Is North Melbourne tanking? A serious investigation

Once thought of as the cardinal sin of professional football in this country, community attitudes towards tanking are shifting liberal by the week. Or at least they should be. In today’s league, where parity reigns and the asset exchange grows more liquid and sophisticated by the year, why can’t teams with nothing to play for here and now take actions to make themselves better going forward?

It’s just logic. Can’t compete today? Do things to help you compete tomorrow. Don’t make it obvious of course. That would be bad. But absolutely do things that may weaken your ability to win today while simultaneously strengthening your ability to win tomorrow. In this vein, there are seven rules to tanking in the AFL according to the definitive encyclopaedic discussion of the matter.

  1. Talk a good game
  2. Go crazy with positioning
  3. Send off your veterans
  4. Get a good surgeon
  5. Give the kids a run
  6. Dangle the trade bait
  7. Commit

Hawthorn and Sydney were supposed to begin a near-full year tank job at the six game mark of the season. That is, well, it didn’t happen, and the author of the linked piece above should feel bad about himself – doubly so if the Hawks end up sneaking into the eight seed. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. Look at Hawthorn’s form, its draw, and the teams it has to overtake.

Anyhow, tanking. It’s only logical right? Sydney, 0-6, faced a historic climb back to relevance this season; logic says they should have started thinking about 2018. Ditto Hawthorn, which was in a worse shape than their traditional rivals despite a better record. Evidently, circumstances are not enough. We need hard evidence.

Fortunately, I am well versed in criminal law. I know there are three aspects of a crime that should be determined and proven before someone can be found guilty: means, motive and opportunity. Circumstance are also important, but that’s strands in the cable sort of stuff. We need links in the chain. This isn’t Switzerland.

The Onballers v Brad Scott et al., North Melbourne Football Club, Matter no.T4NK1NG

Charges: Tanking the 2017 AFL season, from 1 June 2017 to 27 August 2017

North Melbourne is not a good football team as it is currently constructed. After a good run at being good, the higher ups made a call at the tail end of last season to have a good run at being bad. Unfortunately for them, it turned out they weren’t as good at being bad as they were at being good, and more drastic measures needed to be taken.

The ‘Roos flirted with competence in the first three months of the season, losing three games by less than a goal from Rounds Two to Five before reeling off a four wins in five weeks. After ten rounds, North were 4-6 with a percentage of 97. Extrapolating out, the ‘Roos could have made it to 0.500 with a bit of luck. With youngsters across every line, the future looked bright. Too bright.

Henceforth, North Melbourne has been the worst team in the competition. They are stuck on four wins, except now the Ls come with a side of hot sauce. The ‘Roos have slid from 13th to 17th on the ladder, and look destined to wrestle with the Brisbane Lions for the first pick in the draft come Round 23.

North Melbourne has undertaken this task with the deftest touch. By playing a style of football that demands risks be taken, the ‘Roos have exposed a laughably undermanned back six to all sorts of heat, undercutting their ability to win. Since Round 10, the ‘Roos have the second worst defence in the competition, conceding 108.6 points per game (Brisbane is last on 110 – but they’re scoring at a top six rate).

Right, that’s what has happened, and what looks likely to happen if things materialise as we expect. Now to the evidence.

Means

North Melbourne’s means have been tactics and team selection. Waving opposition attacking thrusts through, all in the name of aggression and a want to score, means North has been conceding big scores for the past seven weeks.

In that time, Brad Scott and his match committee have been wielding a scythe at selection time, chopping and changing the lineup weekly. The ‘Roos have made an average of 3.2 changes a week between Round 11 and Round 17, up from 2.3 in the first part of the season. Over the year, North has handed new jumpers to ten players – the most in the competition. Part of this has been driven by injuries, but not all.

This weekend, the selection policy took a more overt tone, with captain Jack Ziebell rested on account of niggling injuries. Robbie Tarrant was also a late withdrawal, and Majak Daw was selected as the team’s lone ruckman (with hilarious results). North Melbourne’s social media manager was all over it.

Motive

This guy.

The ‘Roos have been heavily linked to the out of contract Giant Josh Kelly all season, but their campaign stepped up this week as the Herald Sun pushed the club’s line that a reported $15 million was available for he and Richmond free agent Dustin Martin to split among themselves. That smelt like PR strategy to me: don’t worry fans, it’s all part of the plan, and we’re going to get one or both of these guys.

That doesn’t meet the criteria in and of itself. But this does. If they want Josh Kelly, North Melbourne will have to assemble the assets for a trade that will satisfy the desires of Kelly’s current owners. We all know the Giants’ preferred sustenance: AFL Draft Value Index (DVI) Points. They need these to secure the genetically modified football he-men they grow at their AFL Academy.

And this year more than ever, the Giants are hungry. As a result of the indiscretions of Lachie Whitfield and two former Giants’ employees, the Giants are starting this year with a 1,000 draft point hole in their stomachs.

Why does this matter? The difference between Pick One (3,000) and Pick Two (2,517) is astronomical in DVI points. It would open up significantly more opportunities for a trade with GWS, because of the flow on effects to other picks and players the two sides may bundle together to make a deal.

Opportunity

Which brings us to the final piece of evidence. North Melbourne has a golden chance to get into position to be granted the number one pick. This didn’t look likely even a month ago, but North’s string of losing combined with Brisbane’s two wins in July (against Essendon and Carlton) mean the two are now level on premiership points with five games remaining.

North Melbourne travel to Brisbane in Round 23. All things being equal – if both clubs win the same number of games from here on out – that game becomes loser takes all. Neither team has a particularly challenging run home, with both teams’ dates with Melbourne looming as the most tricky games to navigate.

The ‘Roos have a crystal clear opportunity to continue on their current path of losing, and work their way into the number one pick. This will help them grease the wheels of a trade with GWS for their number one trade target Josh Kelly. Means, motive, opportunity. North Melbourne is tanking.

The prosecution rests, your honour.