2017 AFL preview series: North Melbourne Kangaroos – 16th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert


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    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 North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2016

    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.

    Lindsay Thomas North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2016

    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

    Cam Rose’s AFL preview series ladder

    16th – North Melbourne
    17th – Carlton
    18th – Brisbane

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • March 1st 2017 @ 6:44am
      Perry Bridge said | March 1st 2017 @ 6:44am | ! Report


      Might be worth changing “Carlton Blues best 22′ to something with ‘North’ in it.

      The inopportune injuries in 2016 weren’t so much the old stagers that you listed – it was that Wood, Turner, Garner, (Anderson?), Jacobs, McDonald and even Wright all got injured which created an over reliance on the old stagers who – in a perfect world – would have been fading away via team selection.

      Higgins – since coming to North has been great. Last year was not a soft tissue strain injury – he was impacted by a clumsy Bulldog falling across into his leg and damaging his knee. I certainly don’t put him in the Waite category.

      Waite – I was interested in his retention – but, I guess up to Rnd 7 he was pretty well the best forward in the competition last year. If that hip is okay then why not – – I do suspect though that playing on Etihad he’ll be doing well not to suffer the same affliction.

      The best 22. Ironically if all are fit, I’d be doing my best to get those emergencies in there.

      At seasons start Wood and Jacobs will be absent. Taylor Garner has a lot to do to prove his hammies are right.

      One absent name is an uncapped player in Brayden Preuss – based on Tim Watson Preuss is the next big thing!! Personally I’ve been reasonably excited about the fact that Goldies successor is already at the club.

      Anyway – all fit and there’s still reasonable depth – just a lack of midfield polish and speed.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 7:53am
        Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

        Apart from Wood, you’ve just listed a bunch of jobbers there Perry. I do like Turner though, and McDonald still has his best to come. Genuine class is what you guys need, and Higgins provides it, so he was more sorely missed than the rest of them put together.

        I’m interested to see what becomes of Daw. I think they will try and squeeze him in as a forward.

        I agree, Preuss has looked good, big beast of a man he is. Will they play he and Goldy together? Where does Daw fit, in that case?

      • March 1st 2017 @ 11:03am
        Paul W said | March 1st 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        “Higgins – since coming to North has been great. Last year was not a soft tissue strain injury – he was impacted by a clumsy Bulldog falling across into his leg and damaging his knee”.

        AFL Report for Round 7, the week after North played the Dogs.
        “Shaun Higgins hurt his right knee when Sean Dempster fell across his leg as he snapped an important third-quarter goal, but was fortunately escaped serious injury and returned to the action”.

        • March 1st 2017 @ 1:06pm
          Perry Bridge said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report


          Yep – Higgins returned that night – managed a goal in the last term and then didn’t play again until Round 23.


          Jobbers wise – Garner had actually been exciting at the end of 2015, his efforts to consolidate a position in the side into and through the finals were very good and he was a hard match up, very good above his head and could take a jump. He was pretty good in the Rnd 1 win over the Crows last year. By Rnd 3 he was injured and didn’t return.

          Turner remains to be seen – he’s in a phase where he needs to ‘grow’ and take the next step and last year injury stuffed that entirely.

          Jacobs was a crucial role player – his run with defensive effectiveness had seen him virtually rise to the pre-eminent such player in the league. His run with injuries is a concern. Think back to the Geelong game last year – granted injuries to Swallow, Dal Santo, Cunnington etc stuffed our midfield – but we had no one to spare who could run to do a defensive job. Were Jacobs available?? Can a defensive mid be a clubs most important player???

          Wood I love the look of and he desperately needs a clean run at it.

          Daw/Preuss/Brown – – ideally don’t want Brown as 2nd string ruck – – however, the no 3rd man up rule now means you can more risk him in that role – however, Brown is an oddity as a forward first, ruck 2nd.

          Daw deserves a clear run at it to start the year. Clearly there’s pressure to perform. Not just from Preuss but if Sam Durdin can stay healthy he is someone of talent who has been building up his game at the lower level. Daw is sometimes unfairly judged. He is quicker than you might think looking at him – a bit of a loper at times but often while he’s loping the guy behind isn’t gaining. He’s strong – much stronger under the ball than Petrie/Brown – – which means he can actually bring the ball to ground better than some of the other guys who do/did get worked under the ball too easily. And – he can take a serious grab. So – at very least – with Wood missing first month then Daw must start the year with a guaranteed month of footy to consolidate himself.

    • March 1st 2017 @ 7:16am
      Bill said | March 1st 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      We will still beat Richmond.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 7:47am
        Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

        Yes, I expect this will be so.

