Ben Cunnington fends off Tom Scully. Photo: Getty Images
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.2 7.4 12.5 16.9 (105) GWS 3.3 4.5 7.8 11.11 (77)
GOALS North Melbourne: Harper 4, Campbell 3, Harvey 2, Petrie 2, Thomas 2, Swallow, Delaney, Gibson. GWS: Giles 3, Palmer 3, Treloar, Ward, Tyson, Folau, Greene.
BEST North Melbourne: Thompson, Cunnington, Campbell, Gibson, Firrito GWS: Greene, Ward, Tyson, Giles, Adams
UMPIRES Wenn, Ryan, Fila.
CROWD: 6696 at Skoda Stadium.
NORTH MELBOURNE already had its sights on next week and Israel Folau was the benefactor, producing arguably his best performance in an otherwise uninspiring debut AFL season.
Most disturbing was North Melbourne's first quarter, during which it appeared as if it, rather than the Giants, was due to collect the wooden spoon.
The Kangaroos lost the possession count 104-82, were on the wrong end of a 19-8 tally for inside 50s and managed just four clearances against the competition's most inexperienced side.
That a defender, Scott Thompson, was North's leading possession winner was indicative of the greater-than-expected traffic he was forced to divert from his own goal.
The Kangaroos played large sections of the match like they were thinking more about finals than the task at hand, and Brad Scott admitted his coaching team did much of the same in the final quarter of their 28-point win.
''Our players do have to improve our professionalism in these situations because there's no doubt, like last week, a few of our players are subconsciously thinking about what's coming in September,'' said Scott. ''The way we finished off the game, with all due respect to the opposition, was clearly with next week in mind.
''It was making sure our players go into next week in good shape.''
Kangaroos forward Lachie Hansen was subbed off in the second quarter after copping a knock in the opening term, but Scott said this reflected his side's cautious approach.
Injured pair Daniel Wells (calf) and Nathan Grima (hamstring) are expected to return for finals, and on yesterday's evidence they'll be welcome inclusions. North struggled to move the ball with much purpose and was at times easily subdued by a surprisingly sprightly Greater Western Sydney, spearheaded by young gun Toby Greene (38 disposals, seven clearances).
Nobody had doubted Folau could play football but until yesterday all his highlights were with the Steeden ball rather than the Sherrin.
Folau still has plenty to do before Kevin Sheedy can say ''I told you so'' but the former league superstar showed more in 120 minutes last night at Skoda Stadium than he has all year. Although there were still numerous examples of Folau appearing lost on the field or lacking the fitness to play his adopted sport, this time he showed signs he had learnt from his first 12 games.
He marked strongly after a purposeful lead from full-forward and even jagged a 50-metre goal, after which he was mobbed by nearly every one of his teammates.
He was also responsible for producing the highlight of the day. Reading the play like few thought he could, he marked an errant kick out of defence by North's Jamie Macmillan, and sprinted clear before pinpointing a pass to Rhys Palmer deep in attack.
''His interception to get that goal was quite brilliant,'' Sheedy said. ''No other player would have done that for quite some time.''
Palmer's goal hauled the Giants within 17 points late in the third quarter and left their small following daring to dream of a fairytale finish to the season. There was no upset victory but nor was there the humiliating blowout fans have come to expect from the Giants.
So easily was Greene finding the ball his injured teammate Dylan Shiels quipped on radio: ''It's like his hands are magnetic.''
PA BUNGLE (1)
The early signs for the Roos were not flash and not only because they started slowly. Instead of being greeted by their current theme song, they were welcomed by a former version referring to the club as the Kangaroos, as they were known from 1999-2007, rather than North Melbourne. But the public announcer at Skoda Stadium can breathe a sigh of relief as it will not cause the same diplomatic furore as the Olympics when organisers displayed the South Korean flag on a jumbo screen instead of North Korea's before a women's football game.
PA BUNGLE (2)
Although North lifted from its slow start, the woes continued for the Skoda Stadium staff. This time it was the state-of-the-art electronic scoreboard that malfunctioned, taking four minutes to register North's first goal after half-time. Some old-timers might point out that scoreboards functioned more efficiently back in the day when they were operated manually.
FOLAU: FAN FAVOURITE
Israel Folau might still have plenty to do to win over the wider football public but he is already a hit with the Giants fans. Whenever he got near the ball Folau was greeted by resounding cheers - the loudest of which came when he goaled for just his second major in his short career.