Inside North: How Shaw is setting new standards
The countdown clock on the giant scoreboard at North Melbourne's Arden St training oval is ticking down to zero.
It is seconds before 9am on Monday, November 25, and every second matters under Rhyce Shaw.
Dozens of players are scurrying across the oval, aware that the new coach's rules are unconditional.
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If you are not in place by the affixed time and ready for a two-hour session jam-packed with football education and fitness, you don't train at all.
The Sunday Herald Sun is spending a day inside North Melbourne's football department, and Shaw tells us: "We are trying to make this place our classroom".
Shaw says the perception fits of him as a young man in a hurry.
Determined not to waste a minute - not at training, not in fast-tracking a list with half of its players under 23, not in pointless meetings in which players quickly switch off.
The 38-year-old's stunning ascent to AFL senior coaching ranks last year came with a 7-4 win-loss record and a brand of footy that rocked the competition.
Brutal attack on the man, organised behind the ball and flair in ball movement combined in such a way there was no other contender as Brad Scott's replacement.
Shaw has vast aspirations for this football team - and entire club - and he says it starts with the smallest attention to detail.
"Everyone knows I am pretty basic, but I love making people better," Shaw says. "I have come from a place (in Sydney) where the standards are so high and everyone understands what is expected and knows their role and then you just go out and play it. So I am not ashamed to say it's similar to what I want to achieve here. I have seen it work.
"The countdown clock is just a symbol of respect for the people who have set up the training session and it's respect for each other.
"There are guys ready half an hour before training and guys ready five minutes before, but if we are all out on time and all connect first with no dribs and drabs and late warm-ups, we are all in it together and that's important to me."
KANGAS LEARNING THE SHAW WAY
ASK Cam Zurhaar how Rhyce Shaw has set the tone for a summer of toil and he guffaws.
What Shaw hasn't mentioned in an extended sit-down about the club's levels of discipline is what happens when those minor details aren't adhered to.
"He has definitely set the tone," says young raging bull Zurhaar.
"We had a few mishaps in the first week, a few early-morning sessions, but the little things matter a lot and it's how we are going to continue through the season.
"We had a few beach sessions and an early-morning run. It was 5.30am and it was an hour away. The boys did the Thousand Steps run (in the Dandenongs), so the boys were up at 4.30am. Some boys forgot to put wellness (ratings) in and missed massages, but it was in week one and it's now week four and we haven't done an extra session since.
"Little things matter and we hit it on the head."
Under Monday's session, arranged by head of performance Jason Lappin, the drills tick over with military precision.
No more circle-work and 100 x 100m sprints in the new era of data.
Each drill has a specific purpose that links to the club's game plan as Shaw adds layers to the strategies that impressed last year.
And Big Brother is most definitely watching.
The club's drone, deployed by its operator Aiden Amenta, hovers 20m above the surface to collect footage. Three other fixed-camera angles add to the levels of accountability.
Every coach is specifically stationed to assess each drill.
At one stage there are 24 coaches, medicos and high-performance staff on the oval, all dressed in light blue, attending to the session of less than 40 players.
In a 10-versus-10 drill, every action is assessed.
THE GAME PLAN - AND GIANTS' LASTING IMPRESSION
NEW senior assistant Jade Rawlings sits in an Arden St coaches' box high on a wing. He picks out positives and flaws as a computer tech sits beside him on a laptop.
Does Jared Polec put enough pressure on his opponent to disrupt the play? Is Tarryn Thomas vocal enough in a defence drill?
Between drills - again timed to the second on the scoreboard - players are shown passages of play from their 2019 season to reinforce what they are trying to replicate or extract from a certain exercise.
Shaw knows a scout or two might wander down over summer, but he doesn't care.
He wants everyone to know what North Melbourne's game plan will look like in 2020.
"I am really keen for our fans, our members, for the AFL to understand when North Melbourne take the field they will play a really hard and physical game," Shaw says. "Really organised and solid in defence and attack with the flair they have been given by god. That is in summary how I want it to be."
He believes a club that often had rivals taking a backward step in those 11 games can sustain that rage, aware it is the only way to win finals footy.
"In all honesty, I think it's a frame of mind. I have watched a lot of footy. I went to every GWS game in the finals series so I was pretty lucky. I got some cracking games.
"The way they go about it, Richmond, Brisbane this year, they played finals footy and I want to play finals footy as soon as I can."
Shaw sat and watched his brother Heath's Giants as they belted the daylights out of the Western Bulldogs with such force that Luke Beveridge complained about MMA-like tactics.
