NORTH Melbourne is right in the hunt for the NAB Cup after outlasting a fast-finishing Gold Coast by 13 points in sweltering conditions in Townsville on Saturday.
The Kangaroos kicked seven goals to one in the first quarter and led by as much as 53 points before winning 2.13.6 (102) to 1.11.14 (89).
It was North's third straight win in the competition, and victory over Geelong at Simonds Stadium next Saturday would seal a place in the final.
But what looked like being a comfortable victory got a lot tighter than expected, as the Suns kicked seven of the final eight goals.
The stifling conditions ensured it was a physically demanding match, with the 31 degree temperature and 70 per cent humidity meaning the AFL's heat policy was implemented prior to the start.
That allowed extra breaks between quarters, no cap on rotations and six interchange players instead of three and three substitutions.
The weather might have been a far cry from a Melbourne autumn, but North's young, slick midfield tore the Suns apart in the first quarter to establish a match-winning 39-point lead.
Ryan Bastinac (eight), Ben Cunnington (four) and Melbourne recruit Jordan Gysberts (four) were particularly impressive in the centre of the ground, collaborating for 16 clearances.
Gysberts kicked a first-quarter supergoal as part of the early onslaught, and finished with 13 disposals.
Dan Currie was productive for a second straight week, teaming with Todd Goldstein in the ruck, but also showing he could produce in the forward line, kicking two second-quarter goals.
Brad Scott showed he was still using the pre-season for some experimentation, giving Aaron Black an extended run in the forward line and shifting Lachie Hansen to defence.
Hansen was solid in the back half, while Black was also promising up front, kicking three goals.
The lead blew out to 53 late in the third term, but to Gold Coast's credit it battled on and finished full of running. Sam Gibson (23) and David Swallow (20) were the leading possession getters for their respective clubs.
What it means
North Melbourne is three from three and while Daniel Wells was again instrumental against the Suns, it was the form of the younger midfielders that will give Brad Scott reason to smile. The Roos face a stiff test against Geelong next week, but with the likes of Andrew Swallow and Drew Petrie to return, a win could see the team contest the pre-season Grand Final.
What looked like being a mini-disaster late in the third quarter turned up a few positives for the Suns. While the flurry of last quarter goals was a bit late to snatch victory, it did show the Suns are both fit, and fighters. They need to improve again next week against the Sydney Swans in Blacktown to have any momentum entering the premiership matches, though.
What the coaches said
"To finish like that, hopefully the boys walk away knowing that they're good enough to run a side down and skillful enough to peg them back." - Guy McKenna
"You can come from the hottest Melbourne summer on record, but there's nothing that prepares you for humidity and it really sapped a lot out of the players today and I think they found it real tough. We probably flirted with our form late in the game trying to experiment with a few things, and confused the players a bit … but the things we put in place early in the game, the guys did really well." - Brad Scott
AFL Fantasy Snapshot
Last year's rookie revelation Sam Gibson has started 2013 in fine style, racking up 23 disposals and 75 Dream Team points against the Suns. Gibson averaged 90.9 in his 12 games last season, which saw his price skyrocket to $468,400. A couple of young North midfielders with good price value shone against Gold Coast as well. Aaron Mullett (72 points) and Melbourne recruit Jordan Gysberts (57) made the most of their chances in the middle. Mullett is valued at $252,700, and Gysberts $262,800. For the Suns, former No.1 draft pick David Swallow showed he is coming into form nicely. After a host of injuries - mainly knee - curtailed his 2012 season, Swallow scored 76 points against North. Although his $380,400 tag seems a little steep, you can expect a sharp increase from last season's average of 73.8 points.
1.6.2 1.10.4 2.12.5 2.13.6 (102)
0.1.2 1.3.7 1.5.9 1.11.14 (89)
Thomas 3, Black 3, Currie 2, Bastinac, Harvey, Cunnington, Harper, Greenwood
Swallow 2, Brown 2, Hutchins, Ablett, Gorringe, Smith, Hall, Brennan, Harbrow