North Ballarat is known for gold nuggets… and a nuggety North HBF could be gold for fantasy.
The NAB Challenge game in North Ballarat on Saturday resulted in an even contest, but it confirmed a few things about North Melbourne in particular. Some scribes have them finishing top four this year and, as promised on Twitter, here’s my theory as to why they won’t.
North is a structurally flawed side. It is possible to blame this on specialisation at their home ground of Docklands – this is not the only factor, of course, but it is part of the problem. The Roos lack crumbing forwards to exact frontal pressure. Lindsay Thomas doesn’t crumb enough, being as he is a leading small forward by trade. Leigh Adams has been chronically injured with easily poppable shoulders, meaning he hasn’t tackled enough either for fear of reinjuring himself. The third small forward spot has been filled by a rotation, with Sam Wright spending a fair bit of time there but also the likes of Ben Cunnington and Ryan Bastinac resting from midfield. Frontal pressure from small forwards is particularly valuable to a team like North, because of their lack of disposal efficiency (DE%) inside 50 from their outside mids like Sam Gibson, and in previous years Liam Anthony – not to mention the lack of agility from Drew Petrie and Robbie Tarrant, with Aaron Black being a poor man’s Jack Darling. (While it is true that North had the second highest overall DE% in the comp last year, this was due to their home ground advantage under the roof at Docklands, and hides the inside 50 DE%.)
This weakness is hidden at shorter grounds like Docklands because their mids can run from midfield to crumb and lock it in. The flaw is shown up at longer grounds, which is why, for example, they get flogged at Subiaco so horribly, as in their last finals appearance against the Eagles. Perhaps most importantly, against the good sides on big grounds this leads to serious lack of pressure on opposing rebounding HBFers.
Albeit that North Ballarat is a small ground, with the 50m arc only five yards or so from the centre square, a number of the above allegations were true of yesterday’s game. While Cameron Mooney grilled the injured Andrew Swallow on the sidelines about the disposal efficiency and frontal pressure weaknesses, which of course show up markedly in the stats, the Carlton defenders Andrew Walker, Chris Yarran and Zach Tuohy were able to rebound with ease, with Tuohy even managing a trademark long run and supergoal from 55m. Mind you, the Carlton small forwards weren’t much better at locking it in, leading to an entertaining end-to-end shootout at times, but more on that later.
The reason I’m going through all this is that the North hierarchy knows all this, and made some fantasy-relevant trades in the offseason to try to ameliorate the issues. The recruitment of Robbie Nahas from Richmond was one such move, which has pricked up interest from fantasy coaches who are casting around for a low-price forward after the preseason injury to Mitch Clark. On evidence from the game on the weekend, Nahas is unlikely to provide the answer for either North or fantasy. He appears too small, not suited to crumbing, and falls victim to the Matt Campbell disease of not impacting on enough contests. Sheepdogging doesn’t earn DT points.
Another fix was to sign Nick Dal Santo from the Saints for three years, giving NDS peace of mind and the North midfield some badly needed quality of disposal in their outside mid brigade. This looks like paying off for North, and those who enjoyed the resurgence last year of Leigh Montagna might think this is another example of a former fantasy gun in the Saints’ recent run having an Indian summer in the winter. I would add a note of caution, however. I have always considered Dal Santo to be a Supercoach special, as his DE% gives him great numbers in exotic formats but he doesn’t quite get the weight of raw possession that makes him a DT star. Nevertheless, plenty of players who have been Supercoach specials in the past have lifted themselves to become DT relevant too in recent years – I’m thinking Joel Selwood, Sam Mitchell and Jobe Watson here.
The shift of Shaun Atley to midfield is an attempt to bring a bit of Yaz run-and-carry to the midfield, so that instead of the long bomb from the centre circle, Atley can scoot to somewhere nearer CHF and have more options to lower the eyes and hit up a target. Again, I think this might be good for North but not be as great for fantasy as might be hoped. Like Dal Santo, and like just about every North mid up to and including Swallow, their lack of a possession game means they just don’t get enough +6 mark-and-kicks to make them fantasy pigs. Atley strikes me as a handball-receive merchant (only 2 marks from 13 possies), so like Yarran he might be an outside chance of Supercoach relevance but is already priced at 73 in that comp so is a very risky prospect.
Atley’s move means there’s a spot in the small defenders, and father-son draftee Luke McDonald put his hand up on Saturday with a workmanlike performance. 16 of his 20 possessions were effective, but only three were contested. He is a likely type, but I recall much the same sort of performance from mature-age VFL recruit Cameron Richardson several years ago which disappeared in a puff of smoke. One strong caveat should be the absence of Aaron Mullett, so it will be important to see how he fits in when the Roos play the Hawks next week. He deserves a spot on fantasy back benches at the very least, nevertheless.
Right, so that’s a big North wrap… don’t say I never talk about them! On the Carlton side, a few things stood out for Blue fans but not much for fantasy. Andrejs Everitt kicked a few goals as third tall forward, Cameron Wood played second ruck resting forward, Sam Rowe was tried in defence, and Jarrad Waite swung back and forward. Someone has to fill the hole vacated by Shaun Hampson. Blue fans will hope it’s not Joshua Bootsma who gets the gig. Everitt impressed me most, giving me (positive) flashbacks to Andrew Walker when he played forward, but he is already priced above 60 and I wouldn’t expect him to push much higher than that on a consistent basis. Wood would be the most fantasy relevant, particularly in Supercoach where he is priced at only $162,600. Mick Malthouse loves to play favourites, and he might be hoping that his old Magpie player can play the Leigh Brown role that helped deliver Mick a premiership, so he’d give him an extended run in the seniors.
Elsewhere in position battles, David Ellard got a full game as a small forward with Dennis Armfield mostly wearing a vest, and with Eddie Betts over in Adelaide now there could be a spot for both of them to play alongside Jeff Garlett. The question is whether Ellard and Armfield can both play if Malthouse also wants Troy Menzel or Kane Lucas to rotate forward. Ellard and Menzel are both priced well below 50, so if one of them is going to bob up for a 70 average, they are worth investing in. Put both of them on your watchlist for the rest of the NAB Challenge.
I like the look of Tom Bell – who wouldn’t, he’s so uncannily reminiscent of Anthony Koutoufides! – and he topped the Blue numbers in this game with an 87/87. As Chris Judd is missing the start of the season, you’d have to think that Bell will play. Priced at around 60, however, he would need to put up those sort of numbers every week in the real stuff to justify buying him from the start. I think he’s capable of it. Plenty of fantasy coaches will look at Bell and think he represents greater value for money than ageing stars like Dane Swan or Steve Johnson. If your team is well covered for starting points elsewhere, it’s a valid risk.
How about you, are you on the North bandwagon this year or do you think they haven’t got the right stuff? Are Nahas, NDS and Atley fantasy relevant? Is McDonald a lock? Who do you think wins the positional battles to replace Hampson and Betts? How much does Bell look like Kouta, seriously? Let me know in the comments.