Why Rhyce Shaw might be more than just an interim coach
On the Friday prior to North Melbourne’s Round 10 clash with the Western Bulldogs, it was announced Brad Scott would be coaching his last game with the club.
At that point in time, the 'Roos were second last on the AFL Ladder, with just two wins and seven losses.
Their season was drifting into the wilderness like so many Kangaroo seasons before it, with the club and coach separation a logical endpoint for a team with one of the league’s least inspiring lists.
Just over a month later, however, and it feels as though everything has changed at Arden Street.
For a rare moment in time, North Melbourne has captured the league’s attention - not just from their suddenly complicated coaching search - but for the fact that the 'Roos are now quite genuinely in with a shot of playing AFL Finals in 2019.
When assistant Rhyce Shaw was installed as interim coach in the aftermath of the Scott divorce, the best-case scenario for the former Sydney Swan premiership player was simply not steering them any further into the mire. Perhaps a win or two, maybe an avoidance of the Roos’ first wooden spoon since 1972, and it would be a matter of "thanks Rhyce, let's see the real coaches now.’
Yet, Shaw’s first four games at the helm have been so impressive some have even called for his 'interim' tag to be replaced by a permanent one. And - while we’ll get to why that probably wouldn’t be the wisest move a little later - it’s worth examining how this tale of Roo-demption has happened so rapidly.
How has North gone from a smouldering wreckage, from which nobody even bothered to collect the black box, to being on the cusp of one of the most dramatic in-season reversals of recent years?
Last week we assessed which league metrics are having the strongest correlation with success in recent seasons, with contested possession and meters gained proving paramount in today's football.
So, it is no surprise that North’s form reversal under Shaw has seen significant spikes in both areas.
North doesn’t have the kind of list profile likely to win any beauty contests, and Shaw has worked to optimise the team’s physicality and strength around the contest.
Where Brad Scott wanted the Roos to wear expensive clothes, that quite frankly looked idiotic on his squad, Shaw has embraced more of a 'shorts and thongs' approach that has worked brilliantly so far.
The Roos’ ultimate blue-collar contributor, Ben Cunnington, has led the way under Shaw.
The former first-round AFL Draft selection leads the competition in both contested possessions and clearances, with only Geelong's Brownlow medallist, Patrick Dangerfield, and Sydney's midfield bull, Josh Kennedy, having achieved the feat this decade.
Ridiculously, Cunnington has not once been named an All-Australian, or, even qualified for the preliminary squad.
Such a travesty surely will not occur again in 2019.
While Cunnington has been one player North have always been able to rely upon, it’s been Shaw’s work with many of North’s frustrating fringe members which has been most impressive.
Former first-round AFL draft pick Jy Simpkin just had his first ever 30+ possession game on the weekend.
Trent Dumont is now averaging 25 disposals per match.
Sam Durdin and Luke Davies-Uniacke have been given a vote of confidence and are now playing freely without the fear of being dropped back to the VFL again.
Even the skipper, Jack Ziebell - a 200-game veteran - has arguably just put together his best month of football.
Yes; the Rhyce Shaw experience at North is just four games in, and for as incredibly positive the short reign has been, there's simply no rush to confirm his full-time appointment.
For starters, there is no 'buyers market' Shaw needs to be rushed from, while the Kangaroos would be crazy to forfeit the opportunity to interview a variety of candidates who will all likely have a range of ideas about how to bring North Melbourne back to football relevancy.
The North Melbourne hierarchy may indeed ultimately find that Shaw is their man. However, it’s essential the Roos conduct a genuine coaching search and leave no stone unturned.
The obvious comparison to what is happening with Rhyce Shaw at Arden St, is what occurred at the Sydney Swans some 17 years ago, following coach Rodney Eade being relieved of his duties halfway through the season.
At the time, club legend Paul Roos stepped in on an interim basis. He, like Shaw, possessed precious little experience in coaching at any level, yet was able to make a very quick impression on the playing group and helped the Swans win six of their last ten matches.
Despite Sydney reportedly having the Bulldogs' coach, Terry Wallace, lined up to ultimately replace Eade the following season, the sheer force of the Paul Roos small resume compelled the Swans to make the deal permanent.
History, of course, tells us that Roos was able to mould the Sydney Swans into one of the league’s most formidable outfits, and within three years, broke a 72-year VFL/AFL Premiership drought.
Rhyce Shaw needn’t require that type of pressure in his young coaching career, but it’s something North Melbourne fans can fantasise about - at least, for as long as this current honeymoon lasts.