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North Melbourne Kangaroos 2018 AFL season preview, best 22 and predicted finish

Jarrad Waite is set to line up for the Kangaroos in AFLX. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
20th December, 2017
27
1731 Reads

Coming off a disastrous end to their 2016 season in which they lost ten of their last 12 games before bidding farewell to veteran quartet Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo, not many expected North Melbourne to be one of the big hitters in season 2017.

Putting a heavy emphasis on youth, the Roos started the season with a competitive effort against West Coast, before losing a tight encounter to Geelong, a game in which they led for majority.

Losing from very winnable positions soon became a theme for the Kangaroos, going down to the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle in Rounds 4 and 5 with the last kick of the game effectively.

North finally broke the duck in Round 6 with a win over Gold Coast, before an unbelievable upset a week later saw them knock off the ladder-leading and previously undefeated Adelaide Crows by 59 points.

Two more wins over Melbourne and Carlton soon followed, but the good form quickly dissipated. A seven-game losing streak eventuated, including two more matches by under a goal to the Dockers and Dogs, before a sensational win over finals contender Melbourne in Hobart.

A three-game losing streak pitted the Kangaroos in a wooden spoon playoff against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in Round 23, with the loser to claim the number one draft pick.

In a scintillating effort, the Roos jumped to 15th spot on the ladder with a 51-point victory, avoiding their first bottom-placed finish since 1972.

After aggressively overhauling their list at the end of 2016, North Melbourne continued down the same path this season, delisting veteran duo Lachie Hansen and Lindsay Thomas after a combined 356 games and 406 goals.

Reliable midfielder Sam Gibson was also traded to the Adelaide Crows despite playing 130 consecutive matches since his debut in 2012, while running defender Aaron Mullett was shown the door even though he played 18 games in 2017.

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Corey Wagner, Will Fordham and Matt Taylor were also axed, and after a bid to continue his career at Gold Coast alongside his little brother fell through, ex-captain and three-time Syd Barker Medallist Andrew Swallow announced his retirement after 224 games.

The Roos acquired untried Essendon speedster Alex Morgan as a delisted free agent, while Mullett and Thomas later found homes at Carlton and Port Adelaide respectively.

Armed with pick four in the national draft, their earliest selection since 2006, the Roos couldn’t believe their luck when Luke Davies-Uniacke, a player who many draft experts viewed as the first or second best player in the draft pool, slipped through to their pick.

At pick 23, North grabbed soccer convert Will Walker, before drafting Subiaco midfielder Kyron Hayden at selection 64.

At pick 72, lifetime North Melbourne supporter Tristan Xerri became a Roo, before the club handed delisted Hawk Billy Hartung a lifeline, drafting him at selection 77.

In the rookie draft, the Roos picked up Thomas Murphy from the Dandenong Stingrays and Gordon Narrier out of Perth.

Playing list

1. Majak Daw
2. Marley Williams
3. Jed Anderson
4. Shaun Higgins
5. Ben Jacobs
6. Taylor Garner
7. Jack Ziebell (C)
8. Nathan Hrovat
9. Luke Davies-Uniacke*
10. Ben Cunnington
11. Luke McDonald
12. Jy Simpkin
13. Ryan Clarke
14. Trent Dumont
15. Paul Ahern
16. Scott Thompson
17. Mitchell Hibberd
18. Shaun Atley
19. Sam Wright
20. Nick Larkey
21. Alex Morgan*
22. Todd Goldstein
23. Ben McKay
24. Sam Durdin
25. Robbie Tarrant
26. Daniel Nielson
27. Will Walker*
28. Kayne Turner
30. Jarrad Waite
31. Braydon Preuss
32. Mason Wood
33. Ed Vickers-Willis
34. Jamie Macmillan
35. Declan Watson
36. Josh Williams
37. Kyron Hayden*
38. Tristan Xerri*
39. Billy Hartung*
40. Tom Murphy*
41. Gordon Narrier*
42. Declan Mountford
43. Tom Jeffries (R)*
44. Cameron Zurhaar (R)
45. Oscar Junker (R)
50. Ben Brown
*Denotes new player

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Best 22
FB: Marley Williams, Scott Thompson, Ed Vickers-Willis
HB: Sam Wright, Robbie Tarrant, Ryan Clarke
C: Luke McDonald, Jack Ziebell, Jamie Macmillan
HF: Taylor Garner, Jarrad Waite, Mason Wood
FF: Kayne Turner, Ben Brown, Jy Simpkin
R: Todd Goldstein, Ben Cunnington, Shaun Higgins
I/C: Paul Ahern, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Trent Dumont, Shaun Atley
EMG: Daniel Nielson, Billy Hartung, Braydon Preuss

The star
Following the departure of Drew Petrie at the end of 2016, many were wondering how Ben Brown would cope with the opposition’s best defender.

