North Melbourne players and coach celebrate winning a qualifying final over Melbourne on November 12, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

ON SUNDAY, North Melbourne defeated Melbourne for the first time in 1723 days.  

Heading into the qualifying final as the underdogs, having lost to the reigning premier by 23 points just three weeks prior, the Roos shocked everyone with their 41-point victory, putting them in the express lane to a preliminary final. 

Having learned from not only their previous meeting with the Demons this year, but also how other strong sides Adelaide and Brisbane opted to play them, the Kangaroos came in with a clear plan, which was executed to perfection. 

Relentless pressure 

Coming into the game averaging 73.4 tackles per game, North Melbourne laid 104 across the course of Sunday, the equal-second-most in AFLW history.  

The Roos swarmed any Demon who got near the footy, often double or triple-teaming them. The typically calm and composed Melbourne that is known to work the ball neatly out of the contest by hand was unable to generate any meaningful chains of possession. 

In the face of such pressure, Melbourne was forced into its lowest disposal efficiency of the season, using the ball at just 57.2 per cent, higher than just its 54.3 per cent recorded in its loss to Adelaide in round six.

Pressure seems like a simple thing to be able to apply, but to do it in the manic, relentless fashion across four quarters that North Melbourne did on Sunday requires exceptional fitness and work rate. Each member of the selected 21 had to buy in and contribute in order to achieve it.  


By setting that standard right from the opening siren, the Demons were worried into uncharacteristic fumbles and poor decision making. 

In addition, some specific roles handed to players worked a treat. Amy Smith ran with Demons vice-captain Tyla Hanks, and while Hanks was still comfortably Melbourne's best player, she was held to using her 23 disposals at just 56.5 per cent efficiency. 

Jenna Bruton also spent some time quelling the aggressive rebound of Sinead Goldrick to limit attacking launches out of the back half.  

Meanwhile Jasmine Garner, who was slowed by Demon Shelley Heath when they met in round eight, was able to work through that tag to record 25 disposals and 12 tackles. 


Layered defence 

North Melbourne has been the best defensive team in the league this season, and to achieve this it has taken full team buy-in. Layered defensive efforts across all lines helped to disrupt the Demons' desired strategy of attack. 

Melbourne's methodical style of slow, considered ball movement out of the back half, then pulling the trigger to move quickly once in the middle of the ground, was completely disrupted. The Demons were forced into long dump kicks out of defence, generally to a contest, from which the Roos were able to at least half, if not win the contest. 

Winger Tess Craven was also a key part of the Roos' ability to block off the corridor, not allowing Melbourne to move the ball back into the middle of the ground, where it likes to generate attacking runs, while the deepest backline members Jasmine Ferguson and Sarah Wright worked together to ensure the Dees' deepest forward had no space either in front or behind.

Operating in tandem with one another, one of Ferguson or Wright stayed in the goalsquare behind Melbourne's deepest forward – often Eden Zanker – and the other sitting in front, closing off her leading space.

As a result, Melbourne recorded the lowest goal efficiency in club history, kicking a goal from just 2.9 per cent of their inside 50s, well below the club's record 25.3 per cent goal efficiency heading into the game. 


Stretch Melbourne's backline 

When North Melbourne recruited spearhead Kate Shierlaw in the offseason the potential for the club's attack, adding Shierlaw to tall duo Tahlia Randall and Emma King, to really stretch opposition defences. 

Against Melbourne on Sunday this really came to the fore. Tahlia Gillard was often tasked with either Shierlaw or King, while Libby Birch was forced to play a one-on-one battle with Randall.  

Birch is at her best when playing as the loose intercepting option, using time and space to support her fellow defenders and organise the line. Having to play against Randall, however, meant Melbourne lost her organisation and intercepting prowess. 

This saw Melbourne concede a shot on goal from 54.5 per cent of North Melbourne's inside 50s, the second highest efficiency the Demons have conceded this year, resulting in just the third score of 50 or more kicked against the side this season. 

Above all, the work rate from the Roos was what won them the game. The standard set at the first siren was omnipresent, providing Melbourne little relief all day. 

Thanks to the win, North Melbourne is now in the box seat to host the Grand Final should it win through.