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THE WOOD by The Oracle

There's a term in sport that applies when one participant always seems to come out on top of another. It's called "having the wood on your opponent" and I can add without fear or trepidation that the saying definitely applies to North Melbourne's recent record against Melbourne.

On Saturday afternoon the Kangaroos will be aiming to make it ten wins in a row against the Demons. They will be assisted by the fact that the game is being held on their home territory at Etihad Stadium where they hold a winning record of 5-0 at a place where Melbourne has lost its last thirteen encounters against all comers. On that basis, you would have to say that they not only have the wood on their opponents but they have the entire bloody forest over them!

When Melbourne last won a contest between these clubs (in 2006), David Neitz was still at his peak and the big feller monstered the Kangaroo defence. Nathan Jones' career was in its infancy and Neale Daniher was still safely ensconced in the coach's chair with his side on its way to taking the mantle of the AFL's leading Victorian club (that was the year when the semi finals were contested by four non Victorians).

But it's not only a poor record in its recent games against this week's opponent that's dogging the Demons - it's also the current form of the respective clubs that is in steep contrast. Since North Melbourne's big defeat at the hands of Hawthorn early last month, the club has undergone a massive revival in its form with a narrow loss to the West Coast Eagles the only blemish. This has lifted the club from a position of crisis with the president under attack, the CEO handing in his resignation and rumblings of a major power struggle to a situation where the team now sits in the top eight and is looking forward to September.

Meanwhile, September is the only thing Melbourne is looking forward to as well but only to the sound of the final siren at Paterson's Stadium on the first or second day of the month to sound the end of yet another season of disasters, distractions and injuries. For most involved with the club, that sound simply cannot come soon enough.

The main distraction for the club this week has been the committal hearing in Alice Springs for Liam Jurrah. I can't comment on the outcome but for heaven's sake, on what I've read of the evidence given by the few prosecution witnesses who bothered to turn up, the mind boggles. The law is an ass and even our legal system is conspiring against our club in this rubbish season. Little wonder that we want it to end so soon.

Another major contrast between the two protagonists this week is their injury lists. With Hamish McIntosh on the road to recovery (McIntosh to make VFL comeback for 'Roos) and likely to play in the VFL and two others big chances of passing their respective fitness tests, the Kangaroos' only missing player will be first year player Tom Curran.

On the other hand, the Demon’s have failed their health check very badly in recent times. Clint Bartram (knee), Jamie Bennell (knee), Mitch Clark (foot), Aaron Davey (foot) and Max Gawn (knee) are all out for the season while youngster Rory Taggert (back) is out indefinitely. Jurrah injured his ankle eleven weeks ago and is still supposed to be two weeks away from playing. On top of that a number of players including Jack Watts and Jordie McKenzie face fitness tests and then we have the mystery injury of the week factor which regularly sees players missing games after not even appearing on the club’s official injury lists. As the health check article states, “n October 2011, Melbourne could not have imagined it would have virtually no Jurrah, little Davey and no Sylvia early. When it lost its shining light, new recruit Clark after round 12, the disastrous picture was complete.”

That’s where we stand at the moment with Brad Scott and his twenty-two merry men holding a very large block of wood over Mark Neeld’s head as he and his medical team work furiously to heal the wounded.

THE GAME

North Melbourne v Melbourne on Saturday 28th July 2012 at Etihad Stadium at 2.10 pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall North Melbourne 68 wins Melbourne 83 wins 1 draw

At Etihad Stadium North Melbourne 5 wins Melbourne 0 wins

Since 2000 North Melbourne 12 wins Melbourne 7 wins

The Coaches Scott 0 wins Neeld 0 wins

MEDIA

TV - Fox Sports Channel at 2:00pm (live)

RADIO - SEN 3AW

THE BETTING

North Melbourne to win $1.09 Melbourne to win $7.50

LAST TIME THEY MET

North Melbourne 19.10.124 defeated Melbourne 12.11.83 at Etihad Stadium in Round 8, 2012

The Demons were coming off a massive win at the G against Adelaide and started like a house on fire scoring six of the first goals to lead by 31 points in time on of the first term.

