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Why North Melbourne are stuck in a vicious cycle

Finn Devlin Roar Pro

By Finn Devlin, Finn Devlin is a Roar Pro


79 Have your say

    North Melbourne’s controversial decision to axe club stars Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito, as well as the loss of star midfielder Daniel Wells to Collingwood via free agency, robbed it of 1588 games of experience.

    The message out of the club, from both within the playing group and coaching staff as well as the board, was clear: the club was in full rebuild.

    Fast-forward one season and North Melbourne finished 15th in 2017 with six wins and 16 losses – although had they lost to the Brisbane Lions in Round 23, they would’ve found themselves finishing bottom of the ladder. But six wins and three extremely narrow defeats represented a respectable season for such a young side.

    However, most of the list-building action came from behind the scenes. North were very serious – and public – players for the two major stars of free agency last season: Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly, as well as others.

    Given the club missed out on every single young or star talent it chased, North’s strategy has turned away from ‘accelerated rebuilding’ and onto the draft instead.

    While topping up talent from the bottom end looks a good idea on paper, the problem is on North’s list. For so long North have been a side of mostly B-grade footballers – good, but not great. Jack Ziebell is an example as a player who is highly valued at North but who is not in the elite category of midfielders.

    (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    This means North’s rebuild will be longer than most clubs, and for two reasons. One, a failure to attract any talent will keep the club lower down the ladder for longer, but also the club has enough talent on its list to stop it from finishing last. Six wins and some close losses in what will arguably be their worst season of the rebuild is testament to that.

    Herein lies the problem, however – North’s strategy of going to the draft arguably requires it to finish in the bottom two or three for several seasons.

    There are two reasons for this: because generally there is a gap between the best two or three players and the rest in drafts, as evidenced by this current draft class – Paddy Dow, Cameron Rayner and Luke Davies-Unakie are the standout three, and North will miss out on them with pick 4 – but also because finishing in the bottom two or three gives North access to two top-20 picks and at the very least a stronger hand to trade up from.

    The consequences of this are dire in the long term: a lack of star power means North will not rebuild to a premiership level team and the cycle will begin again.

    An example of a club successfully using the draft as a strategy is Carlton, who have looked to acquire as many top-20 picks as possible in the past few years. They’ve been bold, trading stars like Bryce Gibbs – great players who are fan favourites but ultimately aren’t going to be lining up for them in a grand final four or five seasons from now.

    North Melbourne, with their absence of A-graders but a solid quantity of B-grade footballers, do not have the required currency to trade and increase their draft hand, which will mean that, unless the club gets an unusual return on mid-to-late picks – for example, Adelaide and Sydney – the club will struggle to cobble together talent good enough to build a premiership team from.

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Teams like the Brisbane Lions, who had three or four top-25 picks for each of the last three drafts, including in 2017; Gold Coast, who have two first rounders next year and had four last year; and Fremantle, who have two top five picks and had two first rounds last year, are trading talent to stockpile early draft picks.

    This gives these clubs a decade-long core of seven to ten players to build an era around – all similar in age and specifically drafted from the same three-year drafting strategy.

    Because of its lack of A-grade talent North does not have access to a hand which can land them draft picks to accelerate their rebuild – and yet their B-grade-heavy list means they will struggle to finish low enough to have access to enough high draft picks to build a list around.

    North Melbourne, so often battlers in the VFL/AFL, are in a paradox. Spending their spare salary cap on one or two elite talents will lift them up in the short term, but depth of elite talent is needed to challenge for a premiership. Conversely, the club will struggle to finish low enough to attract elite level picks.

    The clubs list strategy needs a re-think, and fast, or North Melbourne, success-starved in recent times, will continue to middle-out in the depths of mediocrity in the AFL.

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    The Crowd Says (79)

    • November 13th 2017 @ 3:10am
      Western Roo said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:10am | ! Report

      Interesting article but I thought I would point out a couple of things.
      1. North debuted 11 players this past season, the majority of which proved themselves capable of matching it with the best. Many will be part of our next foray up the ladder which won’t happen until 2020 at the least. The next 2 seasons will be about developing these players and stockpiling more young talent along the way. Contrary to what you stated in your article, North will finish bottom 3 for these next 2 seasons and will gain high draft picks. Smart drafting will result in a bevy of fresh talent which will then make North a more attractive destination to higher level recruits. As it currently stands, big name talents were understandably hesitant in joining a club which is at the beginning of a rebuild and destined for a couple of years down the bottom of the ladder. This won’t always be the case going forward.
      2. The 2018 draft already makes an interesting case study for North. If as predicted North finish bottom 3. North could get a free high draft pick before the bid comes for Tarryn Thomas. With Nick Blakey also a chance to select North as a destination through father son, North could potentially snare 3 top 10 talent players out of the draft. This would use up all available draft points and perhaps even put us into minor deficit for the following year, but 3 top 10 picks next year added to the existing playing list, plus pick 4 and 23 this year gives an extremely promising boost to the future stocks of the North Melbourne Football club.

