North Melbourne vs St Kilda: Friday Night Forecast

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By Ryan Buckland, Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    Fast football looms large this evening, as the refreshed ‘Roos host the slipping Saints under the Etihad Stadium roof. It’s a high leverage encounter too – just the kind we like at this time of year.

    North Melbourne can jump above the Saints with a win this evening, and become one of the 37 teams within a game of eighth place. In that case, the Saints obviously fail to gain on the teams that sit above them. By contrast, a Saints victory leaves them sitting outside of the eight on percentage only, and sees the ‘Roos slip a clear two games back.

    It’s huge folks. High leverage football is the name of the game in the final 11 rounds of the season. It began last night with the Eagles and Cats, and continues this evening. The Dogs and Melbourne bring us home on a standalone Sunday, an imminent shot at a top four berth in the coming weeks on the line.

    For now, the game at hand. We’ve checked in on St Kilda a couple of times recently, including ahead of last week’s Friday night blow out against the Crows. How about the ‘Roos?

    North Melbourne’s 4-7 record understates their performance by about a win, according to Pythagorean wins. The ‘Roos have played in three close games, losing all three, meaning they could very well be in a similar position to Fremantle (7-4, three 3-0 in close games), albeit North are a better team on an underlying basis (the Dockers have earned themselves 3.1 Pythagorean wins in 2017).

    They’ve played a really difficult schedule too: ranked second on my strength of schedule index, funnily enough behind only Fremantle. The ‘Roos started the year against West Coast, Geelong, GWS and the Western Bulldogs, and have since played Adelaide, Melbourne and Richmond. Heavy stuff.

    The ‘Roos of course were the team to stop Adelaide’s unstoppable win streak, in Round 7 in Tasmania. Since then, North have been 3-2 with a percentage of 102 per cent. The team most pegged for a bottom four finish has been performing at a level beyond that. Yet, here we are, half way through the season and the ‘Roos are in the bottom four.

    North Melbourne’s two trade-ins have performed mostly as advertised. Marley Williams has been 2015 Marley Williams, cleaning up defensive 50 groundballs for fun and shutting down small forwards on a pretty regular basis. Nathan Hrovat has played every game, providing nice touch around the forward 50. His personal output has been a bit muted, but he’s got the tools and decision-making to excel.

    Ben Brown North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

    In some ways, Hrovat has taken Shaun Higgins role up forward as the now-veteran has moved into the middle of the ground. There is no doubt Higgins is having a career year, and could be in All Australian squad calculations if he keeps up his current output.

    Fellow build pieces Robbie Tarrant, Ben Brown, Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell have delivered as advertised, taking up the slack left by departed veterans and out of favour players from the team’s past iteration. Mason Wood has proven he’s more than a flashy forward, with substantive patches in games that grow in length by the week.

    The ‘Roos play a handball-heavy ground game, a variant of their stock preference from 2014 through 2016 of counter-attacking from their back half of the ground. Only two teams skew to more handballs than North (kick to handball ratio of 1.07): Geelong (1.03) and the kings of the handball themselves, the Western Bulldogs (1.02). North take just 79 marks per game, the fewest in the league alongside Richmond. By contrast, Essendon take 107 per game.

    Speed is the name of the game. Which is what makes this match up so much fun because when they’re firing, St Kilda play fast too. Under the Etihad roof, with plenty on the line, there’s a good game on offer.

    North Melbourne have lost Ed Vickers-Willis, a Josh Elliott favourite, to a knee injury and replaced him with second game youngster Declan Mountford. The Saints have made three changes, with Paddy McCartin and Nathan Wright injured and Jack Steele omitted, replaced by Nick Riewoldt, Luke Dunstan and Jack Lonie.

    In this structure, the returning Riewoldt will likely play most of his game as a genuine centre half forward rather than on the wing. North’s three tall defenders match up well on the Saints forwards, suggesting to me there will be an important role for Maverick Weller, Jack Sinclair and a rotating midfielder to provide pressure when the ball hits the deck.

    The ‘Roos love nothing more than running off their half back flank, and could be expected to have a field day if St Kilda’s forward line can’t provide plenty of obstacles.

    Both teams will feel confident their midfields will provide plenty of supply for their forward lines. The ‘Roos average 57.5 inside 50s per game against this season (the most in the league), while the Saints average just 46.5 per game in their favour (ranked 12th). They’re both around average when we flip the equation.

    St Kilda have been employing Koby Stevens as a traditional tagger in recent weeks, and he will almost certainly niggle and gnaw at Higgins across the evening. Last week, Adelaide’s Rory Sloane used the tag against the Saints at stoppages, gluing himself to another St Kilda midfielder and allowing that man’s opponent a seam to break away. I’m sure Brad Scott took notes.

