Shutdown kings reign

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott has faced enormous criticism for North Melbourne's performance in the first round, most critically for allowing Essendon's captain and most influential player Jobe Watson to play the entire game without close attention.

Watson had eight disposals in the first 10 minutes, 25 disposals to half-time and 38 disposals and two goals to end the match, yet to onlookers Scott did nothing to nullify his influence. The media and crowd alike were bemused, to say the least.

One day before the Roos match, Brad's twin brother Chris was on his way to yet another victory as the coach of the Cats. Adelaide took some beating; an early goal in the last quarter had put it in front.

The pressure was on the Cats, but Joel Selwood did what he always does and led from the front in a best-on-ground performance. Jimmy Bartel was next best in his 250th game with a four-goal haul, and Cameron Guthrie was next best for his shutdown role on Adelaide superstar Patrick Dangerfield.

As brilliant as Selwood and Bartel were, Guthrie's pressure and discipline were exceptional and I believe the result could easily have gone Adelaide's way had Dangerfield managed to get off the Guthrie leash. With the success of Ryan Crowley over the past two seasons at Fremantle, I am staggered as to why there are so many teams that don't have a run-with player who is capable of winning their own share of the ball. I know full well that North Melbourne doesn't have one.

You are never going to shut down Ablett, Watson or Dangerfield completely, but you must nullify the damage they can do. When you break down Dangerfield's performance, you can see why Guthrie would have been in Chris Scott's votes.

Of Dangerfield's 21 disposals, 17 were won in a contested manner. That's a contested-possession rate of 81 per cent, well up from his career average of 57 per cent. But he wasn't able to get out into space where he can use his blistering speed, and he recorded a disposal efficiency of 52 per cent, which is poor by any AFL player's standards, and eight of his handballs were ineffective. In simple terms, Guthrie drove him mad, which takes strong character and concentration to execute for four quarters against a champion.

The game continues to evolve and with rotations and clearances at centre bounces being so important, some coaches believe that a run-with player or a tagger causes an imbalance in the rotations of the other eight to 10 midfielders. I fully understand that philosophy, but the value of Guthrie's role on Dangerfield and Heath Hocking's role in keeping Daniel Wells to 11 disposals can't be underestimated.

In Tasmania, Tom Rockliff had 19 touches and kicked three goals while playing a run-with role on Sam Mitchell, and to me that is of far greater importance than a headache caused by a rotation imbalance. It's also a massive psychological advantage for a coach to have a player good enough to play that role. Opposition players would dread playing Fremantle because of Crowley.

If North Melbourne still had Brady Rawlings on its list, he would put a blanket on his opponent at the first bounce and let him go at the final siren. How good was Cameron Ling at it? Brett Kirk? How good have Kane Cornes and Andrew Carrazzo been?

Crowley does the job week in and week out. I know I'd rather Crowley on my team than on the opposition's.

Like North Melbourne, Richmond didn't apply any pressure on Gary Ablett in its loss in round one, and Ablett racked up 18 handball receives in his 41 disposals. Ablett is always going to win heaps of the footy because he's just so good, but you must limit the quality of his possessions and Richmond showed intent towards doing that.

Limiting the damage of Ablett, Watson and Dangerfield can be the difference between the four points and nothing.

When you look across the competition and each team's playing list, the run-with players aren't prominent. Crowley, Hocking and Scott Selwood of West Coast are the only players capable of getting the job done on a weekly basis.

Ling and Rockliff played their junior careers as full-forwards yet they were never going to make it at AFL level in that role.

Great coaches identify qualities in players that will make them elite players in another role, as with Ling and Rockliff.

Every coach should be looking to anoint a particular player as a run-with player if they don't already have one on their list.

Let's hope Brad Scott started the search first thing last Saturday morning.

The story Shutdown kings reign first appeared on WA Today.

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