The Northern Blues haven’t made the Peter Jackson VFL finals since changing their name from the Northern Bullants in 2012, but their 2017 season is on track to be different.
After an opening-round loss to Port Melbourne by 29 points, the fourth-placed Blues have reeled off wins against Williamstown by 21 points, Coburg by 62 points and then Collingwood by 13 points.
Josh Fraser’s outfit is doing it in the same fashion as aligned AFL team Carlton, which has claimed impressive victories over Sydney and Collingwood under Brendon Bolton in the last two weeks.
Carlton is the AFL’s top-ranked team for kicks per game and the bottom-ranked team for handballs per game through seven rounds, while Northern has recorded an average kick-to-handball ratio of 1.6 across its three wins compared to a ratio of 1.2 for its vanquished opponents.
Ex-Port Adelaide (AFL) off-season recruit Cam O’Shea has disposed of the ball by foot 53 times in those three games, while Blaine Boekhorst (47 kicks), captain Tom Wilson (35) and David Cuningham (33) have also been prolific.
This style of play means the VFL Blues have conceded the third-fewest total points through four rounds, as they safely control the ball for longer periods of time and make it difficult for the opposition to score quickly if turnovers occur. It’s also a direct way of moving the ball and means Northern is the VFL’s fourth-ranked team for inside-50s per game.
There’s a noticeable style to the AFL and VFL Blues when they don’t have the ball too – they apply manic pressure. Carlton is the AFL’s second-ranked team for tackles per game and Northern has out-tackled its last three opponents by an average of 17 despite winning more of the ball against Williamstown and Coburg.
Boekhorst, Andrew Gallucci, Nick Graham, Sam Kerridge, Wilson and even big man Liam Jones have all recorded seven or more tackles in single games during the VFL team’s winning streak.
It’s a potentially successful formula for the developing Blues: Don’t let the opposition control the ball – and if they do have it, get it back quickly.
Round 4 keys to victory:
3: Footscray and Richmond are the top two teams for total points scored in 2017 and they put on a scoring show in Round 4. The Bulldogs won by seven points in a 118-111 result, with AFL-listed key forward Jack Redpath slotting three majors (six for the match) in his team’s eight-goal final quarter to help seal a thrilling victory.
17: Sandringham’s hardened bodies proved the difference in a 14-point win against a developing North Ballarat outfit. The Zebras weathered the Roosters’ intense pressure to top the contested possession count by 17, Jack Lonie winning a round-high 19 and Dylan Weickhardt recording 15 with just three uncontested possessions.
60: Werribee’s defence weathered 60 inside-50s from Casey to defeat the Demons by 13 points. The Tigers conceded a goal from just 16 per cent of opposition inside-50s while scoring a major from 31 per cent of their own (13 goals from 42 inside-50s). Matt Hanson had a game-high seven inside-50s for the victors.
Round 4 stats leaders:
|Jake Melksham||Casey Demons||26|
|James Cousins||Box Hill Hawks||23|
|Eli Templeton||Port Melbourne||22|
|Cam O’Shea||Northern Blues||21|
|Andrew Moore||Box Hill Hawks||18|
|Ricky Henderson||Box Hill Hawks||17|
|David Mirra||Box Hill Hawks||17|
|Mitch White||Casey Demons||17|
|Mack Rivett||Port Melbourne||15|
|David Mirra||Box Hill Hawks||10|
|Jordan Lisle||Port Melbourne||9|
|Blaine Boekhorst||Northern Blues||8|
|Cam O’Shea||Northern Blues||8|
|Ricky Henderson||Box Hill Hawks||8|
|Jack Fitzpatrick||Box Hill Hawks||34|
|Mitch King||Casey Demons||28|
|Andrew Phillips||Northern Blues||24|
|Khan Haretuku||Port Melbourne||16|
|Ty Vickery||Box Hill Hawks||13|
|Matt Korcheck||Northern Blues||11|
|James Munro||Casey Demons||11|
|Jake Melksham||Casey Demons||10|
|Nick Rippon||North Ballarat||9|
|Andrew Gallucci||Northern Blues||9|
|Lachlan Cassidy||North Ballarat||9|
|Declan Keilty||Casey Demons||8|
|Matt Johnston||North Ballarat||8|
|Will Hams||Box Hill Hawks||8|
|2017 LEADING GOALKICKERS|
|Jack Fitzpatrick||Box Hill Hawks||2||10|
|Jordan Lisle||Port Melbourne||1||10|
|Angus Scott||Casey Demons||2||10|
|Ty Vickery||Box Hill Hawks||3||9|
|Development League||Last Rnd||Total|
|Will Murphy||Box Hill Hawks||BYE||9|
|Jeremy Gleeson||Port Melbourne||INJ||6|
|Sam Fowler||Northern Blues||BYE||6|
|Samuel De Soysa||Port Melbourne||1||6|