"Oh, that was an unbelievable experience. I was sitting with my dad and two boys (Freddie and Louis) and it was just the way they attacked. It was relentless," Shaw says. "That's the type of footy we want to play and it's sustainable if you want to do it. Sometimes it's about going out and bashing the opposition, but we do have plans in place to make sure it's sustainable."
SIZE DOESN'T MATTER: NORTH CAN BE A POWERHOUSE
SHAW has spent his football life in powerhouse AFL clubs including Collingwood and Sydney.
He says the size of a club is irrelevant - the ethos is more important than anything.
If there is one message he wants to send to his players it is that North Melbourne can be a powerhouse.
Maybe not in literal footprint or membership or revenue, but consistent excellence.
"I want us to think big. I want to give the players, the administration, the coaching staff the ability and confidence to believe in themselves and believe anything can happen and we can do this," he says.
"I have seen big jumps before. I have seen teams go from zero to high up the ladder and sustain it for 10-12 years.
"We are in it to win games of footy and ultimately premierships. I don't shy away from that. I am not here to win coach of the year. I am here to win a premiership and I am here to win multiple premierships, as every coach is.
"I know we have got a long way to go and I am not getting ahead of myself. If I fail in two, three years, I know I will have tried to do it the right way. That's all I can do."
It is the kind of bold statement that some might think too optimistic, but it is clear from Shaw's time at Sydney that he comes from a club that sets big goals then ruthlessly pursues them.
He will mix that culture with North Melbourne's DNA, confident this team can carve out a sustained period of success.
"Reading about the history of this club, they have always fought for everything. Even the inception of the club into the VFL, it took them god knows how long to even get into the competition," Shaw says. "Through the Barassi era they starred and got some guns in and won two flags - one against my old man (Ray) in 1977 - and through the Pago (Denis Pagan) era it was simple footy but brutal. Brutal footy and successful footy.
"I just think we have got to be able to believe we can be a team and club that can compete with the best."
LITTLE THINGS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
THE players are halfway through another drill and Rawlings is spitting chips in the box.
Luke Davies-Uniacke is easily baulked on the mark by a forward and as a result the attacking side runs the ball effortlessly down the field.
Then in a full-ground drill a series of passes from the club's best field kicks hit the deck.
Rawlings has just finished remarking upon Shaw's amazing gut feel - when to be a mate, when to interject - when the senior coach calls the group in.
After weeks of sparkling training the players are a few per cent off. Shaw gesticulates and urges them to lift.
Immediately the players respond.
"Now we look like an AFL team," Rawlings quips.
Rawlings and another assistant communicate via walkie-talkie and decide how to review those breakdowns.
Only an hour after the session the players break into three groups and Rawlings brings up a list of edits inside the club's theatrette.
This is his message: "No game style will ever succeed if we can't be consistent in our behaviour."
As he says, there are acceptable behaviours and "behaviours that make you a bad teammate".
Rawlings doesn't eviscerate players for a missed handball or a failure to close on a player receiving the ball.
Instead he highlights what that failure means for the team as he breaks the players into groups of four to ask how they could have defended a play better.
In the ultimate ripple effect, he uses footage and shows them with a laser pointer on a projector screen how one mistake flows on down the field and costs them a goal.
Then a Jed Anderson tackle that shuts down an attacking ball movement gets a tick, as does Polec's three-tackle effort in a congested handball drill.
Rawlings is authoritative but encouraging, and the players respond.
As Luke McDonald remarks: "We didn't pick those things up in the past and it's going to be massive for us."
Ben Jacobs, still sidelined with his concussion issues, says shutting down that single metre of space makes the world of difference.
"If I am a step off, that's another 12 touches for my opponent (in a game). If three guys are a step off, it's six goals."
And then the meeting is done in all of 15 minutes and the boys are free to progress on to weights.
Shaw believes in what he is teaching and he believes in the potential of a club that retained Shaun Higgins and Todd Goldstein. He is desperate to pump games into its dozen exciting young kids.
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As Higgins walks off the training track he talks of Shaw's relentless ambition and how it dovetails into his own premiership hopes.
"That is pleasing when you are an older guy," Higgins says. "We feel like we have got a list that is more than capable of being competitive week in and week out. The dynamic and profile of the group suggests we should have those goals Rhyce is expecting of us.
"I knew straight away (I had made the right decision to stay) because there was a gut feeling when we could finally got the deal done I had made the right call. It's as good a notification or validation as any that I had made the decision and was able to get it done. I am always optimistic of what we can do and nothing has changed with that. If anything it's grown more and more."