Still, with Brad Scott in his 10th season at North, which equals Denis Pagan’s tenure, it’s reasonable to ask: is there a use-by date on a coach’s message?
My view is that the players need to take responsibility. Let’s not forget this is a club that was predicted to finish in the bottom four last year, but then almost played finals. Funnily enough, that often gets forgotten when discussing Scott.
While many thought he over overachieved last year, this year his critics have been circling. So in the opening five weeks, how have the Roos managed to lose what they’ve stood for? Did they think it was just going to happen with the players that were recruited? None of them were superstars, but the likes of Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard, Aaron Hall and Dom Tyson should have at least added some depth. Clearly, the problem is mental, not physical.
There have been concerns right across the ground, but for me it’s the forward-line that’s looked most dysfunctional this season. I’ve touched on the flaws in Ben Brown’s game, but he has players around him who should complement his many strengths. Right now, he needs more support.
The skipper, Jack Ziebell, is a player I’ve always admired. When he’s at his best, he has the ability to lead his team in the way Joel Selwood does at Geelong and Trent Cotchin has at Richmond. Unfortunately, it’s just not often enough.
Ziebell’s role has obviously evolved in the past few years, going from a mid-forward to spending almost all of his time forward. He’s got a great attack on the footy and is a great mark for his size.
This year, though, the dynamic has changed. With Jarrad Waite retiring, Ziebell is often taking the opposition’s second-best or even best defender. Last week it was Michael Hurley who held him to just six disposals. We’ve all had bad games, but if he’s faced with that type of situation again, Ziebell has to play smarter.
As captain, he should have enough licence to inject himself into the contest if he’s struggling. As good as Ziebell is one-on-one, he couldn’t expect to beat a key-position player such as Hurley too often, so he needed to stop engaging him. Instead he should look to take players like Hurley out of their comfort zone. Use your running power to get up the ground and around the footy and then push back inside 50 to be front and centre.
The Bombers would clearly prefer Hurley closer to goal, rather than chasing Ziebell into the middle. That being said, structurally Ziebell’s almost been asked to play as a taller target because the Kangaroos simply aren’t getting enough out of Mason Wood. He’s a player who could prove key to their turnaround. Not only can he take the heat off Ziebell, but also Brown.
He’s had his excuses because of a lack continuity, but given he spent some time in the VFL to start the season, it seems there’s also more at play. Wood has the natural ability to be a very good footballer, but how long can you live off potential? He’s now 25 and must take the next step, otherwise he’s in danger of finishing his career as a talent unfulfilled.
For him, it’s about workrate and care with the footy. He had a few chances to get the Roos on the board last week, and in future must take them. The good thing for Wood, and indeed the entire North team, is that they get another chance to show the footy world what they’re made of under the Friday night lights. This is an opportunity to change the conversation.
No longer should the coach have to make excuses for his players, as Scott did when he said he might have made a mistake by throwing in all his recruits at once. Talk of teams taking time to gel is one of the bigger myths in footy. While some players aren’t rocket scientists, most are intelligent enough to adapt.
North should look no further than Port Adelaide in seeing what’s possible when everyone buys into a plan, no matter how different it is. Port had only a week to train the way they wanted to play against West Coast. Now it’s the Roos’ turn to show just how much can change in seven days.