North Melbourne v Essendon
Sunday, July 18 - 12:35pm
Momentum is a funny thing in football and is almost exclusively gained through victory, and after defeating West Coast in Perth last week North Melbourne certainly has momentum.
After waiting until Round 9 to earn its first four premiership points for the season, two wins and a draw in the last five games means North now has a stronger form line than half of the teams in the competition.
The fourth quarter comeback was the star for North against the Eagles, as West Coast kicked four goals straight to kick off the final term and take the lead, but North was not to be shaken.
Jaidyn Stephenson was the star of the show, finishing with 38 disposals and one goal, while Luke Davies-Uniacke was imperious in midfield with eight clearances, four more than any teammate.
However, to deny Essendon has any momentum coming into the clash would be foolish after they kept Adelaide to just two goals and defeated their opponent by 63 points last weekend.
Archie Perkins kicked three goals for the home side on his way to a Rising Star nomination, while Zach Merrett finished with 35 disposals and five clearances.
Dyson Heppell will return for the Bombers in the absence of Kyle Langford, and Charlie Lazzaro makes his return to North’s side at the expense of Ben Cunnington.
Last time we met:
Round 10, 2021
Heading into the clash full of confidence after the first win of the season, North couldn’t get the job done against the old enemy, with Essendon running out as 72 point winners.
While North registered more inside 50s than the Bombers on the night, North’s inefficiency inside 50 proved costly, with Essendon winning the percentage statistic 66 to 35.3.
Taylor Garner kicked three goals in his second game back from injury, while Aaron Hall’s 29 disposals were crucial in moving the ball forward, finishing with 668 metres gained.
Darcy Parish finished with 36 touches and 11 clearances, while the Bombers had three players kick three goals.
Will Phillips v Darcy Parish
With Ben Cunnington absent, a clash with one of the best midfielders in the AFL could prove to be a coming of age game for young Will Phillips.
Often played out of position in the forward line this season, Phillips has proved he can be a dominant influence in the middle of the ground at VFL level, and impressed when afforded the opportunity against West Coast last week.
While finishing with just ten disposals against the Eagles, Phillips finished with eight contested possessions, four clearances and ran at 90 per cent disposal efficiency. The midfield promise is more than on show.
The number 29 dominated a midfield pairing of Brad Crouch and Zak Jones at VFL level early this season, and now the stage is set for him to perform at the highest level.
Moving into the midfield full-time in 2021, Darcy Parish is putting together a Brownlow contending season.
Parish had the run of the midfield last time he faced North, and currently ranks first in the AFL for centre clearances per game, averaging four every contest.
Adelaide kept him to a comparatively quiet 19 touches last week, and North will be looking to replicate that aspect of their performance.
The key men:
Cam Zurhaar and Zach Merrett
After a slow start, Cam Zurhaar’s season continues to go from strength to strength, with the combative forward seemingly improving his performances every week.
Playing a crucial role in the victory over the Eagles, Zurhaar’s dominance struggled to translate onto the scoreboard, kicking two goals and six behinds, while collecting 16 disposals and laying eight tackles.
Zurhaar has kicked multiple goals in each of his last six games, and when he has his tail up he can be one of the most dangerous players in the AFL.
He’s definitely the danger-man in the forward 50 for North, and Essendon would do well to curb his influence on the contest.
The second member of Essendon’s elite midfield one-two punch, Zach Merrett is somewhat flying under the radar this season due to Darcy Parish’s output.
An accumulator of the football, Merrett ranks fourth in the AFL for disposals per game with 32, and brings the defensive pressure with 4.9 tackles per game.
Essendon’s best in a big win against the Crows, his 35 touches in the clash is his lowest total in his last three games after racking up 36 against Geelong and 41 against Melbourne.
He’ll come into the clash full of confidence, and it’s up to North’s young midfield brigade to slow him down.
Luke Davies-Uniacke is experiencing something of a breakout season in 2021, with the midfielder improving in almost every major metric from last season.
He’s turned into a crucial part of North’s midfield set up this season, forming a dynamic midfield powerhouse with the likes of Ben Cunnington and Jy Simpkin.
Across North’s three wins this season, ‘LDU’ has averaged 24.3 disposals, 8 clearances and 14.6 contested possessions per game. Numbers that take him into the company of the competition’s top midfielders.
In North’s losses, however, those averages drop to 19.7 disposals, 3 clearances and 7.9 contested possessions per game.
Inconsistency is always a part of growing as a young player, and the run of form Davies-Uniacke is putting together to close out the season is arguably the best run of his career, there’s no doubt he looks to be a star in the making.
With the likes of Cunnington and Jed Anderson missing this weekend, ‘LDU’ will be in a brilliant position to take on more responsibility against the Bombers, and should he step up it could prove crucial.