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VFL: Report Card (Round 13, 2018)

Match result

North Melbourne 15.18 108 defeats Coburg 6.9 45

In action

Mitch Hibberd (25 disposals), Nick Larkey (8 disposals, 6 marks, 2 goals), Alex Morgan (24 disposals, 7 marks), Sam Durdin (11 disposals, 5 tackles), Dan Nielson (10 disposals), Will Walker (17 disposals, 2 goals), Braydon Preuss (18 disposals, 6 marks), Josh Williams (25 disposals), Kyron Hayden (14 disposals, 6 tackles), Tristan Xerri (7 disposals, 2 goals), Gordon Narrier (6 disposals, 2 goals), Cameron Zurhaar, (25 disposals, 5 marks), Oscar Junker (9 disposals, 1 goal)

Nick Rippon (22 disposals, 5 tackles, 1 goal), Ty Leonardis (18 disposals, 2 goals), Jordan Harper (17 disposals), Nash Holmes (31 disposals), Chris Jansen (29 disposals), Fraser Cameron (16 disposals, 7 marks, 1 goal), Louis Cunningham (10 disposals, 1 goal), Patrick McCarthy (6 disposals), Quintin Montanaro (6 disposals), Matthew Northe (16 disposals, 1 goal)

Story of the game

North Melbourne returned to the winners' circle, overcoming an early scare to defeat Coburg by 57 points at Avalon Airport Oval on Sunday afternoon.

A Coburg outfit looking for its first win this season showed resolve, attacking North from the opening bounce in an attempt to rattle the hosts, who were looking for their first victory in three weeks. 

After hitting the lead within seconds on the back of an aggressive display from Mitch Conn, Coburg entered the first break with an unlikely nine-point lead, leaving the Roos to lament their earlier chances missed.

North quickly eradicated its inability to capitalise on forward entries, booting four goals to enter half-time with a deserved 10-point advantage.

If there was any potential for a comeback in the third quarter, it was swiftly stifled by a fast-finishing North, which kicked 13 unanswered goals.

After a season built on the goal-scoring efforts of Nick Larkey and his surrounding key talls, North opted against its favoured aerial dominance, taking an alternate route to goal with clean possession and fast ball movement.

This was highlighted by Gordon Narrier’s brilliant goal, created on the back of some smart ball manoeuvring from speedster Will Walker.

A five goal fourth quarter allowed the royal blue and white to finish with poise, much to the delight of the North faithful, who enjoyed the attacking brand of footy offered in glorious conditions.

“We started a little bit slowly but we certainly worked our way into it, which was pleasing,” coach David Loader told North Media.

“I thought about half way through the second quarter we got back to playing on our terms. It was pretty good in the start of third and last, so plenty of positives to come out of the game.

“It opened up a little bit, they pressured us really good around the ball early.

“Once we got that balance right, we looked different going forward with the footy. They’re all little positives and little wins along the way.”

Best of AFL

Will Walker
Like fellow speedster Gordon Narrier, Walker adds some serious pace to North’s forward stocks.

When given the opportunity, the creative first-year forward can fill several roles in North’s forward half, particularly across both the half-forward flank and forward pocket.

After a first term where clean disposal was hard to find, the 19-year-old showed his goal-sense, finding Narrier with a crafty handball that turned a legitimate contest for possession into an uncontested goal-scoring opportunity.

“We’ve had a few hard weeks down in Geelong and then losing last week too,” Walker told North Media.

“It’s been tough, but it’s awesome to get back with a win, especially after a bad first quarter. To come back strong in the last three [quarters] was really positive.

“We got on top of them inside and I feel that forward group and defensive group worked quite well together and managed to lock down their players [and] take advantage of the open space.

“It was good to get on top of them and kick a few goals, which was nice.”

Best of VFL

Ty Leonardis
After shining in a surprise move to defence against Footscray last weekend, many expected Leonardis to retain his place in defence alongside Sam Durdin and Dan Nielson.

However, Leonardis was moved into a more familiar role in the forward pocket, where the silky left-footer stood out. 

The 21-year-old showed sound decision making, setting up goal-scoring opportunities for himself and those around him, including  Larkey, who was the beneficiary of a pinpoint pass from Leonardis in high-traffic.

On a memorable afternoon for several players, Leonardis finished with two goals and one of his best performances for North in the season proper.

Talking points

Busy young guns
Several of North's emerging youngsters were able to get their hands on the footy regularly; Cameron Zurhaar, Mitch Hibberd and Josh Williams all had 25 disposals.

Alex Morgan was also busy, finishing with 24 possessions.

Xerri's ruck success
As Braydon Preuss continues push his case for a call-up, Tristan Xerri continues to improve every week. 

Despite spending large stints for the afternoon providing first use to his crumbing rovers, Xerri's work-rate and overhead marking ability also caused major problems for the opposition defence. 

He also kicked two goals to cap off another solid outing. 

Narrier game breaker
It was made clear early that Larkey was going to face stiff competition for every aerial ball that entered North's forward 50.

Although Coburg's linear approach to defending appeared to pay dividends on paper, this provided the ever-present Narrier with a timely opportunity to spearhead a slightly different approach with North's attacking brand of footy.

Both of Narrier's goals came from seemingly dead plays, proving just how difficult the livewire is to contain when afforded space.

Spread of individual goal-kickers
In previous weeks, North has shown a tendency to rely heavily on its tall timber for goals, particularly the competition-leading.

But on a day where the in-form forward was finding his goal-scoring opportunities to be limited, the Roos’ emerging list stepped up, sharing the burden of the scoring duties.

By the time the final siren sounded, North boasted 11 individual goal-kickers.

“It always is [nice] when you can get a little bit of a balance,” Loader told North Media.

“To have some different guys hit the scoreboard at different times is really good. You can’t be too heavily reliant on one player as good as Nick has been so far this year

“We don’t care where the goals are coming from, as long as we’re getting them.”

First quarter adversity
A winless Coburg attacked North with ferocity from the first bounce, hitting the scoreboard within seconds.

Although the forward threat was eventually stifled by North’s fast-thinking defensive brigade, the visitors still entered the first break holding an unexpected nine-point advantage.

However, as David Loader concedes, North had ample chances to start fast, lamenting its early inability to convert forward entries into goals.

“I thought we still had our chances in the first quarter,” added Loader.

“I think we had 14 inside 50s in the first quarter, so we probably had our chance to hit the scoreboard.

“When you kick one goal out of 14 entries, it was probably the way we were bringing the ball in and the way the forwards were presenting a little bit. It was a bit of a combination of both.”

Confidence ahead of difficult stretch
With a confidence-building win now secured, attention has quickly shifted to North’s consecutive away trips to the competition leading Casey and Richmond.

As the VFL continues to highlight its ultra-competitive nature, Loader admits that winning premiership points at home is always an added bonus, referencing North’s difficult run home.

“We’re away now over the next three weeks travelling,” said Loader.

“It’s nice for the boys to be in familiar circumstances and surroundings. This place has been pretty good for us so far this year.

“But like every week, we just take each week as it comes.”