Those questions were answered handsomely last season, as Brown had an incredible year as North’s new number one target inside 50.

Having put together totals of 18, 32 and 41 goals in his first three seasons on the list, Brown finished with a monster total of 63.30, becoming the first Kangaroo to kick over 60 goals in a season since Wayne Carey.

Brown also took the third most marks inside 50 in the league, while he finished third in the Coleman Medal, six goals short of Lance Franklin’s home and away season total.

There is no doubting Brown’s ability to lead a forward line. The 200cm giant is capable of bringing his smaller teammates into play as well as taking a towering grab.

With his arms outstretched, there isn’t a defender in the league who can get a fist onto the ball when Brown goes for a mark, and he will be priority 1A for opposition coaches coming up against the Roos in 2018.

Ben Brown North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Ready to breakout
Having blooded a league-high 11 youngsters in 2017, there are plenty of kids on the North Melbourne list looking to take the next step in the new year.

The player with the most buzz is small forward Jy Simpkin, who enjoyed an excellent start to his AFL career last season.

The number 12 selection at the 2016 national draft, Simpkin played 13 games this year, impressing with his goal sense, nimbleness in the contest and his toughness.

The 19-year-old has enjoyed a productive pre-season so far and has bulked up considerably, which bodes well as he enters his second season in the AFL.

There are no limits to what this kid can do, and North fans are understandably giddy with excitement over what he will produce in the coming years.

Jy Simpkin North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2017

(AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Needs a big year
After his record-breaking season in 2015 in which he was named the competition’s best ruckman, it has been quite a fall from grace for Todd Goldstein, who had arguably the most challenging year of his career in 2017.

The 29-year-old averaged just 13.4 disposals and 2.8 marks a game, his lowest averages since 2014, while 30.3 hitouts a match was considerably down on his normal output.

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The 190-gamer also failed to have the same amount of impact around the game – in particulary his contested marking and strength in the contest have diminished.

Goldstein’s form dipped to a point late in the year where he was sent back to the VFL, but in positive signs, he showed flashes of his dominant best once he was recalled.

If Goldstein can return to the heights he scaled a couple of years ago, he will give his midfielders a decisive upper hand.

If not, impressive youngster Braydon Preuss will be ready and waiting to take his mantle.

Todd Goldstein North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Last chance
Having given up a first-round draft pick to gain his services, there was plenty of hype surrounding ex-Hawk Jed Anderson when he walked through the doors of Arden Street at the end of 2015.

A hamstring injury curtailed his debut season in the blue and white, but he still managed 10 rather underwhelming games.

A shoulder injury restricted him heading into 2017, and Anderson failed to take his chance when introduced into the senior side once fully fit.

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He spent the majority of the season playing for Werribee in the VFL, but showed good signs in the final round of the year when he was recalled.

North Melbourne have shown great faith in Anderson, who was rated as one of the best young prospects in the land as a teenager, despite failing to show any signs of becoming a handy player in the future.

If he doesn’t make inroads in 2018, the club will be forced to make a difficult decision.

New colours
After North Melbourne’s well-publicised approach to GWS and Richmond superstars Josh Kelly and Dustin Martin falling through, the Roos were as quiet as a mouse during the trade period, the only incoming player being Alex Morgan from the Bombers via delisted free agency.

Originally a second round draft pick, Morgan never broke through for a debut at Essendon, however he will be hoping for better opportunities at Arden Street.

North are also quite bullish about former Giant Paul Ahern, who joined the club at the end of 2016.

Coming off consecutive knee reconstructions, Ahern spent his entire first year at the club rehabilitating, but is now participating in full training.

Drafted at pick seven in the 2014 national draft, Ahern will be itching to finally make his debut in 2018.

The kid
Rated by many draft insiders as easily the second-best player in this year’s pool, many predicted the classy and explosive Luke Davies-Uniacke to be snapped up by Fremantle at selection two.

However, after the Dockers opted for Andrew Brayshaw and then Carlton taking Paddy Dow, North Melbourne couldn’t lock in Davies-Uniacke fast enough at pick four.

