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Mongrel Review - North Melbourne v Gold Coast

The Rhyce Shaw era Kangaroos rolled into Metricon Stadium, hoping to claim a third successive victory and keep alive a faint finals dream which seemed impossible a month ago. Meanwhile the Suns, after three early-season victories would have pencilled this match as a possible return to the winner’s circle, with coach Stewie Dew instilling a genuine competitive edge in his charges throughout 2019.

The contest, however was essentially settled by quarter time, as a rampaging North Melbourne jumped the home side with seven unanswered goals in a withering display, highlighted by the superb play of Mason Wood and deft touch of rookie Tarryn Thomas.

Neither man would be able to keep up the pace for the entirety of the match, but with Wood claiming a goal in the first from a wonderful pass from the excellent Kayne Turner, along with several direct goal assists, and Thomas with two goals, an assist and a silky presence in a match played in slippery conditions, they had almost done enough.

Wood continued on his good recent form, and his influence early could not be denied, with his stature a key component of the Roos’ forward line. It would have been good to see him step up and nail a shot from 45m out straight in front rather than opt to pass wide to McDonald. Although it ended up in a goal to North, I’d suggest long term the coaching staff would want him to take responsibility.

A crunching tackle from livewire Sun Touk Miller forced Kanga superstar Shaun Higgins from the field with what appeared to be a serious shoulder/AC joint injury. He was not to return and likewise Miller barely made an impact, seemingly hampered by an upper leg injury. The Suns looked to attack through the middle of the field whenever they gained possession early, however their basic skill errors would have frustrated the coach, one of the best exponents of delivery by foot to have played the game.

What would have enthused Dew though was the performance of his two young key forwards of the future, Jack Lukosius and Ben King. Lukosius in particular returned his best game in the AFL to date, career highs in kicks, disposals, marks, rebounds from defensive 50, and a towering contested mark. A long goal from outside 50 in the last quarter reminded fans of the talent he displayed weekly as a junior.

North were also well served by their younger brigade, and apart from the impressive Thomas, highly touted Luke Davies-Uniacke produced several moments that would have pleased the most ardent Shinboner fans. One moment in the first quarter when he used excellent positioning at a stoppage to hold out his defender then push off to sneak a quick kick to Thomas for a goal, and again in the second when he burst from a pack resembling a young Trent Cotchin and delivered neatly to the forward 50 were highlights of his game.      

With a big win and associated percentage boost in the offing after the away side’s devastating first quarter onslaught you could excuse the Suns for turning up their toes, but to their credit they dug in and the remaining three quarters were a close tussle. At times it was a fiery contest, as tempers threatened to flare. This was not aided by some bewildering umpiring that arbitrarily gifted goals to each side from relatively innocuous incidents.

Suns prime movers, Jack Martin, Alex Sexton and Touk Miller were conspicuous by their non-involvement early, only contributing seven touches between them in the first quarter. From there they were released further upfield and came into the match, and Martin, in particular, really threatened to take the game on at times.

A key matchup expected to impact the result was the two giants, Witts and Goldstein in the ruck. Ultimately it probably was declared a draw, with Witts’ superiority in the hit outs matched Goldstein’s more notable presence around the ground.

North recruit Jared Polec was a consistent star across the game. A timely long goal on the run in an uninspiring second quarter was a match highlight as he gathered disposals at will. Skipper and 200-gamer Jack Ziebell was also terrific, touching it 29 times, to go along with ten tackles and 2 goals in a typically power packed display. The unsung Robbie Tarrant continued on in his usual fashion, completely shutting down Peter Wright apart from one sensational mark and goal late in the third term.

For the vanquished, the elusive Jarrod Harbrow was at his hard-working best, almost single-handedly stemming the tide in the second quarter and constantly driving his team forward. Will Brodie and Brayden Fiorini continued their good seasons, and Fiorini in particular would be competing with his skipper Jarrod Witts for the Suns Best and Fairest at the midpoint of the year. Lachie Weller showed glimpses of why he was taken as a number 2 draft pick with some blistering runs from half back.   

Both sides have very winnable games next weekend before their bye rounds, with the Suns hosting the faltering Saints in Townsville, while the Kangas welcome the Giants to their home away from home in Hobart.

TOP FIVE – TALKING POINTS

-          STRIKE 3 AND YOU’RE OUT

o   The Suns has had access to some of the most talented key forwards the pathway system can produce over the course of their nine years. Already Sam Day has been a bust, Tom Lynch has flown the coop, and Peter Wright is struggling to make a consistent mark. They simply cannot afford for Jack Lukosius and Ben King not to be long-term stars, and that’s why the powers that be should move heaven and earth to convince Jarryd Roughead to move North in a hybrid playing/coaching role for 2020. Reuniting in the coaching box with his 2008 premiership teammate would give the twin towers the best opportunity to develop to their full potential.

 

-          THE CURIOUS CASE OF JACK MARTIN

o   Often mentioned as a potential trade target, after nearly 100 senior games early draft pick Jack Martin still hasn’t really elevated himself from the precocious talent his lofty standing indicated. A neat 17-disposal game was highlighted by a brilliant set shot goals from outside 50m, but this was the type of game he needed to impose himself on early and set the tone for his teammates. The jury is still out on Jack. 

 

-          UPGRADES REQUIRED

o   A portion of the Suns playing roster resembles that of their predecessors in the sunshine state when they were first formed 32 years ago. Mostly featuring journeymen, castoffs and those who never lived up to their billing this rag-tag bunch formed the Brisbane Bears. While draft concessions and an AFL-endrosed open cheque book was afforded the Suns in their early days, that luxury no longer applies and they’ve had to through necessity through the life raft to the likes of Jordan Murdoch and Anthony Miles, occasional role players in vastly superior teams. Unfortunately, they do not have the ability to step up and should be upgraded as soon as October. 

 

-          THE PLAYERS ARE THE STARS

o   This match saw Foxtel roster Hudson, Dunstall, Riewoldt, and Cam Mooney in what was a nice change from the grating MMM boys club usually served up on Channel 7. For the most part they performed their job by simply describing the play and making informed observations based on what they’d seen, not preconceived ideas or agendas. What a welcome change.

 

-          WHERE TO FOR NORTH?

o   It’s always a difficult question to ask when a coaching change occurs mid-season. A fresh voice, and possibly a realisation that the players are next in the gun can often lead to an improved performance for a period of time. From all reports, Rhyce Shaw is a natural communicator - a vitally important trait in this day and age, but will a push for the finals actually hinder North Melbourne’s long-term aspirations, even though Shaw will be counting on this to claim the top job on a permanent basis? A complete bottoming out could provide access to a prized draft pick, either to claim another missing piece of the premiership puzzle, or to potentially on-trade in pursuit of that one big dog they’ve been trying to snare for a number of years. It’s fairly obvious they overperformed in 2018, and they are now finding their level in 2019. It would also be fair to suggest Polec’s arrival has improved the team, perhaps not so much with Hall or Tyson. I wonder if they’d had their time again they’d have looked to ship Goldstein to the Giants for a first rounder and kept onto Preuss? A lot of the pieces are in place now, Brown, Tarrant, Thomas, Cunnington, Davies-Uniacke – the next coach has a big job ahead!  

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