Round 3 – North Melbourne v Melbourne: Double Delight at Blundstone Arena

Either one of two things about this game would have made it a worthy spectacle — the wind blowing to the Derwent River end of Blundstone Arena, and one of the most engrossing ruck battles of recent memory. That both of these things happened made it an extraordinary game, one that will surely feature in some top-10 lists come season’s end.

Wind makes the game less predictable. You wouldn’t want it every week but it’s fun when it does happen. It plays havoc with modern structures and zones. At your back, it opens out the scoring range and stretches the acreage the back six has to cover, and gives you more of a chance with speculative shots from the pocket. North exploited this when they jumped out to a 7-goal lead, with Sam Gibson curling one in from the boundary, Boomer and Goldstein hitting set shots from outside 50 and Ziebell potting a monster on the run from the centre square.

Going the other way, the wind compresses the spaces you are trying to get the ball into. Goals into the breeze need run and numbers and luck, and at least two of those need to be summoned from the back half, which you’ve stacked to try and keep out the other guys.

Melbourne were more in the contest than the scoreboard let on, and when they scrambled a couple late in the quarter I couldn’t help but feel North hadn’t done enough with the breeze, despite piling on 8. 50 to 14 at the break and even so it felt like the game was on.

In the second the Dees showed that the loss to Essendon was more likely the aberration than the win over GWS, as they erased the deficit and then some in a blistering 15 minutes. Watts, Hogan, and young Clayton Oliver helped themselves to a pair each, while Tyson, Gawn and Lynden Dunn got in on the action. Gawn was getting the upper hand in the hitouts and the young Melbourne midfield were smashing the clearances. While North managed to slow the onslaught about halfway through the quarter it was only a couple of late goals their way that restored any hope at all.

Here’s another thing I reckon about the wind. It amplifies the advantage of winning clearances cleanly, which is what Melbourne were doing. Gawn giving Goldy a rare beating in the hitouts gave his rovers clean, direct use out of the stoppages and they capitalised handsomely.

Unable to have his usual influence in the taps, Goldstein wouldn’t be denied. He turned into another midfielder, gaining 18 possessions (15 contested), 9 clearances, 5 tackles and then ran off Gawn to push forward and snag 5 goals in a matchwinning performance. The reason North needed that matchwinning performance though, was that Gawn was kicking a couple of goals of his own, banging hitouts directly to a goalkicker another 4 or 5 times out of 63 (!) hitouts and also collecting 18 touches.

Forget Fyfe vs Dangerfield, this was the greatest head to head battle of the decade. Two giants smashing into each other a hundred times in two hours, going as hard at the last ball-up as at the first. The very fact that Gawn didn’t wilt in the last as many of Goldy’s opponents do is a credit to him, and he’ll be one to watch for years to come.

Back to the game. Half time, 17 goals to the river end, 4 to the members’ end. North needed a big third quarter. Despite starting brightly with an incredible boomerang goal curling on the wind from Boomer, they had trouble finding their groove at either end, and every goal they scratched was answered by coughing one back up. In the end they got a bit of a run on and managed to take a 3-goal lead into the sheds after a 7 goal to 3 quarter.

At this point I was strangely calm and if not confident, at least on good terms with this North team’s ability to run games out. They’ve come a long way from the 2013 Roos that couldn’t hold a lead. Last year’s game in the wind against West Coast showed they could play the conditions at least.

The Dees drew level without too much fuss in the last, but North finally found some rhythm going forward into the wind, with Waite, Goldy, Waite again and Boomer scoring either side of a long Jack Viney bomb to go 3 goals up. Waite in particular had ice water in his veins, hitting two tricky set shots into the wind. Melbourne came again, but were ultimately foiled by Aaron Vandenberg losing his nerve with an open goal and a Lindsay Thomas spoil on Harmes. 5 point win to the Roos in a classic.

The 41 goals belied how contested this game was. North laid 93 tackles, Ziebell’s 19 equaling the league record. The rucks had 108 hitouts between them. 8 players had half a dozen or more clearances. This was a real game of football.

 

NORTH MELBOURNE    8.2   10.4   17.7   21.10  (136)
MELBOURNE    2.2   11.5   14.7   20.11  (131)

GOALS
North Melbourne: Harvey 6, Goldstein 5, Waite 4, Petrie 2, Gibson 2, Ziebell, Macmillan
Melbourne: Kent 4, Watts 3, Hogan 3, Oliver 2, Gawn 2, Jones, vandenBerg, Dunn, Tyson, Harmes, Viney

BEST
North Melbourne: Harvey, Goldstein, Waite, Ziebell, Firrito
Melbourne: Vince, Viney, Oliver, Gawn, Hogan, Kent

Umpires: Nicholls, Kamolins, Ryan

Official crowd: 12,607 at Blundstone Arena

Our Votes: 3 Goldstein (NM), 2 Gawn (Mel), 1 Harvey (NM)

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