        • March 1st 2017 @ 9:29am
          Brian said | March 1st 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

          Will be interesting to see where you place Richmond Cam. I remember what a big fan you were of Hardwick

    • March 1st 2017 @ 8:02am
      D.Large said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      I will certainly enjoy Norf slipping into the abyss.

      • March 1st 2017 @ 11:41am
        Pope Paul VII said | March 1st 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Gunna have to wait a while Largy.

      • March 1st 2017 @ 7:34pm
        Bill said | March 1st 2017 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

        Large by name. Small in the brains and downstairs area.

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 8:33am
          Swannies said | March 2nd 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          We’ll said Largey…you are spot on. North will be the next Carlton…

    • Roar Guru

      March 1st 2017 @ 8:06am
      AdelaideDocker said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Finally, someone else who has North in their bottom four!

      I broke Josh’s heart when I put them 15th in my ladder prediction series, so I don’t think he’ll be too pleased when he reads this 😉

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 8:11am
        Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

        Josh and I have been having some banter in recent days, and I suspect he knew it was coming…

        • Roar Guru

          March 1st 2017 @ 8:16am
          AdelaideDocker said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

          Hahaha, probably.

          Be careful where you put Fremantle, though: too low and I suspect you’ll feel the wrath of many folks here 😉

          In all seriousness, I really do enjoy your series, Cam. Keep up the good work 🙂

          • Columnist

            March 1st 2017 @ 8:37am
            Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

            Thanks mate. There are always some very vocal Docker fans, which is quite welcome!

    • March 1st 2017 @ 8:48am
      Birdman said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      Could Daw have a future down back if they decide to squeeze all three of the big boys into that side?

      • March 1st 2017 @ 9:01am
        bilo said | March 1st 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Daw’s last effort as a forward was to kick 4 goals at CHF against the Crows in Adelaide in a final in a losing team, not too bad!

        • Columnist

          March 1st 2017 @ 9:10am
          Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          Is Daw a forward that has sometimes been shoehorned into playing as a ruckman, or is he a ruckman that has been forced to play forward?

          • March 1st 2017 @ 1:04pm
            spruce moose said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

            He’s a lesser version of Kurt Tippett.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 12:45am
        deccas said | March 2nd 2017 @ 12:45am | ! Report

        Daw will keep playing forward/ruck and they will trade goldy next season I reckon.

    • March 1st 2017 @ 8:53am
      David said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      I think North will not make the eight however I think they will surprise and be finish a lot higher than 16th. I’m a Swans fan and I just like the look of a lot of their young players. I rate McDonald, Wood, Garner and like the look of Hrovat and some of their players yet to debut. Atley who does have the class will have to step up and move to the midfield as your right they lack speed. Anyway I think they will be an exciting team to watch and they made the right decision on the forced retirement of the big four. Only Harvey and Wells was guaranteed a place in the best 22.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 9:12am
        Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        Yeah, it certainly wouldn’t surprise to see the enthusiasm of youth take them a bit higher than where I’ve got them positioned. Scott hasn’t been renowned for showing a lot of faith in the kids, but he’ll have to now.

        • March 1st 2017 @ 1:05pm
          K said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

          “Hopefully for supporters the cupboard is not as bare as it looks. At this stage, even Mother Hubbard would be looking on with disdain” – Such pessimism.

          While I don’t think North will play finals you’re selling them far too short suggesting they’ll finish 16th. They’ll have the easiest fixture they’ve had in 2-3 years. Their preseason performances have been encouraging because it’s been young kids and new faces doing a lot of the heavy lifting. They also have no expectations on them.

          That said Goldy, Ziebell and Higgins could all get injured and they’ll have a terrible year.

          • Columnist

            March 1st 2017 @ 3:07pm
            Cameron Rose said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

            Yeah, their fixture is definitely not in my favour, in terms of them finishing 16th.

          • March 1st 2017 @ 3:10pm
            Perry Bridge said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

            The key for North is bringing the younger guys along – there is a core of mature(ish) hard bodies (Swallow, Cunnington, Ziebell) in the engine room – it’s easier to utilise younger legs on the outside than expect immature bodies to cope inside.

            In the key posts we have Tarrant/Hansen/Thompson up back which allows a guy like Vickers-Willis to finally debut on 3rd or 4th tall.

            Up forward the key spots are shared between Waite, Brown, Daw.

            So – it’s very different say to Brisbane where they have some fine potential key position players who are around age 19-21 so their spine is still about 3-4 years away from blossoming.

            That’s why North could surprise – and be a beneficiary of the 3rd man up rule – last weekend Goldstein and Preuss allowed North to control the stoppages. This is where younger legs like Clarke, Turner and Wagner might be able to impact sooner rather than later to help spread from stoppages.

            Certainly so far Hrovat looks like he is slotting in to a comfortable groove.