The Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: North Melbourne

North Melbourne

After two consecutive seasons finishing in ninth, the Kangaroos finally climbed one extra spot in 2012 and cemented their first finals appearance since 2008. The joy was short-lived however, with their trip to the West to face the Eagles ending in a 96 point beat-down.

While they made the finals, North’s year still had the hallmarks of their recent campaigns, mainly in the form of the huge variance in their performances against the better sides in the competition. A superb seventeen point shoot-out win against the Cats in round three gave them a sense of legitimacy they hadn’t possessed in their two previous ninth placed finishes, but a 115 point crushing at the hands of the Hawks seven weeks later erased it. They may have made the finals, but the North Melbourne report card hasn’t changed. Good against the bad and middling sides, often found wanting against the better ones.

2012 Key Statistics

North Melbourne 2012 Offensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank

Disposals

367.4

6th

Contested Possessions

138.1

13th

Clearances

38.2

8th
Inside 50s 55.1

5th

Marks Inside 50

11.8

tied 7th

Hitouts

39.6

10th

Goals

15.6

3rd

 

North Melbourne 2012 Defensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank

Points Against

95.32

13th

Inside 50s Conceded

52.4

12th

Marks Inside 50 Conceded

12.1

12th

Tackles

59.4

14th

 

North Melbourne 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials

Total

Competition Rank

Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded)

63

tied 8th

Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded)

-8

12th

 

What are they great at?

Kicking goals. North Melbourne had fourteen different players kick ten or more goals in 2012. After years of being played in varying positions on a week to week basis, Petrie was more or less planted up forward in 2011, and left there again in 2012. He led the way for the Roos with 58 goals, providing a legitimate target for North’s midfielders whom, prior to 2011, hadn’t had one in quite a while.

Lindsay Thomas was the next highest goal scorer with 38, narrowly edging out Brent Harvey, who had 35.

The Roos were also very efficient with their chances in 2012, as will be detailed later on.

What are they good at?

The Kangaroos are good at getting the ball forward, ranking as the fifth best side in terms of getting the ball inside fifty.

What do they need to improve?

See below.

What are they bad at?

Defence. The Roos were below average to terrible in most defensive areas.

North ranked 14th in tackles per game, an egregiously low ranking considering they have Andrew Swallow, who laid more tackles per game than any other player in the competition last year. Ben Cunnington held his own in this area, but Swallow would be looking for more help, particularly from his fellow midfielders, in 2013.

North conceded the 12th most forward entries a game, and the 12th most marks inside 50 per game. They actually conceded more marks inside their defensive fifty than they took in their attacking fifty, which is uncommon for a side that made the finals. They were the 13th most porous defence in terms of points against. In 2012 North were banking on making more of their opportunities than their opponents did theirs, and they gave those opponents plenty of opportunities.

Their hit-out ranking of 10th is disappointing given the quality performances their rucks have given in the past. McIntosh managed only seven games, and Goldstein regressed significantly after a breakout 2011.

 

Points of Interest in 2013

Ben Cunnington

The number five pick in the 2009 draft was maligned to say the least at the midway point of last season. He had failed to really show the flashes of superstardom fans imagine from such a high selection, and was being played down back rather than the midfield. His tenuous hold on a spot in the side was relinquished for round 14, as the 21 year old was dropped.

Cunnington was brought back into the side for round 17 following suspension to Jack Ziebell, filling Ziebell’s role in the middle rather than the one in the backline he had previously occupied. What followed was a significant improvement in Cunnington’s performances, producing by far his best block of football to date, while showing promise he could become an elite inside midfielder.

 

Cunnington’s Per Game Averages in 2012

Disposals

Contested Possessions

Clearances

Rounds 1 – 13 14.58 6.3 2.5
Rounds 17 – EF 24 12.25

6.25

 

Proving those final eight games weren’t a flash in the pan will be vital to both Cunnington’s development and that of North Melbourne. If North are to break out of the “average to good” tier of sides and into the “great” tier, players like Cunnington need to be the driving force behind it.

Todd Goldstein

Goldstein enjoyed a breakout year back in 2011. With McIntosh out for all but one game, Goldstein was entrusted to play a lone hand in the ruck all season. He handled the responsibility with aplomb, leading all comers in hit-outs for the year.

With McIntosh brought back into the fold at seasons end, the Kangaroos looked forward to unleashing a two-headed ruck duo that would be the envy of all but West Coast in 2012. The season began, and Goldstein struggled with having to share the ruck duties. When McIntosh was in the ruck, Goldstein’s value to the team dropped significantly. His inability to be effective up forward limits his usefulness outside of the ruck. Goldstein would only score two goals on the entire season, both in round two against the Giants.

McIntosh would injure his knee against the Bulldogs in round seven, ruling him out for the rest of the year. Goldstein once again inherited the entire ruck workload, and his numbers improved across the board as a result.

 

Todd Goldstein 2012 Averages

Disposals

Marks

Hit-Outs

With McIntosh 9.4 1.8 22.8
Without McIntosh 13.12 2.94

34.31

 

All the evidence we have indicates Goldstein needs to be the only genuine ruck in a side to be of maximum value. With McIntosh traded to Geelong, Goldstein’s numbers should return to 2011 levels. However, new addition Daniel Currie and rookie elevation Majak Daw are both pushing for selection, and could put Goldstein on the outer if he fails to improve around the ground and up forward. As a result, watching the North ruck situation evolve over the course of 2013 will make for interesting viewing.

