On the back of some expert coaching from Brad Scott, North Melbourne are seriously exceeding expectations.
If their momentum continues, Scott truly has claims on being coach of the year – and so far no one has coached better.
Before the beginning of the season, many pundits had the Kangaroos finishing in the bottom four, or even taking the wooden spoon.
Now, they are sitting fourth, with four wins and three losses – particularly impressive when you consider they were written off after their Round 3 loss to the Demons.
From that point, they have won three of four matches, and their best football is as good as anyone bar Richmond.
They pounded St Kilda in Round 2, starting as underdogs, kept Carlton to a measly 30 points, and wiped the floor with Hawthorn in the first half of that game, playing scintillating football to lead by 57 points at halftime.
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Perhaps the most significant result came in Round 7, against Sydney. Having played free-flowing, attacking football up to this point, with key pillars Jarrad Waite and Ben Brown up front, they beat the Swans – largely considered the best in-and-under tough team in the game – at their own game.
When Mason Wood, playing his first game of the year, charged through a Dane Rampe tackle and slotted the goal from 35 out on a slight angle, it was clear the Roos were far better than first thought.
Where has North’s improvement come from though? This is where Scott’s brilliant coaching becomes clear.
Best player on ground, Shaun Higgins, has long been recognised as talented, but never quite able to get it together. Having won a best and fairest last year, Higgins appears to have taken his game to a new level, which can be attributed to the brilliance of Scott.
Scott has realised his team lack supreme ball-users through the middle of the ground, so released Higgins as a full-time midfielder, and he would be considered among the top echelon of ball users in this year’s competition.
Then there’s Ben Jacobs, who is widely considered a stopper and a stopper only, having taken the scalps of Tom Mitchell and Patrick Cripps. On Saturday, Scott released him and Jacobs finished with 29 possessions and nine tackles. More impressively, he went at a disposal efficiency of 82.8 per cent, to be named among North’s best. It was a prime example of Scott’s influence.
To further emphasise the coach’s status as among the elite in the competition, he recruited Billy Hartung when he wasn’t wanted by anyone else – let alone his former club Hawthorn.
Now, not for a second am I suggesting that Scott is a superior coach to the great Alastair Clarkson, but Scott has achieved something with Hartung that Clarkson never could – Hartung is an integral piece of the North puzzle, providing good ball use, improved contested work and great outside run.
Have Alastair Clarkson, Adam Simpson and Nathan Buckley exceeded expectations so far? Yes. However, have any of these three coached as well and inspired their players as well as Scott? No.
If North continue upward, exceeding expectations, then Brad Scott will finish the season as Coach of the Year.