North Melbourne veteran Brent Harvey has led his side to an 87-point victory over AFL battlers Brisbane at Etihad Stadium.
The last-minute withdrawal of two of the opposition’s most influential players is typically cause for celebration for an AFL coach.
But as North Melbourne’s Brad Scott learned a gastro bug had further decimated Brisbane and forced Tom Rockliff and Joel Patfull to miss Saturday’s clash, he was perturbed.
What if his players shared the same opinion of everyone else at Etihad Stadium, that cellar-dwelling Brisbane were in essence a walkover and represented a great chance to boost the club’s percentage?
It proved to be ill-founded, with the Kangaroos cruising to an 87-point victory over the listless Lions in a ruthless fashion that impressed Scott.
“The good sides play great footy, but we’re in a group of teams that if we drop our guard we get beaten by anyone,” he said.
“I was really concerned today when Rockliff and Patfull were taken out, because as a coach complacency is the hardest thing to guard against.”
By the time the hosts had kicked the opening five goals of the game it became clear they’d come to play.
Brent Harvey was irrepressible in his 370th AFL match, underpinning the hosts’ impressive run through the middle and encapsulating the ease in which they found loose men all over the ground.
The 36-year-old booted two goals and helped himself to a game-high 39 disposals as North triumphed 17.23 (125) to 6.2 (38).
Inaccurate goal-kicking from the Kangaroos, who re-entered the top eight, was Scott’s only concern.
Lindsay Thomas kicked four goals, while Majak Daw and Drew Petrie clutched four contested marks each but struggled to convert and finished with a combined tally of 2.8.
Captain Andrew Swallow, playing his first AFL game since rupturing an Achilles tendon in round 18 last year, was influential in North’s midfield dominance before being substituted out at three-quarter time.
“We looked a much better unit with him out there,” he said of Swallow.
“His organisation, his leadership, his attack on the ball, his tackling – it was just fantastic.”
Josh Green’s late goal ensured it was not the Lions’ lowest score since the merger between Fitzroy and Brisbane, but 6.2 (38) represents their lowest mark in Melbourne since the two clubs became one in 1996.
In addition to the absence of Rockliff, Patfull and a series of injured stars, Dayne Zorko was ill and managed three touches before he was subbed out.
“You’ve got to soldier on. That’s a lesson for our guys, the footy gods are going to do these things to you at times and you just have to keep persisting,” Lions coach Justin Leppitsch said.
“We didn’t do that. We didn’t throw a counter-punch all day.”
The visitors simply couldn’t create any extended periods of pressure, with the contested possession count 146-88 in North’s favour.
“That’s just an absolute obliteration,” Leppitsch said.