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IN A couple of ways, North Melbourne overcame its most searching test for the season at Etihad Stadium on Sunday night.
Never mind the being the only team to beat Port Adelaide this season, or the two wins in Western Australia and the triumph over the Sydney Swans at the SCG.
What the Kangaroos were able to put behind them was the expectation that they should win, and indeed, win well. North fans have seen it all before – the failure to back up the week after a supposedly groundbreaking win.
It seemed a case 'of same old, same old' for the Kangas when coming off a fine win in Perth last week they trailed by 35 points at half-time. But the third quarter was pulsating; eight goals in 19 minutes to turn the game on its ear. It was spectacular, it was imperious and perhaps the most exciting quarter of football in Brad Scott's 100 games as coach of the club.
WATCH: The Roos rise and the Tigers crumble in one incredible quarterAnd the blueprint was remarkably straightforward. Win the centre clearances (actually, dominate might be more apt), move the ball quickly to a dominant forward line where the key forwards or the crumbers would do the work.
Drew Petrie has kicked six goals for North in the past fortnight and after all this time, remains North's most important key forward. And Robbie Nahas is an intriguing prospect. He buzzed around the forward line like the serial irritant he can be, with two goals and totally getting into the heads of his former teammates from Tigerland.
North rested Lindsay Thomas for this one and if Nahas can maintain that sort of form, you have to wonder whether Thomas will get back in the side any time soon.
Sunday night's win entrenches North in the top eight and the Kangas now appear certain finalists. But they should be aiming for more than that. Their draw for the remainder of the season features just two teams in the top eight – Hawthorn and Geelong – and even those games are at Etihad Stadium.
Now 7-4 and in seventh place, they should be looking at 16-6 or, at worst, 15-7 come the end of the season. Top four is not out of the question for a side that talked itself up in the pre-season and for the most part, has delivered on what was promised.
North Melbourne supporters who have booked the traditional weekend away at the end of the home and away season, might now want to reconsider their plans. Tickets for the opening weekend of the finals usually start at about $40.
What did Melbourne get out of Monday?
For starters, a pile of cash, with the 68,000 crowd at the MCG good for the Demons' coffers. It is Melbourne's one blockbuster for the year and the Demons did enough on Monday to ensure that the AFL will keep this fixture going for the foreseeable future.
The critics won't have much to say about the spectacle – this column is glad it took an overseas visitor to Etihad Stadium on Sunday night ahead of the MCG on Sunday – but keeping the finals-bound Collingwood to 8.13 (the second-lowest score this year by the Magpies) was a sound defensive effort and that part of the ground is where Paul Roos has made the biggest difference.
Of course, kicking just two goals for the rest of the match, after kicking the first inside 30 seconds, is a concern for Melbourne. But you have to think that given the great strides made defensively and on the ball, that the forward line will sorted out by Roos in time.
Credit where it is due to the Collingwood backline as well. No Nathan Brown, no Nick Maxwell, no Ben Reid, no worries.
Has Father Time caught up with a great Eagle?
Adam Simpson is as little as a fortnight away from making his mark as coach of West Coast.
He started the year largely backing in a group that was seen to badly underachieve last year.
A month ago, the Eagles belted the Giants by 111 points and squared the ledger at 4-4. But losses to Collingwood, North Melbourne and Hawthorn leave them teetering at 4-7. They have Gold Coast and St Kilda to come. Win those and they have a puncher's chance of making the finals. Lose either or both and the time will have come for Simpson to start reshaping the side.
And he may start with the best ruckman in the AFL of the last 20 years. Dean Cox's figures in 2014 aren’t down that much on last year. He is averaging 15 disposals compared to 15.9 and 23.8 hit-outs compared to 27 last season. But he battled to make an impact against the Hawks, and is not running across the ground with anywhere near the same pep and zip as before.
Should the Eagles lose the next two, how much longer can Simpson keep the likes of Callum Sinclair and Scott Lycett out of the side?
