THE ladder permutations, should North Melbourne beat Essendon on Sunday, could be significant in helping the Kangaroos avoid a hat-trick of ninth-placed finishes.
The Kangaroos (seventh on the ladder), Essendon (eighth) and Fremantle (ninth) are separated only by percentage and, not only would a win give North a one-match break on a top-eight rival, but it would also draw level with either West Coast or Geelong, depending on the outcome of tonight’s match in Perth.
Fremantle faces a daunting away clash against the second-placed Adelaide tomorrow. Such a high-stakes scenario is, according to North Melbourne coach Brad Scott, exactly what the players and staff have been yearning for.
”We’ve been seeking this sort of pressure and this sort of exposure for a while,” he said.
”We’re going to look forward to testing ourselves against genuinely good opposition in what will be … probably a finals-type atmosphere. We’ve wanted to play in those sorts of games for a long time. We get our chance on Sunday.”
The Bombers have regained four players from injury – Dustin Fletcher, Angus Monfries, Stewart Crameri and Michael Hibberd – and have named David Hille and untried Brendan Lee on an extended bench. Hamstring-injury victims Jason Winderlich and Ben Howlett were followed out of the team by struggling defender Tayte Pears.
The Kangaroos have named Leigh Adams, a late withdrawal last weekend with a shoulder injury, and included Aaron Edwards and Levi Greenwood in their squad.
Crameri’s return gives the Bombers significant depth among their key forwards. In his absence, Scott Gumbleton has assumed greater responsibility, kicking 10 goals in the past month.
As well as being a duel between legitimate finals aspirants, the match also features teams which have had contrasting fortunes with injuries this year. While Essendon’s spate of soft-tissue injuries has been well documented, North’s exceptional continuity has been unheralded.
Under medical director Steve Saunders and sport-science strategist Peter Mulkearns the Kangaroos have not had a single soft-tissue injury among their first- or second-tier players, an achievement Scott was keen to highlight as a factor in his team winning all but one of its past eight matches.
”Continuity’s a great thing,” he said. ”I’ve been rapt with our football staff this year [and] not enough credit [is given to them].
”People talk about injuries and they associate a great injury run with luck. We don’t feel that’s the case. You get a certain element of luck when it comes to direct-contact injuries, but our soft-tissue rate has been just unbelievable this year. We think that’s in direct response to the staff we’ve got here who do an enormous amount of work in preventing those types of injuries.
”We haven’t changed an assistant coach in three years. We’ve kept the same development team. Continuity across the board, not only on-field but off-field, has been really important.”
Scott also praised the performances of Liam Anthony since his recall from the VFL seven weeks ago. That the midfielder has averaged almost 25 disposals a match in that period has not been out of character, but his increased effectiveness with those possessions has been a welcome change for the team.
”His improvement’s pretty much been in line with our improvement as a team,” Scott said of the 24-year-old.
”The way he’s used the ball has been really damaging over the past few months.”
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