NORTH Melbourne played as close to a four-quarter performance as the Kangaroos have done all year according to coach Darren Crocker, as they ran over the top of the Western Bulldogs to win by 15 points at Punt Road Oval yesterday. The Kangaroos won 6.7 (43) to the Bulldogs’ 4.4 (28), coming from behind in the first half to boot five goals to two after quarter time and secure the Round 5 AFL Women’s victory, ending their opponents’ unbeaten streak in Season 7.
“We felt it was far closer to a four quarter performance that we’ve been searching for,” Crocker said. We’ve just had moments in games that have let us down over the first four rounds. Even last week we were really solid in the first half but let Geelong gameplay that they wanted in the second half.
“I thought for large parts of that game we were really challenged, they’re a good team. They weren’t four and zero for no reason coming into this round. I thought for large parts of it we had the game looking the way we wanted to look.”
Previously Crocker had raised concerns with his side’s inconsistency when it came to defence further afield, but today the North Melbourne mentor was pleased with how his team performed in the contest and with the territory battle.
“It seemed like whichever team got the territory were able to lock the ball in their forward half for long periods of time,” Crocker said. We did get the ascendancy, if you looked at the numbers we did get the ascendancy in there so it made the contest super important. We’re probably still searching a little bit of that connection between our backs and mids and forwards so we can hurt teams when we go inside forward 50 more, but I thought once the game opened up we were able to take some opportunities.”
One of the keys in that on-ball group is former Dog turned Roo, Jenna Bruton. The balanced midfielder racked up 20 disposals, five marks, five clearances and three tackles in the victory, in a performance that Crocker described as “terrific”.
“She gives us something different through the midfield, she can actually go inside but she can also find space on the outside,” Crocker said. I thought at times today she was able to find really space on the outside through the corridor just with her running ability and her smarts, and again she;’s been really important to us being able to flick in between the two.”
North Melbourne controlled its forward 50, with a plus-five in marks and plus-eight in forward 50 tackles. It meant the Roos often pulled down the grabs, and when it did go to ground, they applied the pressure on the opposition defenders to lock the ball in the forward half.
“We put Bella Eddey, she played a little bit more forward, Tess Craven went up onto a wing. I thought Alice O’Loughlin continues to grow with her footy, I thought Bella was good at ground level,” Crocker said. “Our pressure for three quarters was really good. I think at half-time we had 16 forward half tackle, which meant that we were really pressuring well in the front half.
“Dropped off in the third, but then when the game was there in the last quarter to be won, I thought our leaders really stood up. Our experienced players really stood up and it seemed like the younger players jumped on their backs and got dragged along with them so it was really pleasing.”
The Western Bulldogs were plus-34 in uncontested possessions and plus-21 in marks at half-time, and though a high percentage of the Bulldogs’ touches were handballs. Crocker said he did focus on shutting down the easy ball through the corridor.
“I think at half-time they were uncontested plus-33,” Crocker said. I must say quite a number of them came from handballing. I thought our pressure forced them into trying to handball their way through our pressure a little bit, which was pleasing rom our aspect. But to your point, there was a few too easy uncontested marks especially through the corridor area which we addressed at half-time and really tried to make sure we tightened up at half-time.”
North Melbourne takes on Sydney next week, with the game initially scheduled at Arden Street, though Crocker flagged a likely change due to ground condition.
“We may not be at Arden Street, the ground’s copped a bit of the battering with the use and the weather, so we’ll just have to see how that plays out,” Crocker said. We’ll be definitely down here somewhere and against Sydney, so new team in the competition, but as we just spoke about, for us it’s just about if we continue to play to our identity and the way we want to see ourselves playing we’ll be a hard team to beat.”