Then, as often happened with this team, the wheels inexplicably fell off. Every possible calamity befell the team from injuries, loose play, poor execution of skills, bad bounces and even worse umpiring decisions including a "dive" that was paid to Brent Harvey that would have done Greg Louganis proud at the 84 Summer Olympics.

MILESTONE Congratulations to Brad Green who plays his 250th game. The 2010 best and fairest and former skipper will join David Neitz (306 matches), Robert Flower (272), Adem Yze (271), Jim Stynes (264), Steven Febey (258), Brian Dixon (252) and James McDonald (251) as the only other Demons to play 250 games.

THE TEAMS

NORTH MELBOURNE

Backs Scott McMahon Scott Thompson Michael Firrito

Half backs Shaun Atley Nathan Grima Jamie Macmillan

Centreline Ryan Bastinac Daniel Wells Ben Cunnington

Half forwards Leigh Adams Robert Tarrant Samuel Wright

Forwards Lachlan Hansen Drew Petrie Lindsay Thomas

Followers Todd Goldstein Andrew Swallow Brent Harvey

Interchange Liam Anthony Matt Campbell Sam Gibson Kieran Harper

Emergencies Cruize Garlett Aaron Mullett Cameron Richardson

No change

MELBOURNE

Backs Daniel Nicholson James Sellar Tom McDonald

Half backs Joel Macdonald James Frawley Colin Garland

Centreline Rohan Bail Jack Grimes Jack Trengove

Half forwards Colin Sylvia Stef Martin Lynden Dunn

Forwards Neville Jetta Jared Rivers Brad Green

Followers Jake Spencer Jordie McKenzie Nathan Jones

Interchange Sam Blease Jeremy Howe Brent Moloney James Strauss

Emergencies Matthew Bate Jordan Gysberts James Magner

In Jordie McKenzie  Brent Moloney James Sellar

Out Tom Couch  James Magner Ricky Petterd

THE DECK CHAIRS

One thing that puzzles me about Melbourne's team selection as the club meanders its way to a shameful end to an awful season is the reluctance of selectors to go all out with youth.

The catch cry in football when all is lost and the season is prematurely over is usually one of "going for youth". Alternatively, you go for youth when your list is decimated by injury or suspension as was the case last week when Carlton selected three first gamers to play the Western Bulldogs.  From all reports the trio, two of them plucked out of the Northern Blues reserves from a week earlier, all acquitted themselves well in Carlton's win.

Melbourne, on the other hand, with an injury list that matches Carlton's appears reluctant to make bold selection moves and instead, has decided this week to move the deck chairs around. The result is that, apart from the compulsory return of Jordie McKenzie, two players in Brent Moloney and James Sellar (both available for selection last week) come into the side. I have nothing against either player but, given that Casey had a bye last week and neither of them played anywhere, what did they do to justify inclusion this week but not last? It makes no sense unless you're determined to simply move the deckchairs around and go through the motions.

The problem is that in this game we have one team, sick, unhealthy, out of form and rudderless, going through the motions waiting for the season to end and another determined to cement its place in the real September action. The Roos need to win games and bolster their percentage and this hardly bodes well for the Demons.

North Melbourne is in a position where a number of its stars are shining at the moment. Todd Goldstein should dominate the big men duels in the absence of Mark Jamar in the opposing ruck. I doubt that his replacement, Jake Spencer will have happy memories of a previous encounter with North at Etihad when he produced what looked like an air shot at goal that dribbled desultorily off the side and bottom of his boot. 

The Kangaroos have key forward Drew Petrie in career-best goal kicking form with seven in each of their past two games against Carlton and Richmond. He'll be a handfull for the Demon defenders, one of who will be grateful that the coach persists in experimenting with the idea of playing a backman up forward. 

Then there are Daniel Wells. Andrew Swallow and evergreen Brent Harvey who will run and spread all day creating havoc among Melbourne's pedestrian midfield.  

The end result will not look pretty as the Kangaroos take full advantage of that enormous piece of wood they have over the Demons.

North Melbourne by 75 points.

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