The similarities between North Melbourne in 2016 and Fremantle in 2015 were stark, both in the age and experience of their lists, their hot starts to each season, and their inability to convert those starts into something meaningful.
North fans will bemoan how injuries struck them at an inopportune time last year, but when you have important players with the injury history of Jarrad Waite, Shaun Higgins and Daniel Wells, their unlikeliness to play a full season has to be factored in.
Ultimately, the Kangaroos of last year were an inferior outfit to the Dockers of the season before, and have taken the short cut from false contender to genuine rebuilder in the space of a few months. We saw what happened to Freo in their annus horribilus last year, and a similar doom awaits Brad Scott and his men.
North were never as good across 2014-16 as their supporters hoped they were, but the club was within their rights to have a crack at a flag, even though two preliminary final berths in that time were not a true reflection of where they stood in the AFL pecking order.
Perhaps club officials foresaw the evenness of last year’s premiership race, and thought they could sneak an unlikely flag before the Greater Western Sydney juggernaut took over. Fair play to them, but now it’s time to start again.
Let’s have a look at the type of side that will hop onto the park for the Roos in 2017.
North Melbourne Kangaroos’ best 22
|B||Sam Wright||Scott Thompson||Luke McDonald|
|HB||Jamie Macmillan||Robbie Tarrant||Marley Williams|
|C||Shaun Atley||Ben Cunnington||Sam Gibson|
|HF||Shaun Higgins||Jarrad Waite||Mason Wood|
|F||Lindsay Thomas||Ben Brown||Kayne Turner|
|Foll||Todd Goldstein||Jack Ziebell||Ben Jacobs|
|Int||Andrew Swallow||Nathan Hrovat||Trent Dumont||Ed Vickers-Willis|
Emergencies: Majak Daw, Taylor Garner, Ryan Clarke
The first thing to note is the cull of a host of senior players.
Brent Harvey, Daniel Wells, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito are gone. Petrie is basically an animated corpse on the field these days, as West Coast supporters will find out, and Firrito was a hardy veteran, but the other three all finished in the top seven of North’s best and fairest last year.
Dal Santo, Wells and Harvey were three of North’s top five ball winners last year too, and were also the classiest by foot of their primary movers. The other two players in the top five were Sam Gibson and Jack Ziebell.
Sam Gibson couldn’t hit water kicking out of a boat. He’d aim for ocean and hit sand.
Ziebell is as tough as they come, the rightful captain, and has a damaging long boot when he gets it, but he needs to lift either his disposal rate or his season goals to the high 20’s. Last year he averaged 22 touches a game and kicked 18 majors. Not enough of one or the other.
Ziebell’s lack of accumulation is a common problem at North. Their players simply don’t win enough football. The Roos didn’t have one player average more than 25 disposals a game last year, while the grand finalists, Western Bulldogs and Sydney, had four apiece.
Shaun Atley is one that gets talked up as filling the midfield void. He’s been the big pre-season story at Arden Street ever since he arrived, but it’s a book that contains only blank pages after the first chapter. If one player epitomises North under Brad Scott’s reign, it is he.
The Kangaroos under Scott have a range of players in their early and mid-20’s that either haven’t received a chance at senior level or are never going to be better than average. Even achieving Jack Dyer’s ‘good ordinary player’ looks out of reach for most.
North will have 13 senior listed players eligible for the Rising Star this season, but only two of them have played senior footy – a combined ten games between Ryan Clarke and Corey Wagner. That’s a lot of unexposed talent to have at one time, especially given the recent exodus of quality senior players.
Existing senior players – think Jarrad Waite (34 years old), Scott Thompson (30), Shaun Higgins (29), Lindsay Thomas (29) and even Todd Goldstein (28) now exist in football purgatory – in the wrong age bracket at a club that is in a clear rebuild. Anyone aged late 20s or older should be looking over their shoulder or looking to get out, especially after the way Boomer Harvey was unceremoniously walked out the door.
Only five of the 25 man squad named above are from other clubs. Two of those, Higgins and Waite, can’t be trusted to play more than a portion of the 22 games, and missing from the list is the disappointing and also perennially injured Jed Anderson.
This is very much Brad Scott and the recruiting teams side, and this year we will truly get to assess the merits of recent recruiting and development. Hopefully for supporters the cupboard is not as bare as it looks. At this stage, even Mother Hubbard would be looking on with disdain.
That said, there will be some positives.
Robbie Tarrant is coming off a career year down back, and will once again marshal the defence. Marley Williams is a better player than what he showed at different stages for Collingwood, and will provide some run out of the backline.
Nathan Hrovat is another new addition, who won’t be the last young Bulldog siphoned away from a club with enviable depth. He’s been a bright light in the early intra-club and pre-season games. Mitchell Hibberd and Ed Vickers-Willis look like they’ve got something to offer.
Mason Wood looks like he could become one of the best half-forwards in the competition, with sure hands and a good kick. They’re the right attributes and he’s the perfect size to play that linking third tall that can also hit the scoreboard regularly. Unfortunately for him, he’s been struck down by injury again, with a medium-term hamstring tear.
Ben Jacobs has just undergone surgery for a broken foot, and will miss the early part of the season. The cracks, literally, are already starting to appear.
North fans have enjoyed regular finals football over the last five years, but have also born witness to a long period of mid-table mediocrity. The man who led them to it, Brad Scott, is still at the helm, and now gets the chance to reinvent himself and the list, if he is capable of doing so.
The good thing for Kangaroos fans is the likelihood of a high draft pick this season, something they haven’t had for a long time.
Predicted ladder spread: 14th-17th
Predicted finish: 16th
Best and fairest: Jack Ziebell
Leading goalkicker: Ben Brown
All-Australian potential: Todd Goldstein, Robbie Tarrant, Jack Ziebell
Rising Star candidates: A great list of unknowns