It will be a unique situation for North Melbourne in Round 1, playing against West Coast in Melbourne for the first time in seven long years.
The Eagles made a couple of high-profile additions to their list in the off-season, trading for Sam Mitchell and Nathan Vardy, while picking up former Roo Drew Petrie in the rookie draft.
The acquisitions of Vardy and Petrie were made in part to counter the expected absence of Nic Naitanui for the majority of 2017; the ruckman on the recovery trail after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament late last year.
West Coast’s list status
In: Sam Mitchell, Drew Petrie, Nathan Vardy, Daniel Venables, Josh Rotham, Willie Rioli, Jake Waterman, Thomas Gorter, Tarir Bayok
Out: Corey Adamson, Jamie Bennell, Mitch Brown, Brant Colledge, Alec Waterman, Damien Cavka, Xavier Ellis, Kane Lucas, Patrick McGinnity
Injured: Matthew Allan, Nic Naitanui, Willie Rioli, Simon Tunbridge, Scott Lycett, Jake Waterman
With Scott Lycett now out for an extended period after a pre-season shoulder injury and Jonathan Giles still coming back from a thumb injury, the ruck duties will fall to Vardy and Petrie on Sunday.
Without Naitanui and Lycett, it would indicate an advantage in the ruck contests for Todd Goldstein; but the result from the last time North faced the Eagles shows the midfield will have to work hard to make the most of the big man’s tap-work.
Last season at Domain Stadium, it was Goldstein v Lycett, with Naitanui injured. The former dominated with a huge 65 hit-outs, but the game was decided at ground level by West Coast’s midfield.
Luke Shuey (29 disposals, nine clearances) and Matt Priddis (25 disposals, 12 tackles) received three and two Brownlow votes respectively, with Andrew Gaff (26 disposals, six inside 50’s) and Chris Masten (23 disposals) also influential.
The Eagles’ efficiency from clearances was a key part in neutralising Goldstein’s advantage, and it’s an area they’ve been extremely strong in ever since Adam Simpson assumed the senior coaching position.
In Simpson’s three years at the helm, his side has ranked sixth (2014), first (2015) and third (2016) in scoring rate from clearances.
The Eagles will have much the same midfield as previous seasons at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, with the key addition of Mitchell.
And the delivery forward will be to the usual suspects; Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling sure to lead the way with the resting ruckman playing as the third tall.
“We think they’re going to structure up the way they have been over summer,” North defensive coach Brad Green said of the Eagles’ forward setup.
“We want to be aggressive in the way we defend the ball and get it back, and keep it out of our end as much as we can.”
Surrounding the Eagles’ key position players will be familiar faces. Mark LeCras, Josh Hill and Jamie Cripps will be threats at ground level, while the aforementioned midfielders can also hit the scoreboard.
It will be the first time the sides have met in Round 1 since 2011. On that afternoon it was a back-and-forth encounter, with the Eagles victorious by just four points in Perth.