Sinclair kicked six goals in the WAFL on Saturday and is, as they say, banging down the door for selection. Cox has been a superstar, the poster boy for the rookie list and a rolled-gold certainty to be inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame at the earliest opportunity. But if Simpson wants to start having a look at his depth players with an eye to the future, Cox might see the writing on the wall and that he deserves better than to finish his career at East Perth.Simpson also faces intriguing list management decisions at the end of the year. He has a good group of outside midfielders – Andrew Gaff, Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham, Luke Shuey and now Xavier Ellis, but not many inside midfielders apart from Matt Priddis. Does he go the trade table and offer one of those in exchange for a player who can get down and dirty and get first hands in the midfield? Or does he look for extra key defensive cover given the likelihood that Darren Glass will finish up at the end of the season?
Whatever the case, the premiership window that was fleetingly open for West Coast now seems firmly shut. Simpson needs to get to work.
Is Pharrell Williams on high rotation at the Gabba?
It would seem so. The Lions belted out their famous old song with plenty of gusto on Saturday night, and why not? After such a non-competitive start to the season, they have found their mojo and with two straight wins have climbed off the bottom of the ladder. For the Lions, the mass exodus of players at the end of last season is now ancient history. What Justin Leppitsch has now is a team of goers who genuinely play for each other and the jumper. And when they get their skates on and play the game on their terms, they go pretty well. The Bulldogs were poor when it mattered on Saturday night and warrant whatever scrutiny comes their way. But that shouldn't take away from the Lions, a deservedly happy team at the moment.
Ashley Browne: The Blues were hosed on Friday night. There's no getting around that. That wayward centre bounce that the Cats seized on and waltzed into an open goal was one. The Troy Menzel free kick that wasn't paid was another. But credit where it is due. AFL umpires manager Wayne Campbell was on the front foot on Saturday morning admitting the mistakes, with none of the defensive posturing and obfuscating that marked some of the umpiring explanations of seasons past.
AB: It figured he would be the hero on Friday night. The Geelong skipper has encountered some misfortune in footy but it is invariably fleeting. Just a week after suffering the first 100-point defeat of his career, he kicks the winning goal against Carlton. And with the nice assist from colleague Ben Guthrie's little brother.
Watch the last two minutes from Friday night’s Docklands thriller
AB: It was the smallest crowd Dustin Fletcher has ever played in front of in his 388 games for the Bombers. He would have trained in front of more people in the lead-up to some Grand Finals. It gets back to what the AFL has been saying all along – this is a 20-year project to turn the west of Sydney into a footy heartland and until the Giants are winning regularly, the crowds will be sparse.
AB: The forward line has given Brendan McCartney more grief than any other part of the ground in his two and a half seasons as coach. But what concerns me about the Dogs is that this year they have also fallen away in areas where they were making great progress last year, such as contested balls and clearances. They don't have much else going for them at the minute and they look miles off being good enough for the finals. This year is already shot; 2015 doesn't look all that rosy either.
AB: Essendon has the ingredients for some success in the short-to-medium term because they are well stocked at the key positions, though they’ll miss Jobe Watson. Carlton and Richmond certainly have their work cut out for them. The Giants are built for long-term success and it will happen, whereas the Saints and Lions have identified the direction they need to take and have headed down that path. But it will take time.
WATCH: The freak injury that may have ended Jobe Watson’s season
AB: Good question. With James Podsiadly now gone, the Cats have reshaped their forward line with Tom Hawkins as the main man and a cast of small and medium-sized players around him. Hawkins got off the leash for one quarter on Friday night, kicked four goals and proved the difference. The questions about the Cats would have been coming quick and fast had they lost again, but a bigger issue than the lack of a centre half-forward might be leg speed. The good news on that front is that Allen Christensen made a slashing return to the VFL on Saturday, though a return to the AFL might be several weeks away.
AB: I'm with Paul Roos on this one. Any attempt to introduce restrictions on where players can stand at any time – other than the centre bounce – deserves derision. Zoneball for those people; footy for the rest of us.
Finally, thanks to all of you who have supported After the Siren since the start of the year. I'm taking a quick mid-season break to freshen up for the run home to the finals and will be leaving you in the more than capable hands of Nick Bowen for the next two weeks. See you after round 15.