    Jade Gresham St Kilda Saints AFL 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    The market has St Kilda as a slight favourite; I am leaning the other way. St Kilda’s funk looks less like a temporary form slump by the week, while the ‘Roos have been impressive enough and have a game plan that should trouble the Saints.

    It will be a tight game, with plenty of counterpunching punctuated by some tactical swings from quarter to quarter. As an added wrinkle, North Melbourne has won the duos last four games at Etihad Stadium (and six in total if we include trips to Tasmania) stretching over five seasons. The ‘Roos will make it a handful this evening.

    North for me, by 24 points. That’s my Friday night forecast, what’s yours?

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.

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    The Crowd Says (23)

    • June 16th 2017 @ 7:00am
      Swannies said | June 16th 2017 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      Saints will bounce back tonight and have a comfortable win in the end. Riewoldt will have a big influence tonight. North will come out firing before the Sainters take control after half time. Saints, Demons and Swans could be fighting for last spot in the eight very soon.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 7:37am
      I ate pies said | June 16th 2017 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      They will be lucky to get 15,000 to this game…saints will win

      • Roar Guru

        June 16th 2017 @ 10:07am
        Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        North could have Adele as the pre-game entertainment and still not pull a crowd

        • June 16th 2017 @ 10:49am
          I ate pies said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

          haha, what’s the average crowd for a North vs GWS game? They’d get more at a League game.

        • June 16th 2017 @ 11:49am
          bilo said | June 16th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

          and how packed does the Gabba get these days?

          • Roar Guru

            June 16th 2017 @ 12:01pm
            Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

            Irrelevant comparison. One team town, doesn’t matter if 3 people show up we’re not going anywhere

            North is the lowest hanging fruit in a crowded tree

            • June 16th 2017 @ 12:27pm
              Swannies said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

              PD…no one listens when I say it’s time for North to relocate to Tassie. They have drawn some good crowds there and have a great opportunity there to prosper under a new identity. Hobart Kangaroos! But the blind majority of supporters prefer to linger in Melbourne and face extinction…v sad!

            • June 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm
              Karl said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

              Norf have more members than the Dees, St Kilda or the Dogs.

            • June 16th 2017 @ 1:47pm
              bilo said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              So you’re not even going to give us a figure?

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 2:05pm
                Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report


                It’s all there if you’re really that interested.

                We’re averaging 16,000 this year for a team that is dead last by some margin and doesn’t have the advantage of playing teams who share the city to boost numbers.

                North are attracting 22,000 despite playing a ton of games in Melbourne. Your away crowds are 32,000

                Lowest hanging fruit and you’ll drop off like an old pear sooner or later

                also congrats on being the 678th flog to rebut my comments solely by looking at my avatar

                “yeah nah but the lions are worse”

              • June 16th 2017 @ 2:17pm
                bill said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

                16k? I think your lads need Adele more than us!

              • June 16th 2017 @ 6:59pm
                Mattician6x6 said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

                And you got what was 11k to your best victory last week

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 3:14pm
                Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

                Incisive comments there Bill. Maybe you can look at North’s crowds and some of those sub-10000 crowds you’ve pulled to Hobart this year.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 7:48am
      Mark said | June 16th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      “37 teams competing for the top eight” rofl

      • June 16th 2017 @ 5:09pm
        Baz said | June 16th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report


    • June 16th 2017 @ 10:05am
      andrew said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

      i wonder todd goldstien will take a mark tonight. zero marks the last 2 weeks. averaging a paltry 2.7 per match for the season. north never look to him off kick-ins or even the down the line kick. in fact, the number of marking attempts/contests by goldy would be very low.

      • June 16th 2017 @ 10:36am
        Swannies said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        North’s best players are running around in vfl…Daw and Pruess.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 10:07am
      andrew said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      vickers willis out is a plus for north . 6ft 2in – so too small to play key position. too slow to play on the nippy small forwards in a shut down capacity. doesnt take intercept marks, so cant be there for this role. doesnt give run, drive, rebound offense (avg about 12 touches a match, most of which are handballs). when you are assembling a backline, i would have thought these are the 4 categories for your defenders.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 11:00am
      Mattician6x6 said | June 16th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      North tonight in a free wheeling etihad contest.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 16th 2017 @ 4:46pm
        Maliwallah said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

        Can only agree Nth by 15 to 20 pts

      • Roar Rookie

        June 16th 2017 @ 4:50pm
        Maliwallah said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

        Can only agree

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