It was a tale of two seasons for North Melbourne in 2016. The Kangaroos are by far the most popular pick to fall out of the top eight this season, but will it be a rebuild on the fly or a free-fall down the ladder for North?
Let’s have a look at the list changes made in the off-season.
Additions: Nathan Hrovat (Western Bulldogs), Marley Williams (Collingwood), Paul Ahern (GWS Giants), Jy Simpkin, Declan Watson, Josh Williams, Nick Larkey, Cameron Zurhaar, Oscar Junker, Matthew Taylor (draft)
Subtractions: Daniel Wells (Collingwood), Aaron Black (Geelong), Brent Harvey, Michael Firrito, Nick Dal Santo, Farren Ray (retired), Drew Petrie, Robin Nahas, Brad McKenzie, Joel Tippett (delisted)
What happened last year?
The Roos got off to the best start in club history in 2016, winning their first nine games to sit comfortably atop the ladder.
Despite claiming the scalps of Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs in that stretch, a decent proportion of the football world remained unconvinced that North were genuinely a top side. But even the staunchest non-believers were stunned at the turnaround of form that was to follow.
The Kangas limped to September, winning just three more games all year, before proving completely uncompetitive in a 62-point elimination final loss to the Crows.
North Melbourne left football fans dumbfounded after announcing – before the end of the home and away season – that four of the club’s most esteemed veterans in Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo were set to be delisted.
Coupled with the departure of Daniel Wells to Collingwood, the Kangaroos will line up in 2017 short of a fair few familiar faces.
The club brought in Nathan Hrovat and Marley Williams to replace some depth, but this is a club that made the decision well before the most recent offseason to turn to youth in 2017.
What needs to happen in 2017?
While it’s not as if North Melbourne’s list is now completely bereft of talent, the timing and manner in which they let their veterans go was a very clear indication that Brad Scott thought his list could go no further.
The ruthlessness of the move may prove to be a masterstroke in five years time, but not if the Kangaroos don’t follow through in 2017 with a strong youth-first focus.
Does Jarrad Waite, at age 34 and coming off a year heavily interrupted by hip injuries, still have a place in the team? Ben Brown will be the focal point up forward for North for years to come, and with the emerging Mason Wood, promising prospects in Sam Durdin and Ben McKay and the Majak Daw experiment to fall back on – the answer appears to be an obvious no.
Scott Thompson and Sam Gibson would have good reason to feel nervous about their spots in the line-up as the season wears on, and while North still boast some class in the 26-29-year-old age bracket, the ice has started getting thinner for some of the more inconsistent performers like Lindsay Thomas and Lachie Hansen.
This is a club that boasts a whopping 16 players under the age of 21. The future is now for North and those kids need game time.
While the manner in which North Melbourne announced their list changes made them appear more disruptive than they may end up being, the debate surrounding how much impact the fissured four would have had this year is somewhat irrelevant.
This is a club that lost 11 of its last 14 with a better list than it has now. 2017 will be a rebuilding year.