North Melbourne v Adelaide Crows
Sunday, April 11
First bounce: 1.10pm (AEST)
Gates open: 11.30am (AEST)
After back to back disappointing losses, this young North side is desperate for a win to silence the doubters.
Falling by 128 points to a premiership contending Western Bulldogs' outfit last week, North showed quality and grit in the first quarter and found themselves just 12 points down, before ending up on the wrong side of 12 unanswered goals.
After starting their 2020 season with 12 straight losses, many expected Adelaide to be fighting it out at the bottom of the ladder once again this season, but the Crows have been the surprise packet of this young 2021 season.
Behind early Coleman Medal pacesetter Taylor Walker, the Crows have surged into the top eight after toppling a determined Gold Coast side by ten points last week to start the season 2-1.
Last time we met
Round 9, 2020
North continued its strong recent record against Adelaide as it looked irresistible at times, disposing of the Crows to the tune of 69 points.
Adelaide’s defence couldn’t deal with a powerful, three-goal performance from Cam Zurhaar, while the likes of Nick Larkey, Jack Mahony and Luke Davies-Uniacke all chipped in with two majors of their own.
Luke McDonald put in a vintage performance as he collected 35 disposals from the half-back line, while Jed Anderson and Todd Goldstein dominated in the middle and finished with 8 clearances each.
Jake Kelly tried his best to mop up for the Crows as he collected 7 intercepts, while Tom Lynch collected 24 disposals.
Josh Walker v Taylor Walker
Both Ben McKay and Josh Walker will look to spend time on the Crows skipper over the course of the game, but Walker may be the first North defender to match up with his namesake.
Earmarked for a position in the forward-line this season, injuries to Aidan Corr and Robbie Tarrant have forced the former Lion back into the defensive role in which he thrived last season.
With 17 goals in the first three games of the season, ‘Tex’ is back to his best and is experiencing something of a career renaissance as he leads the Coleman Medal by three goals over second-placed Josh Bruce.
With both Walkers leading their respective sides in contested marks this season, a tough, physical battle between the man-mountains is inevitable as they both look to be the difference for their sides.
The key men
Jack Ziebell and Reilly O’Brien
Ziebell took charge of an under-siege defence against the Western Bulldogs, collecting 33 disposals at a staggering 93 per cent efficiency.
It’s statistics like those that suggest the experiment of sending Ziebell to the backline is an early success, and the leadership he provides in a young and currently undermanned backline cannot be overstated.
With Walker being responsible for almost half of Adelaide’s goals this season, it will take the work of the whole defensive unit to quiet the opposition’s spearhead. Ziebell’s leadership and direction will prove integral in dealing with a hot Crows forward-line.
One word can be used to sum up Adelaide ruck O’Brien across the start of this season; dominant.
Averaging over 26 hit-outs per game, O’Brien’s innate ability to find his midfielders all too often allows Adelaide first use of the ball.
However, O’Brien will be coming up against an absolute veteran in the form of Todd Goldstein, who himself is averaging 25 hit-outs a game.
O’Brien ran the show last week against the Suns and was instrumental in their narrow victory, but taking on Goldstein is a different prospect all together.
If Adelaide is to win, O’Brien won’t just have to win the ruck contest, but he’ll have to track one of the most athletic rucks in the competition around the ground. If he fails at the latter and Goldstein gets off the leash, it could be curtains for the Crows.
Cunnington the clearance king
After a long-term back injury and pre-season concussion forced Ben Cunnington to wait 273 days between AFL games, the burly number 10 made his return to North’s midfield last week.
Produced a number of his famous fend-offs throughout the game, Cunnington often looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.
Once again, he was North’s leading clearance winner with nine, with 7 of those coming coming from centre bounces.
Also laying 5 tackles, it’s fair to say Cunnington’s contested game has not suffered from his extended break.