      A return to finals could come as soon as 2021 with a young team building together towards a premiership in following years.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 9:50am
        JamesH said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

        There are a few other points that need some scrutiny, too:

        1. I don’t see North finishing above the bottom 5-6 teams in the next couple of seasons anyway. They could well have another two top-3 draft picks, ignoring father-son selections.

        2. Even if they don’t, there is no guarantee that the top-3 picks in a draft are going to be better than what comes next. Here’s a quick analysis of the top 3 from each of the last 5 years, vs my best 5 players (excluding F/S and Academy, restricted to top 30 picks) that came after that:

        Whitfield, O’Rourke, Plowman
        Stringer (5), Macrae (6), Wines (7), Vlastuin (9), Grundy (18)

        Boyd, Kelly, Billings
        Bontempelli (4), Cripps (13), M Crouch (23), Z Merrett (26), Taykor (28) (there are several more in this draft that you could make a case for)

        McCartin, Petracca, Brayshaw
        DeGoey (5), Marchbank (6), Cockatoo (10), L Weller (13), Lever (14)

        Weitering, Schache, Mills (Melbourne forced Syd to pick him here)
        Oliver (4), Parish (5), Curnow (12), Hipwood (14), Burton (19)

        McGrath, Taranto, McCluggage
        Petrovski-Seton (6), Logue (8), Powell-Pepper (18), Hayward (21), Witherden (23)

        Yeah, top-3 is a better place to be in terms of picks but there are plenty of elite players to be found in the balance of the top 10, or even outside.

        3. How has Carlton successfully used the draft?!?!? They haven’t had any success at all yet, plus they have only used one top-5 pick (Weitering) in the last 5 years!

        • Roar Rookie

          November 13th 2017 @ 10:04am
          Wilson said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

          Great comment James.

          I don’t disagree with the crux of the article but the randomness and unpredictability of not just the draft, but also game-style, off the field happenings etc cannot be accounted for today.

          Furthermore, Brad Scott is clearly an elite coach, achieving what he did with such a limited playing group, I wouldn’t be surprised if North bounced back up quickly. However there is certainly a lack of experience around to guide the young list, which is my major concern for North.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 10:16am
          Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          “3. How has Carlton successfully used the draft?!?!?” Since SOS took over the blues have had 7 first round picks in 3 drafts (Weitering 1, McKay 10, C Curnow 12, Cuningham 19, SPS 6, 3,10) and picked up Fisher at 27, MacReadie and 40 something Jack Silvagni at 57 and Tom Williamson at 61 (plus a handful of others who have had an impact at senior level just yet).

          They have managed to get so many draft picks while still getting players like Plowman, Marchbank, Pickett and Kennedy through the door.

          I am not sure how that isn’t a successful use of the draft. Yes they are yet to have success (which takes time) but they have maximised their chances of getting it.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            Mattyb said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            Ummm…you do realise Carlton went backwards last year?
            I think you’ll find most people consider successful use of the draft climbing up the ladder and players proving themselves as good AFL footballers based on performance rather than potential.

            • Roar Guru

              November 13th 2017 @ 1:12pm
              Cat said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

              Not as backwards as the Dogs did.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 1:23pm
                Mattyb said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

                Gene,who’s mentioning the dogs though? To be perfectly honest I don’t understand your point as I wouldn’t imagine that many people saying they had a successful year last year.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 1:55pm
                Hungry Jack said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

                Maybe the Dogs can be the first Vic team to get the flick which wouldn’t bother Mattyb in his quest for a ‘national’ competition!

              • Roar Guru

                November 13th 2017 @ 2:05pm
                Cat said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

                Is it any less relevant than bringing Carlton into a story on NM?

              • November 13th 2017 @ 2:12pm
                Mattyb said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

                Gene,you might want to mention that to the person bringing up Carlton in the first place.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 2:50pm
                Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

                Mattyb – “you might want to mention that to the person bringing up Carlton in the first place.” Surely Finn is allowed to mention the blues in his own article? Od did you mean JamesH?

