A week is a long time in football. For the first time in almost a decade, the Kangaroos have a new head coach after Brad Scott was shown the door/resigned.
Filling the void is premiership-winning former Swan Rhyce Shaw. I have no idea whether Shaw is or will be a good coach, so there’s no point speculating about it here.
What we do know is that Shaw has been handed a capable team.
For all of their flaws and the justifiable concerns about the bigger-picture direction of North Melbourne, their best-22 is solid, as evidenced by a nice win against the Bulldogs a week ago.
The Roos are about as close to full health as a team can expect to be at this point of the year and the side that sent Scott off with a win contained 13 players with at least 100 AFL games under their belt.
They’re not all world beaters, but with that much experience, the Kangas should be competitive more weeks than not – which probably goes a fair way to explaining Scott’s sudden departure after a 2-7 start.
Their opponents tonight, have had no such injury luck.
The Tigers’ charmed run with health has come to a near-comical end this season.
It started with Alex Rance going down, then Jack Riewoldt, then Trent Cotchin. Josh Caddy missed time, as have Bachar Houli, Kane Lambert and Daniel Rioli, who has been somewhat surprisingly dropped.
However, Richmond’s fortune might well be changing. Cotchin returns tonight, and despite finishing the Dreamtime match with ice on his leg, leading goalkicker Tom Lynch is set to play.
Ruckman Ivan Soldo returns from suspension and small forward Dan Butler also comes in for the Tigers. Connor Menadue and Callum Coleman-Jones were dropped along with Rioli.
The Roos are unchanged after a win.
Despite their woes, the Tigers have managed an impressive seven wins in their first ten games. They have come up well short in their two biggest challenges – to Collingwood and GWS – but the Roos don’t represent such a challenge.
That’s not to say North are to be taken lightly. But for a scare early in the final quarter of Round 10, they were pretty convincing in their 25-point win against the Bulldogs – the same Bulldogs that hammered the Tigers by the best part of eight goals only a few weeks earlier.
Todd Goldstein was back to something near his best last week, and he should regularly get first hands on the footy again tonight.
Neither of these sides are strong at stoppages, ranked 13th (Richmond) and 14th for clearance differential this season.
For the Tigers though, losing those stoppages doesn’t necessarily cost them territory. Richmond are fifth when it comes to inside-50 differential, bashing it inside-50 about five times a game more than their opponents.
The Roos are at the other end of the spectrum, fifth-worst for differential, though a difference of barely more than one a game isn’t the problem. What is the problem is what happens when the ball enters their defensive third.
North Melbourne are conceding a goal on 26 per cent of their opponents’ inside-50s, which is ahead of only Melbourne – and the Dees are just about plucking guys off the street to fill defensive posts at this stage.
It wouldn’t be right to say these sides are evenly matched, but it might not be as uneven as their win-loss records suggest.
For all of their pluck, the Tigers are still far from their best, and their percentage of 106 is probably more indicative of their quality through almost half a season.
If the Kangas can get the best out of their best players – Goldstein, Ben Brown, Shaun Higgins, Robbie Tarrant, Ben Cunnington, Jared Polec and Jack Ziebell – they are every chance tonight.
Tarrant is a good match-up for Lynch, and Brown will cause headaches for Richmond’s defenders if the delivery is better than average – Polec and Higgins will be crucial there.
Damien Hardwick has been preaching that his side shouldn’t think of North as easybeats, nor should they.
This is a danger game for Richmond, and I expect the Roos to make them sweat.
Richmond by two goals.
That’s my Friday night forecast. What’s yours?