Photo: Madeleine Green
North Melbourne’s VFL side has registered its first win of the season, grinding down a spirited Essendon side to win by 15 points at Windy Hill.
In a game full of momentum swings and lead changes, Essendon led by as much as 12 points in the final term, before a late North flurry saw the away side take home the four points.
Will Phillips impressed in his second game back in the VFL, with the talented midfielder taking the game by the scruff of the neck in the number 77 jumper, due to his favoured number 29 being ripped in the first half.
VFL coach Leigh Adams says his 28-disposal performance can be a great launching point for the youngster.
“It was probably the first time since he’s (Phillips) been at North that he’s had a full game through the midfield,” Adams told North Media.
“For him to get a full four quarters and just be able to hunt the footy and work on his craft will do him wonders.
“We all know internally that he’s a seriously good player, but for him to get that nourishment of playing really well can only help him.”
With North continuing its final push for a result, Eddie Ford was one of a number of players to step up in the big moments, kicking a classy snap to level the scores with ten minutes remaining.
Ford was impressive throughout the contest as he finished with 2 important goals amongst his 17 disposals.
Adams says Ford has been threatening to unleash a performance of such high standards for a number of weeks now.
“The great thing about ‘Fordy’ is his work-rate is AFL standard, it’s more about harnessing his running patterns to allow him to have more influence on the game,” he said.
“We saw today that when we actually get our ball movement right he can be really dangerous up forward.
“When he flew he almost always looked like he was going to take a mark, but they were just able to get a fist in … I think the more he can continue to learn structures and the game plan, the better he can be.”
After stringing together a number of impressive performances at VFL level, Tristan Xerri once again elevated his game to almost unthinkable heights.
Once again playing in the primary ruck role, Xerri finished with 35 disposals, 9 marks and 27 hitouts, as well as 30 contested possessions - a VFL-high since 2011.
Adams says if Xerri has been putting his hand up for senior selection so far this season, this performance has him banging down the door.
“He (Xerri) just keeps getting better every week and I’m just so thrilled for him because he keeps putting in the effort,” he said.
“We’ve been speaking the last few weeks about how he’s been really good, but hasn’t had that breakout game to almost demand his selection in the AFL … I think he’s done that today.
“If ‘X’ gets the opportunity I know he’ll play well, because he is every week at VFL level.”
Ben Speight and Josh Clayton came back into the side after suffering hamstring injuries in Round 4 against Southport, and the experienced pair played crucial roles in the victory.
Speight kicked 2 goals in the final quarter with the game in the balance, while Clayton collected 26 disposals, 3 goals and a game-high 10 tackles.
Adams says being able to call upon such a high level of experience was key to his side obtaining victory against the Bombers.
“We thought we had a pretty strong team in with a few quality VFL boys back, and to their credit they just stuck at it and kept grinding away and obviously got the win,” he said.
“We knew we were going to have a young AFL list so to get some VFL boys like them to play for us is huge.
“You get the strong bodies there, but you also get the smarts of when the game’s in tight. That’s when they know what they need to do, show some leadership and bring blokes along with them.
“Having a couple of extra on-field leaders in a close game really helps the group as well.”
Patrick Walker also made his return to the side, with the AFL-listed rookie overcoming a hip problem that saw him miss a number of games for the VFL side.
Adams says while the primary goal was to make sure he got through the game uninjured, it was good to see Walker grow into the game as it progressed.
“He started off a little bit shaky but as the game went on he shifted into defence,” he said.
“I thought he was quite good late, he was composed when he had the ball and I thought he finished off the game really well … he got through unscathed.”
After suffering five losses to start the season, North sat bottom of the VFL ladder with a percentage of less than 30 heading into the clash with the Bombers.
Adams says despite suffering a number of heavy losses to start the season, it was only a matter of time before his side put together a competitive four-quarter performance.
“In fairness to us last week our first two and a half quarters were pretty good, but we just dropped away dramatically in the last quarter and a half of that game,” he said.
“I was really proud of our boys’ ability to hang in, especially in the defensive 50 stoppages late in the third quarter when Essendon was camped in the forward 50 for a long time.
“Our ability not to get scored against when they had the momentum was probably the difference for us today.”
North Melbourne 12.13.85
Tristan Xerri - 35 disposals, 9 marks, 27 hitouts
Will Phillips - 28 disposals, 5 tackles
Eddie Ford - 17 disposals, 2 goals
Atu Bosenavulagi - 12 disposals
Patrick Walker - 10 disposals, 4 marks
The best of the VFL
Josh Clayton - 26 disposals, 10 tackles, 3 goals
Ben Speight - 15 disposals, 2 goals
Mathew Walker - 6 disposals, 3 goals
Kade Answerth - 24 disposals