            • November 13th 2017 @ 1:16pm
              Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

              Only if you consider “wins” the only measurement and the reason they won less was because of their success in the draft.

              They dropped the age of the list, the age of the 22 they played, developed the young players, reduced the number of 6 goal losses and lead late in more games.

              They are much further advanced than they were this time last year.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 1:29pm
                Mattyb said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

                Macca,you said that last year lol.
                I understand your impatient with how badly things have been going so let’s hope you don’t slip further back next year,Carlton did get games into some young players which is good I guess but they havnt really developed many of them just yet,they have just played them,big difference.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 2:10pm
                Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

                Mattyb – “you said that last year lol.” And both statements were true.

                Carlton supporters are aware this process will take time.

          • Roar Guru

            November 13th 2017 @ 2:08pm
            JamesH said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

            Macca, I wasn’t taking a swipe at the Blues but ‘successful’ simply can’t be judged yet. There’s no way to measure it until we know how the draftees turn out. Lots of picks =/= successful drafting.

            The other issue is that Finn says North won’t have many top 2-3 picks and therefore will struggle to rebuild, but then uses Carlton as an example of how to rebuild through draft picks – despite Carlton having only one such draft pick themselves in recent years!

            • November 13th 2017 @ 2:14pm
              Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

              JamesH – my point was that the by taking as many picks as they can and getting as many first round picks as they can the blues have increased the chances of success at the draft – you are never going to be guaranteed a high draft pick will work but if your list manager is any good he should be able to at least land 4 out of 7 first round picks.

              As for the top 2-3 picks I think Finn was referring particularly to this draft where the top 3 seems to be well above the rest but until we see how the draft pans out it is a bit too early to say that North will be disadvantaged.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 7:07am
      Neil from Warrandyte said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:07am | ! Report

      Should perhaps use Richmond’s list build as a blueprint for putting together a premiership team. Especially as they had to partially achieve this during a compromised draft period.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 9:37am
      Cam said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      Just on this line, “North Melbourne, so often battlers in the VFL/AFL”
      Can we start applying this crap to teams like Carlton and Essendon please as they are actually the battlers in the AFL.
      North played off in their 3rd prelim in a row only 2 years ago so they are far from regular battlers and not in the same ballpark as Carlton and Essendon when it comes to struggling through a year of AFL football.
      Yes North might not have lied and cheated to manufacture past glories like Essendon and Carlton but to suggest North often struggle when the other 2 have totally floundered for the past decade and a half is just regurgitating a well worn cliche that no longer applies.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 9:55am
        JamesH said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        I think he means financial battlers. They don’t have the off-field clout of other clubs that would help them to attract talent. They have definitely been a stronger side on the field in the last 10 or so years than Essendon or Carlton.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 10:04am
        Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Cam – Despite Carlton’s lack of success they still averaged 39k per game this year (ranked 4th) North Averaged 25k ahead of only GWS, the Suns and the Lions.

        In 2015 when North made finals and Carlton finished last Carlton still averaged 7k more per home & away game than North (34k to 27k).

        If you want to look forward it is very hard to make the argument that North’s list is currently in better shape than either Carlton or Essendon.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 12:56pm
          Perry Bridge said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report


          It helps that Carlton are gifted 6 home games at the MCG – in 2017 v Rich (Season opener), Ess, Syd, Adel, Melb and WBG. Carlton only had 6 games in total at Etihad (5 home, 1 away). The Carlton Etihad average was 30k and for the 5 home games drops to about 28.5k.

          Venue plays a big part. North did quite okay at the MCG back in the ’90s and never put their hand up to move to ‘Colonial’. Back in those days – North v Carl, Coll, Ess, Rich etc would draw crowds from 40k to 75k.

          This year – Carl v Ess 48K home and 58.6K away. Carl v Mlb 46.7 and 47.3. Only one of those wouldn’t fit in Etihad however most people find it easier and more appealing to head to the ‘G.

          In 2017 North had one MCG game – away to Melb. However – even the fixture – our first 8 rounds saw hosting Eagles, GWS (in Tas), away v Freo, host the Suns, host Crows (in Tas), and the Swans. The only ‘local derby’ matches v Geel (their home game) at Etihad and Doggies on Good Friday.

          By Round 8 Carlton had already host Rich and Ess at the MCG, and played away at the ‘G v Mlb and Coll.

