Sun shines on the Shinboners
Recent matches in Hobart have been characterised by a howling gale and an obvious scoring end at Blundstone Arena, but it was a low mist and remarkably still Derwent River that greeted the teams on Sunday afternoon. Other than a somewhat greasy surface, conditions were just about perfect for football, but neither side could fully capitalise on the scoreboard in a low-scoring and at times dour first half. North could be accused of being wasteful in front of goal, missing a number of kickable set shots, while for the Eagles the issue was more to do with getting the ball forward – and keeping it there when they did. Bright sunshine lit up the ground early in the third term but you could be forgiven for thinking a heavy fog was still hovering over the Eagles given their struggles in a quarter that saw the Roos take over on their way to a 40-point win.
ROOS HOP TO IT Full match coverage and stats
Shuey's clearance work a big loss for West Coast
Josh Kennedy's absence was always going to hurt the Eagles' forward structure, but a case could be made that Luke Shuey's withdrawal from the selected side was even more telling in Hobart. While they struggled to find a dangerous tall forward all afternoon, the Eagles appeared to have just as many problems winning clearances – particularly from the centre square where they were beaten 14-5 by the rugged North Melbourne midfield. Coming into round 20, Shuey trailed only Jack Redden for clearances at the Eagles and there's no doubt everyone at the club will be hoping he's back ASAP to add grunt and class to a West Coast midfield that lacked it for much of Sunday's contest.
GAME BREAKER The Great Wall of Majak
Walker misses chance for first kick party trick
Will Walker won't ever forget his first AFL match, but the 19-year-old debutant might wish he could re-write history when it comes to his first kick. Having found space inside forward 50 to mark uncontested midway through the first term, Walker lined up for goal with an opportunity to join that much vaunted club of AFL footballers to boot a goal with their first kick in the big league. It wasn't to be for Walker, however, the ball sliding left off his boot to miss by some margin. Unfortunately for the Roos, Walker's miss was symptomatic of a first quarter in which they won just about everywhere except the scoreboard. They dominated possession and forward entries, but trailed at quarter time having registered 1.4 with a couple of other shots that didn't score at all.
Higgins hits 200 games
Having played a pivotal role in so much of North's winning football this year, Shaun Higgins has furthered endeared himself to the club's supporters – as well as ensuring his name has been bandied about as a Brownlow smoky in 2018. The former Bulldog notched his 200th game against the Eagles, and while his output wasn't as prolific as it has been at times in a career-best season, he was typically combative winning the ball and silky going forward. Aware of Higgins' potential to influence the contest, the Eagles sent Mark Hutchings to play the shutdown role – a job the dogged Eagle did beautifully for the first half-and-a-bit. But after recording just two disposals during the first term, Higgins continued to work his way into the contest and hit the scoreboard with a long-range major as the Roos took control in the third term and another polished finish in the final quarter to seal the deal for North.
Talls kept quiet on a day made for marking
Despite the benign weather conditions, it just wasn't to be a great day for tall forwards at Blundstone Arena. While Jack Darling was rendered ineffective and kept goalless against North's trio of tall defenders in Scott Thompson, Robbie Tarrant and Majak Daw, Coleman Medal leader Ben Brown was kept quiet at the other end as well. Brown could manage just the one goal on his home ground as his lead in the Coleman race slimmed considerably after Tom Hawkins' seven-goal effort against the Lions on Saturday.