penalty, Jones’ shot on goal was very wayward, and perhaps he wasn’t well enough to take the hit. What will go against McDonald is the fact that Jones was quickly ruled out of the game with concussion.

 

Can North Melbourne make a run for the finals?

For the Roos to make the top eight, they will need a lot to go their way. They have a lot of solid players, but lack the elite talent to feature among the best sides. Having said that, their run and gun game plan that was on show tonight has the makings of being a winning formula, and if they straighten up in front of goal, they’d have beaten the Crows more significantly. I see them as a 9-12 team at best, but there’s no reason if they have a good run with injury, and their young talent improve during the year, that the Roos could surprise us all and return to September action.

 

Who was best and worst on ground for both teams?

North Melbourne:

Best – Shaun Higgins

What an effort by Higgins to perform so valiantly given he almost broke his jaw in a contest with Matt Crouch’s shoulder. In what was his 3rd consecutive 30 disposal game, Higgins was once again everywhere when his team needed him. While Don Pyke opted to tag Ben Cunnington, Higgins was allowed too much space to roam by the Crows coach, and he was highly influential in North’s first victory. Rated a $56 Brownlow medal chance, it is performances of this calibre that will ensure he goes close to winning his first “Charlie”.

Stiff: Ben Brown

Very tough to edge out Big Ben. When the game was well and truly up for grabs, Brown was his most influential, with three of his goals coming in the tight 3rd quarter. Daniel Talia’s first quarter on Brown was terrific, but Brown worked his way into the game, and by the end, Talia had given away 3 free kicks in total frustration. Brown only took four marks, but it was his work without the ball that was the most telling.

Worst – Cameron Zurhaar

When you play as a defensive forward, your job is to stifle the influence of the opposition’s rebounding defenders. So when Laird has 31 disposals, nine marks and was one of the Crows best, it falls to Zurhaar to take the blame for Laird’s excellence. Zurhaar only had eight touches himself, and seems to be a little out of his depth at this level.

Lucky: Luke McDonald

Brad Scott said in his post-match press conference that he was pleased with McDonald’s effort on Eddie Betts. I would argue that had Betts been given better service from his midfielders, he would’ve finished with more than just three goals. Betts did as he pleased in the Crows forward 50, and was more influential on his team that his statistics show, with McDonald allowing him too much space to work his magic. His late hit on Chayce Jones will also do him no favours.

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Adelaide:

Best – Alex Keath

Without a doubt, this was Keath’s best game for the Crows. Marshalling the defence, Keath was Rance like, intercepting countless North forward thrusts that came his way. 20 disposals (16 kicks, four handballs) and 14 marks (12 of which were uncontested), it was almost the perfect game from the former cricketer. The only blemish were the three free kicks against.

Stiff: Rory Laird

Hard to go past the most consistent Crow of the last three years, and if not for Keath’s career making performance, Laird would again have been his sides best. 31 disposals from defence, Laird was his rebounding best, with many of the Crows forward thrusts starting from his boot. 23 of his disposals were uncontested, highlighting how much space he was given by his direct opponent.

Worst – Kyle Hartigan

The flip side to Alex Keath being best on ground, was that his defensive partner Kyle Hartigan was the worst. Simply couldn’t get near it with only four disposals, Hartigan was clearly a frustrated man, giving away a couple of silly free kicks as North Melbourne made its move. Adelaide’s SANFL side had a win, and there are players that will be nipping at Hartigan’s heels to take his spot.

Lucky: Taylor Walker

Sorry Tex, but as captain, you just need to have more influence on the contest. Seen rarely until the last quarter, Walker is quickly becoming the AFL’s worst captain, after being named its best two years ago. He has only contributed three goals in his four games this year, but worse, he has only been credited three goal assists, which highlights just how inactive Walker has become. Walker needs to improve greatly on his 2018 output to lead the Crows back up the ladder. Based on his start to this year, he has gone steadily backwards despite some signs of life in round two.

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Stray thoughts:

Rory Laird would be far more revered if he played for a Victorian side. While he is regularly regarded as perhaps Adelaide’s best player, as well as being a two time All-Australian and reigning best & fairest, Laird would have many more admirers if he played in Victoria. Like Matthew Pavlich before him, Laird isn’t seen live enough for everyone to appreciate his talents. At his best, he is the best rebounding defender in the game.

Jasper Pittard will end up far more valuable to North Melbourne’s fortunes than critics of his off season acquisition suggest. Thrown into the Polec deal as the “steak knives”, Pittard was excellent in his defensive sweeper role, finishing with 21 touches and 14 marks. Allfour4 of North’s recruits have played well so far this season, but Pittard may prove to be the biggest steal of the quartet.

Scott Thompson and Robbie Tarrant showed why they are still two of the best defenders in the game. Both are still just as vital to North’s fortunes as ever, and opposition coaches need to be more aware of them in defensive 50. Jenkins and Walker were again below average, and it was the efforts of North’s dynamic duo that played a big role in making them appear that way.

It will take some time, but tonight’s effort showed that Reilly O’Brien is good enough to take over Adelaide’s ruck division when Sam Jacobs hangs up his boots. O’Brien used his running ability to tire out Todd Goldstein, and provided his midfielders with good service. Goldstein was very good, and got the better of O’Brien overall, but signs are positive that Adelaide have found a good young ruckman for the next 10 years.

 

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