          If you’re going to compare then apply some context.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 1:06pm
            Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            Perry – It has to be remembered that 48k crowd at the MCG against Essendon was in a deluge.

            As for context North averaged 22k for their home games this year and 27k away – perhaps if their supporters started turning up they might get more games at the MCG?

            • November 13th 2017 @ 4:14pm
              Perry Bridge said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

              Context is such a crap early season draw – when the team is suddenly 0-5, granted we then hit our purple patch of the year with 4 from the next 5 – however, the majority of our games in the first 8 were low appeal vs non Vic sides.

              As contrasted to Carlton – and consider again the Friday night gifts granted to Carlton for season 2018 (considering they were fighting with North and the Lions for #1 draft pick).

              Carlton are being treated like a ‘Big 4’ Melbourne team still – which whilst historically accurate (back in VFL era) – when you consider that on season 2017 Carlton were 11th on the AFL Membership table. Coll, Haw, Rich and Ess are the Big 4.

              Then WCE, Syd, Ade, Geel, Port, Freo and finally Carlton – 6th in Vic but less than 3K ahead of the Doggies and 10K up on North (after the drop off of -5000 on 2016 before the ending of the careers of Boomer, Spud and Dish – North had been just 5k down on Carl in ’16 and well up on Dogs, Dees and StK. – a fair protest vote.).

              (keep mindful every club in every other football code in Australia would kill to have the most of the metrics that North have.)

              • November 13th 2017 @ 4:25pm
                Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

                Perry – you say “less than 3k ahead of the doggies” who were the reigning premiers, there are 2 clubs “less than 3k ahead” of the blues (freo and Port) and Geelong are 4.5k ahead. Considering all 4 other clubs would have been expecting their clubs to play finals pre -season while the blues were expected to finish bottom 2 that is a pretty good result.

                As for being a big 4 club – the blues in one of their worst periods are still top 4 for attendance – when it boils down to it they still draw a crowd and that’s why opposition clubs request them for Friday nights.

                As for going 0-5 impacting the crowds – I don’t think the blues 1-4 was that much better and the didn’t have a 4-5 hot streak to get our hopes up.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 9:08pm
                Steve009 said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:08pm | ! Report

                Always curious when I hear North and the Hawks membership numbers how many Tasmanian memberships are in those totals.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:47am
        Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

        Reservoir Animal – The blues and north both had 6 wins this year.

        Carlton go to the draft with pick 3, 10, 30 & 73 North have 4, 23 & 64.

        Carlton have 15 players currently under 21 North have 7.

        I think the blues supporters are in a much happier place than North fans.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 11:26am
      Aransan said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      Offering big money for Martin and Kelly never made any sense to me. Given the salary cap, a team can perhaps afford to pay overs for one player who is the missing piece in their jigsaw — for example Tom Boyd with the Bulldogs.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 11:47am
        Cat said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

        Having a star player to build around makes it easier to attract other role players. The hardest player to draft is the ‘superstar’ that can wins games and draw people through the gates and give the media someone to talk about even if the team is going poorly.
        As for the salary cap NM should have plenty of space with all the senior players gone. Contract could have been heavily front loaded, so pay now, affordable when the team starts contending.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 12:06pm
      Davo said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

      Good article however to say the Dow, Rayner and Davies are the clear top three talents is not right. Most experts are saying if Adam Cerra played a whole season he would be the number one draft pick based on his class and talent. Think
      Selwood, Lever or even Burton who slide down the draft because of injury and what they have become. The whispers are that Carlton will choose Cerra.

      Also not convinced about Carlton’s list even though they have picked the scraps from GWS. I still don’t know how they are going to score and at least North Melbourne have good young forwards in Brown and Wood.

      I think North Melbourne will surprise next year and they have three possible high end father son players next year besides the academy gun from Tasmania Tarryn Thomas.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:12pm
        Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

        Davo – Mason Wood is 24 and has played 26 games and averages 1.2 goals per game, 4.3 marks and 13.9 disposals.

        Charlie Curnow is 20 has played 27 games and averages 0.9 goals per game, 5.1 marks and 13.2 disposals.

        The blues don’t have a Brown at moment but the will be hoping McKay becomes that player and they will be looking for Silvagni (19 goals 17 this year) and Patrick Kerr to develop.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 1:38pm
          Perry Bridge said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          North haven’t had a lot of luck with Wood, Garner and Turner. This year is vital for those 3 to have a clean run at it and develop into regular senior players able to stay healthy.

