What do North Melbourne need to do to get back into the finals?


Written by Dean Vasic (@deanvasic) on 15 July 2017   

It's been an interesting 15 rounds so far this year. North has only won four games and is well out of finals contention. On the surface, you would say that it's been a disappointing year, it's often been frustrating and heartbreaking, particularly in the early parts of the year with close losses to Geelong, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs twice. I personally have enjoyed watching North this year. They've been hard at the ball and the man. They have looked to take the game on when they can by playing on at every opportunity. Unfortunately, they have been burnt going the other way to have one of the worst defences in the competition. They have conceded the third most points in the competition but have scored the seventh most. Even though they are second last on the ladder, they have a better percentage than the Lions, Dockers, Blues, Hawks, Suns and the reigning premiers, the Bulldogs. North has had seven debutants this year, Sam Durdin, Ed Vickers-Willis, Mitch Hibberd, Declan Mountford, Braydon Pruess, Jy Simpkin and Daniel Nielson.

So what do North need to do to improve and get back into the finals?

First and foremost, they need to add some quality to the team. Often this year, especially in those close losses, it's been the individual brilliance of Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood, Marcus Bontempelli and Nathan Fyfe that have carried their team-mates with them to victory. As good as players like Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell and Shaun Higgins have been, they aren't match winners. North is obviously pushing hard to get Josh Kelly and Dustin Martin with a huge amount of salary cap space and that would pretty much eradicate the problem if they somehow managed to snare both of those players. If both players don't choose North Melbourne, they are in a hole. I'm not sure which players they could get that would add some real quality to a team that is in desperate need for it. If they finish in the bottom four they can add a player in the draft that might turn out to be an A-Grader, but you can't guarantee it. Also looking at some of the younger players that are coming through, could some of them come through and be top line A-Grade footballers. Jy Simpkin has the potential to be a quality A-Grade player but has a long way to go. Braydon Pruess has shown enough signs to be a very good Ruckman. Ben Brown seems to be getting better each year and is only seven goals from the Coleman medal. Robbie Tarrant is one of the best key position defenders in the game but is also 28 years old. Outside of that, you've got enough good average footballers who should make your team competitive.

North have to start defending the corridor a lot better. A lot of games this year, you have seen opposition teams just go through the centre of the ground under minimal pressure hitting their lead up forward targets. it makes it impossible for the back six to try and defend unless it's a terrible skill error. I think North's back six have been very good in one on one situations like Robbie Tarrant, Scott Thompson, Marley Williams and even Lachie Hansen early in the year. Players like Dangerfield, Leigh Montagna, Dustin Martin and Daniel Hannerbery have had far too much time on the ball and have burnt North with their precise disposal efficiency.

The third is efficiency going forward. I mentioned this in my pre-season preview that North was going to struggle going forward with poor ball users like Jack Ziebell, Trent Dumont and Ben Cunnington. Jack Ziebell is coming fourth in the league in Clangers. The kangaroos top five most efficient ball users are all defenders. Aaron Mullet, Lachie Hansen, Scott Thompson, Jamie Macmillan and Robbie Tarrant. Shaun Higgins is leading North Melbourne with most inside 50 entries for the year, but even his disposal efficiency going forward this year has been disappointing, only operating at 70 percent efficiency.

Another issue has been the forward structure in general. North has played tall and played a very congested forward line, which isn't a bad idea with their poor ball users coming through the middle. The problem is that North have had too many players in Ben Brown's space with Taylor Garner, Mason Wood, Jarred Waite and Lindsay Thomas all getting in the way of each other and spoiling each other. Not enough players get front and square to the contest and teams generally use their outside runners to pick up the crumbs and run the ball out. North need to find ways to isolate Ben Brown and get players like Nathan Hrovat, Lindsay Thomas, Kayne Turner and Shaun Higgins at the feet of the contest and get the scraps. Turner, Higgins and Hrovat have 38 goals between them, which isn't a bad return but it could be better, especially for class players like Higgins and Hrovat.

Defending Kick-outs has also been an issue. It still staggers me that when someone is having a set shot at goal, that players aren't already setting up to zone the opposition Kick-outs. North players seem to be caught ball watching and only decide to set-up after the team has scored a behind. I don't have any stats to back me up, but from the naked eye, I see opposition teams go coast to coast with relative ease frequently. It at least ends up in an inside 50 entry and often a shot on goal. They don't seem to set-up well at all and maybe it's a coaching issue, rather than a playing issue.

The Kangaroos are 2-16 in games decided by less than a goal under the helm of Brad Scott. This year they have lost five games by under a goal which might suggest they have a psychological issue as well. The most evident being Todd Goldstein missing a set shot from 20 metres out in last minute of the game against Fremantle.

North doesn't seem to be far away but they do have some work ahead of them to get back into the finals.


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