North Melbourne to cause finals upsets
North Melbourne lose, and lose miserably
No team is going into this year’s finals series with more momentum than North Melbourne. The Kangaroos look to be the only team in recent years capable of winning the flag from outside the top four.
Emphatically defeating Collingwood on Saturday night by 30 points, the Kangaroos outplayed the Magpies across all areas of the ground. The final margin was somewhat flattering towards the Magpies, who were kept in the game by the individual effort of Dayne Beams.
The Kangaroos are the form team of the competition with nine wins from their past 10 outings. A narrow two-point loss came in Round 15 when the West Coast Eagles came from behind to snatch victory in the dying stages.
Of their recent wins, the Kangaroos have gathered the quality scalps of Adelaide, St Kilda, Carlton, Richmond, Essendon and Collingwood.
The reality check hit Kangaroos coach Brad Scott and his men after a pummeling at the hands of Hawthorn in Round 10 when they went down by 115 points. On that day, the Kangaroos back line allowed Lance Franklin to kick 13 goals, four more than the entire North Melbourne team.
“We’ve had some performances that have been far from satisfactory but not one like that where we’ve been completely obliterated in all areas,” said Scott after the Round 10 demolition.
“Our challenge now is what we’re going to do about that and we’ve got two weeks to sort it out because our season’s not over.”
In the first 10 rounds, the Kangaroos had managed just four wins but since echoing his words, Scott has completely turned this team around to prove they can go toe-to-toe with the superpowers of the competition.
Since that lowly day, the Kangaroos now sit sixth on the ladder and could be much higher had it not been for some narrow losses. This season, the Kangaroos have lost by exactly two points on three occasions. Essendon (Round 1), Port Adelaide (Round 8) and West Coast (Round 15) all scored narrow two point wins.
With 52 points on the premiership ladder, 12 behind Sydney who sit at the top, winning those three games would have North Melbourne sitting second on the ladder.
It will be pleasing for Brad Scott that it is his youngsters who have lifted the Kangaroos as of late. Brent Harvey no longer has to shoulder the majority of the midfield load and it relishing in his role playing as an outside midfielder.
At 33 years of age, the lesser workload has invigorated him and he will probably play on for another season after asking serious questions at the end of 2011.
The Kangaroos midfield brigade of high draft picks triumphed the mighty Collingwood midfield on Saturday night. Ben Cunnington (24 touches, 11 tackles, five clearances), Jack Ziebell (22 touches, four clearances) and Ryan Bastinac (25 touches) were all instrumental in winning the midfield battle.
Midfield pressure has been a key focus of Scott, who was renowned for pressuring the opposition in his playing days. Andrew Swallow leads the competition with 145 tackles.
In defence, the same backline which gave up 13 goals to Franklin completely shut out premiership duo Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes. Scott Thompson did not give Cloke any freedom on the lead and Scott McMahon embarrassed Dawes, making 11 spoils.
Between Cloke and Dawes, they took only two marks inside 50 and did not kick any goals. The Kangaroos defence did this in the absence of centre half back Nathan Grima, who missed with a hamstring complaint.
In their past ten games, the Kangaroos defence has given up on average just 82.4 points per game. This season only Sydney (70.6), Hawthorn (78.4), Fremantle (78.6) and Collingwood (82.2) boast a defence that has given up less than the Kangaroos since their mid-season resurgence.
Up forward, Drew Petrie is right in the thick of the Coleman Medal race with 55 goals after Round 21, five behind the leader. Although it does not look likely he will take out the individual award, he has found form due to the addition of Robbie Tarrant and Lachie Hansen into the forward line. With less attention, Petrie is frequently found one-on-one. He is fourth in the competition for contested marks.
Hansen and Tarrant have shown they can take contested marks against the competitions best defenders and Hansen’s move up forward is a luxury due to the vast improvement of North Melbourne’s defence. Although nothing shows in the statistics, Hansen played one of the best games of his career on Saturday night against the Magpies.
Since Round 10 when his team was “completely obliterated in all areas”, Scott has drastically turned the Kangaroos around to be a serious threat come September.
Scott spoke more glowingly of his players after defeating the Magpies.
“I think you probably would have put me in the asylum after the Round 10 game if I was saying we were going to win nine out of 10 and definitely play finals,” said Scott.
“We’ve been trying to coach the players to be adaptable and adapt to whatever the opposition throw at us and I think again today we were four goals down at the start of the game and the players adapted to that pressure really well.”
North Melbourne are now assured a finals birth and with winnable games against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium and GWS at Skoda Stadium to finish the regular season, the Kangaroos are realistically going to finish sixth on the ladder with a home final, but with favourable results can finish as high as third or fourth.
After finishing ninth for the past two seasons, the Kangaroos will play finals for the first time since 2008.
In the most even season we have had in recent years, the Kangaroos are the form team of the competition and look capable of going all the way from outside the top four.