The Roos’ earliest selection in the draft since Lachie Hansen in 2006, Davies-Uniacke comes with an AFL-ready body at 187cm and 86kg.

He will slot into a new-look North outfit in Round 1 next season, and could become the first Kangaroo to win the NAB Rising Star award since Byron Pickett in 1998.

Luke Davies-Uniacke tall

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Supercoach lock
After a slightly poor year by his usual standards in 2016, Ben Cunnington bounced back in a big way with a huge campaign last season.

The 26-year-old averaged 25.6 disposals, 4.8 tackles and seven clearances from 20 matches, producing a healthy Supercoach average of 91.1 points per game.

At his best, the midfield bull can post some huge numbers, scoring above 120 points five times in 2017.

By all reports, the 165-gamer has returned to pre-season training in terrific shape, so Supercoach users should definitely consider the North clearance king.

Fixture

Round 1: Gold Coast (Cazaly’s Stadium)
Round 2: St Kilda (Etihad Stadium)
Round 3: Melbourne (MCG)
Round 4: Carlton (Blundstone Arena)
Round 5: Hawthorn (Etihad Stadium)
Round 6: Port Adelaide (Etihad Stadium)
Round 7: Sydney (SCG)
Round 8: Richmond (Etihad Stadium)
Round 9: Greater Western Sydney (Blundstone Arena)
Round 10: Fremantle (Optus Stadium)
Round 11: Brisbane (Etihad Stadium)
Round 12: Geelong (GMHBA Stadium)
Round 13: Bye
Round 14: Western Bulldogs (Etihad Stadium)
Round 15: Essendon (Etihad Stadium)
Round 16: Gold Coast (Etihad Stadium)*
Round 17: Sydney (Etihad Stadium)*
Round 18: Collingwood (MCG)
Round 19: West Coast (Blundstone Arena)
Round 20: Brisbane (Gabba)*
Round 21: Western Bulldogs (Etihad Stadium)*
Round 22: Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 23: St Kilda (Etihad Stadium)*
*Denotes rematch

The Roos have received an excellent fixture for next year on the back of their poor season in 2017.

They will double-up against the lowly Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns, as well as St Kilda, the Western Bulldogs and Sydney.

They will head to Queensland twice to take on the Lions and Suns, while they make one trip to Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

As is customary, North will host three matches at their home away from home in Hobart, with their opponents being Greater Western Sydney, West Coast and, for the first time at Blundstone Arena, Carlton.

The Roos will also play two matches at the MCG, and will make a trip down the highway to play the Cats at the newly-renamed GMHBA Stadium. On top of all of that, they will play 11 matches under the roof at Etihad Stadium.

Fixture quirk
North Melbourne will start the season by setting a little bit of history, playing the club’s first ever match in Cairns against the Gold Coast Suns.

Also, between Rounds 11 and 19, North will leave Victoria just once, and that’s to their Hobart fortress Blundstone Arena.

They will play five matches at Etihad Stadium, including four in a row, one at the MCG and one down in Geelong.

This gives Victorian supporters a great chance to get out and attend matches during a crucial part of the season.

Don’t miss it
Pioneers of footy on Good Friday, North Melbourne have retained the hosting rights to the match for a second consecutive season after its highly successful debut last year.

However, 2018’s incarnation will feature a new opponent for the Roos, with St Kilda controversially replacing the Western Bulldogs.

Last season’s clash, which saw the Dogs defeat the Roos by 3 points, was played in front of 42,814 spectators.

It remains to be seen what the impact will be of having St Kilda play instead of the Bulldogs (North Melbourne and the Saints played twice in 2017 for an average attendance of 27,617), but Roos supporters will be silly not to make every effort to attend their only blockbuster clash of the season.

Make other plans
The words ‘Adelaide Oval’ should be enough to strike fear into any North Melbourne supporter given their horrific record at the venue since 2014. From five matches at the South Australian venue, the Roos have an average losing margin of 55 points.

In Round 22, North will head across to face the Adelaide Crows, with both sides expected to be at opposite ends of the ladder. It could get ugly, again.

Final word

External expectations are low when it comes to North Melbourne in 2018. With the most inexperienced list in the competition, there will be lapses in consistency and there are likely to be some big losses.

The young brigade are genuinely exciting, and the likes of Jy Simpkin, Ryan Clarke, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Paul Ahern, Cameron Zurhaar and Kayne Turner will surprise plenty, but finals are a pipedream.

Predicted finish: 17th

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