          I do like Curnow.C at Carlton, along with Cripps – a bit of potential in the midfield there. Or is Curnow going to go forward? Weitering is good. Both clubs are sweating on a McKay twin. Gibbs is a loss for Carlton – interesting to see how other clubs approach Docherty next year.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm
            Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

            Perry – I would suggest C Curnow plays mainly as a forward that pinch hits in the middle and Cripps plays mainly as a mid who pinch hits up forward – I doubt they will spend much time on ball together.

            On Docherty you are right but also it will be interesting to see how the blues approach Docherty. Williamson had a good debut season and has a massive tank and a good kick, they brought Mullett in from North and will be hoping Byrne finally gets a good run with injury. When you add Simpson to those 3 plus Plowman, Marchbank, Weitering and Jones as the taller defenders I could easily see Docherty being played as a midfielder in 2018.

            • November 16th 2017 @ 10:38am
              Perry Bridge said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report


              Well – we jinxed Docherty!!!

              I won’t mention anybody else – I promise……try to ignore that I mentioned Weitering.

              • November 16th 2017 @ 10:42am
                Macca said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

                Yeah Perry, I am trying very hard to see the positives, opportunity for young player, he will get a full pre-season for 2019, probably higher draft pick in 2018, the 2017 lists haven’t closed yet but damn its annoying.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 3:48pm
          Davo said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          Macca Norths have a Mckay twin also as well as Durdin and one or two others they hope like Carlton to develop. North have more attacking weapons and more depth when it comes to forwards.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 3:57pm
            Macca said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            Davo – that remains to be seen. The blues still have 7 senior spots to fill on their list and both teams are reliant on players to “develop”.

            My point is that people always claim ” I still don’t know how they are going to score” when they have built an exciting just young and inexperienced forward line – McKay, C Curnow, Silvagni & Kerr around Casboult as the marking forwards and Pickett, Fisher, SPS & Cuningham around Wright as the speed and pressure small forwards. They are far from the finished product and not all of them are guaranteed of making it but it isn’t impossible to see where the goals will come from.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 12:11pm
      Tom M said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

      North cant rebuild quickly because they have no A grade talent that other clubs will give up high draft picks for. There is no one outside Brown that another club will give up high draft picks for and North would be mad to trade him.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm
        Kangajets said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        Possibly Goldstein to a club who needs a ruckman , maybe gws now Mumford is done

        • November 13th 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Hungry Jack said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          Not worth a cracker, Kanga! Late 3rd round pick at very best.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:34pm
        Perry Bridge said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        #Tom M

        I reckon there’s Ben Brown, Robbie Tarrant and at the start of his career I reckon Preuss would generate a bit of interest but North wouldn’t want to move him on.

        One thing that works for North is that their INSIDE mids are the more mature bodies now – i.e. Ziebell and Cunnington in particular and the developing Dumont.

        The ‘outside’ mids with skill and carry are the issue however Clarke is developing nicely and was averaging 22 disps last season but hitting high 20s and into the low 30s as the year pushed on. McDonald similarly was improving his output.

        Paul Ahern – who was a #7 draft pick for the GWS and ripping it up in the NEAFL in 2015 before his knee injury issues of 2016 ruled him out for all of 2017. For North – the gamble of a #69 pick traded for a guy who would sit out 12 months. It’s a big question mark – will he be worth the wait and provide an effective mature-ish top 10 pick this year to supplement the actual pick #4 North have.

        The two first picks North have this year are massive – a smidge of luck and they could have quality young ball carrying mids able to slot in. It’s a longer wait for the key position players (usually) – Preuss looks set to be a 10 year #1 ruck. Brown up forward with perhaps McKay. Other players like Durdin and Vickers-Willis have shown enough this year to suggest they will be well improved with another preseason under their belt. All the players on the list can expect a crack at it now with Thomas and Swallow also finished up.

        It’s actually exciting times for North.

        The doom and gloom of not attracting talent is a little over the top – in that the plays by all clubs for Martin, Kelly and Fyfe bore no fruit. North didn’t therefore lose out to other clubs – and perhaps forced the ‘home’ clubs of those players to upgrade these players to high market expectations – alas – perhaps helped ensure a guy like Devon Smith slips out the other end. However yes – the talk is that Darcy Lang opted for Carlton ahead of North – but he’s hardly ‘A’ grade anyway. I don’t know how hard North played for say Devon Smith or others that went to Essendon.