Performance Against the Best Sides

North Melbourne has developed a bit of a reputation as being better than the bad sides, but a clear step behind the best ones.

It’s hard to argue otherwise.

North Melbourne Wins and Losses in 2012

Played

Wins

Losses

Against Top 8 sides 9 3 6
Against Bottom 10 sides 14 11

3

 

Their performances against top eight sides illustrates both the good and the bad for all things North. When they win, they win convincingly, with 30 plus point wins over the likes of Adelaide and Collingwood. The bad news is they lose more often than they win, and they lose by similar margins, and occasionally much greater ones.

 

North Melbourne Results Against Top 8 Sides in 2012
Result Margin
Round 3 v Geelong Win

17

Round 4 @ Sydney Loss 36
Round 6 @ West Coast Loss

34

Round 10 @ Hawthorn Loss 115
Round 13 v Adelaide Win

32

Round 15 v West Coast Loss 2
Round 21 v Collingwood Win

30

Round 22 v Fremantle Loss 53
Elimination Final @ West Coast Loss 96

 

A big part of this comes down to the style North play. They employ an aggressive, handball happy style designed to put as many points on the board as possible. This is okay against the poorer sides, but the better sides apply a great deal more pressure, which is where such game plans can come unstuck.

If it does come unstuck, then North have problems as a result of their porous defence. Their inability to restrict the opposition from creating clean chances and putting goals on the scoreboard really hurt them against the better sides in 2012.

 

North Melbourne Points Against in Games Against Top 8 Sides in 2012

Points Against

Round 3 v Geelong

114

Round 4 @ Sydney 113
Round 6 @ West Coast

120

Round 10 @ Hawthorn 174
Round 13 v Adelaide

89

Round 15 v West Coast 84
Round 21 v Collingwood

61

Round 22 v Fremantle 132
Elimination Final @ West Coast

162

 

If North is going to improve on their 8th placed finish, they are going to have to substantially improve against the best sides.

Accurate in Front of Goal

North finished tied for fourth in terms of total goals scored last season, but sixth for total scoring shots.

 

Making the Most of Opportunities
Goals Behinds Total Scoring Shots Goals %
Hawthorn 435 382 817 53.2
Adelaide 388 315 703 55.2
Sydney 376 292 668 56.3
West Coast 360 306 666 54.1
North Melbourne 360 265 625 57.6
St Kilda 345 277 622 55.4
Collingwood 340 323 663 51.3
Geelong 333 291 624 53.3

 

This can be interpreted in several ways. The positive interpretation is North are efficient in front of goal, and take advantage of the opportunities they generate. The negative interpretation is the Kangaroos do not generate as many opportunities as the very best sides, and if their conversion rate drops they could struggle as a result.

While being efficient is definitely a positive, it’s pretty hard to be the most accurate side in front of goal on a consistent, year to year basis. The chances of them maintaining that level of efficiency is slim. In all likelihood North will have to increase their amount of scoring shots if they are to achieve a similar level of offensive output. If they don’t, and their efficiency drops closer to that 55 per cent mark, then they could be in trouble, particularly when you factor in their subpar defence.

No Brent Harvey for the First Six Weeks

You may have forgotten, but Harvey will miss the opening six rounds thanks to several incidents in North’s crushing Elimination Final defeat.

 

Brent Harvey Team Rankings in 2012

Average Disposals

Average Inside 50s Average Bounces Total Goal Assists Total Goals
4th 5th 1st 2nd

3rd

 

At age 34, Harvey is still an important component of the North Melbourne side. While he doesn’t perform the same role in the heart of the midfield like he once did, he is still a very important link player between the middle and the forward half. No North player had more running bounces than Harvey last year, and he was one of the most influential around goal.

Rough Fixture

Harvey’s absence for those opening six rounds is made even worse when you look at who the Roos face in those rounds.

 

North’s Opening Six Weeks

Opponent

Ground
Collingwood

Etihad

Geelong

Etihad
Sydney

Blundstone (TAS)

Brisbane

Etihad
Hawthorn

MCG

Port Adelaide

Blundstone (TAS)

 

The Kangaroos have a much tougher fixture in 2013. They face Brisbane, Geelong, Adelaide, Hawthorn and Collingwood twice. With their tenuous hold on a top eight place, and their poor record against the best teams, North will have to improve on their output last year if they are to retain a finals placing.

2013 OUTLOOK

The midfield is where most of North’s improvement in 2012 should come. We’ve already touched on Cunnington, but North have a bevy of young midfielders primed to elevate their games. Jack Ziebell is the young face of the team, but Bastinac, Atley, Harper and new additions Jordan Gysberts and Ben Jacobs form an enviable young nucleus in the middle. With Wells and Swallow both well south of age 30, North would be banking on having an elite midfield over the coming years.

At the end of the day though North Melbourne are a classic case of a “can’t back them till you see it” side. I can’t comfortably predict them to improve on their 2012 season and fight for a top four spot when they have consistently fallen apart against the sides competing for those spots. A fringe finals spot is more likely, and if they don’t shore up the defence, then they are a primary candidate to fall out of the eight.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

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