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North Melbourne 2019 season preview: Best 22 and predicted finish

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Roar Rookie
20th December, 2018
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Widely expected to hold up the rest of the competition on the ladder, the outlook was bleak for North Melbourne heading into the 2018 season.

Coming off just eight wins from their last 32 games and possessing one of the most inexperienced lists in the AFL, the Roos defied all expectations, finishing just one win and percentage out of the top eight.

Brad Scott’s men enjoyed some stirring wins throughout the year, with a number of players enjoying career-best seasons as they challenged for a position in the finals. For the second consecutive year silky midfielder Shaun Higgins won the Syd Barker Medal, beating fellow midfielder Ben Cunnington and vice-captain Robbie Tarrant.

Following a successful stint at the Kangaroos after an injury-ravaged time at Carlton, Jarrad Waite made the decision to hang up the boots after 244 games and 377 goals. After just one year at the club, former Hawk Billy Hartung was surprisingly delisted, as were the untried trio Tom Jeffries, Oscar Junker and Gordon Narrier.

After promising 2017 campaigns, Daniel Nielson, Declan Mountford, Josh Williams and Mitch Hibberd were all axed, having not played a game this year. Alex Morgan was also cut after just one year on the list, while youngster Kyron Hayden was delisted with the promise of being redrafted on the rookie list.

A year after they were unsuccessful in the pursuit of superstar midfielders Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly, the Roos again had plenty of cash to splash once the free agency and trade period opened. With Jordan de Goey spurning the Roos to sign a contract extension with Collingwood, North set their sights on West Coast free agent Andrew Gaff and Port Adelaide speedster Jared Polec.

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Gaff appeared set to sign a mega-deal with the Kangaroos before having a change of heart at the 11th hour, throwing list manager Cameron Joyce’s plans into disarray. Polec, on the other hand, was landed along with his Power teammate Jasper Pittard, with the pair traded across in exchange for North’s pick 11 and a future fourth-round pick, getting back selection 48 at the same time.

Young midfielder Ryan Clarke was sent to Sydney for pick 62, on-trading that selection to Melbourne along with backup ruckman Braydon Preuss in exchange for Dom Tyson. Aaron Hall was North’s final acquisition, with selection 68 going back to the Gold Coast Suns.

With priority access to North Launceston young gun Tarryn Thomas, the Roos matched a bid from the Adelaide Crows at selection eight to acquire the Indigenous talent. Seeing Curtis Taylor available on the board later in the draft, the Roos traded up the order to snatch the mid-sized forward at selection 46.

A few picks later North matched a bid from Geelong on father-son prospect Bailey Scott, son of premiership Kangaroo Robert. Another father-son joined the club via pick 69, with Joel Crocker following in the footsteps of his father Darren.

In the rookie draft the Roos selected a pair of Toms, with Tom McKenzie from the Northern Knights and Tom Wilkinson from Southport in Queensland joining the club. Red Og Murphy from Sligo in Ireland was also picked up, joining as a category B rookie. Under new list rules, North Melbourne were also able to sign delisted Western Bulldogs ruckman Tom Campbell following both the national and rookie drafts.

Playing list

New players in bold

1. Majak Daw^ 16. Scott Thompson 32. Mason Wood
2. Marley Williams 17. Jasper Pittard 33. Ed Vickers-Willis
3. Jed Anderson 18. Shaun Atley 34. Jamie Macmillan
4. Shaun Higgins 19. Sam Wright 35. Declan Watson
5. Ben Jacobs 20. Nick Larkey 36. Joel Crocker
6. Taylor Garner 21. Dom Tyson 37. Kyron Hayden (R)
7. Jack Ziebell (C) 22. Todd Goldstein 38. Tristan Xerri
8. Nathan Hrovat 23. Ben McKay 39. Tom McKenzie (R)
9. Luke Davies-Uniacke 24. Sam Durdin 40. Tom Murphy (R)
10. Ben Cunnington 25. Robbie Tarrant 41. Tom Wilkinson (R)
11. Luke McDonald 26. Tarryn Thomas 42. Tom Campbell (R)
12. Jy Simpkin 27. Will Walker 43. Aaron Hall
13. Jared Polec 28. Kayne Turner 44. Cam Zurhaar (R)
14. Trent Dumont 30. Bailey Scott 45. Red Og Murphy (R)
15. Paul Ahern 31. Curtis Taylor 50. Ben Brown
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Best 22

FB: Ed Vickers-Willis, Ben McKay, Marley Williams
HB: Jamie Macmillan, Robbie Tarrant, Jasper Pittard
C: Jared Polec, Ben Jacobs, Trent Dumont
HF: Shaun Higgins, Mason Wood, Jy Simpkin
FF: Taylor Garner, Ben Brown, Jack Ziebell
R: Todd Goldstein, Jed Anderson, Ben Cunnington
IC: Paul Ahern, Aaron Hall, Shaun Atley, Dom Tyson
EMG: Scott Thompson, Luke McDonald, Tom Wilkinson, Luke Davies-Uniacke

^ Majak Daw was not considered for the best 22 given recent events.

The star

After a breakout year in 2017 that saw him become the first North Melbourne player to kick over 60 goals in a season since Wayne Carey in 2000, Ben Brown backed it up with another fantastic campaign up forward. Despite a stuttering start in which he managed just four touches and no score in a tropical monsoon against the Suns in Round 1, Brown exploded into form, booting 23 goals from his next five matches.

The 26-year-old highlighted how much of a game-breaker he can be, booting five goals in a quarter against the GWS Giants in Round 9, while a six-goal haul against St Kilda on Good Friday was a season-best effort.

After leading the Coleman Medal count for much of the year, Brown slowed late in the season due to a nagging hip injury and was eventually overtaken by Richmond forward Jack Riewoldt. With the retirement of Jarrad Waite, Brown will now need the likes of Mason Wood and Nick Larkey to step up to ensure he isn’t caught with two defenders manning him every time North take the ball inside 50.

Ben Brown

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Needs a big year

Having announced himself as one of North’s best young players in a breakout 2017 season, many North supporters expected Luke McDonald to continue building into a midfield weapon. However, with the emergence of some of his teammates, McDonald found himself forced to the back half, which saw his numbers drop across the board.

The former first-round draft pick too often gave the ball back to the opposition with his sloppy skills, especially by foot, which tested the patience of the blue-and-white faithful. Despite playing all 22 matches, McDonald could only muster an 18th placing in the Syd Barker Medal, putting a full stop on a bitterly disappointing campaign.

North Melbourne signing him to a three-year contract late in the year remains one of the more baffling list management decisions of any team this year given he will likely start 2019 outside of the club’s best 22.

Ready to break out

He was forced to wait longer than most to make his mark on the AFL stage, but once he finally got the opportunity, Paul Ahern made sure to make up for lost time. After enduring two back-to-back knee reconstructions following his selection in the top ten of the 2014 national draft by the GWS Giants, Ahern finally broke through in his fourth season, starring in his debut match with 29 possessions and five clearances against the Lions.

He highlighted his elite ball-winning capabilities with a huge performance against eventual premiers West Coast in just his eighth game, amassing 37 disposals and winning 12 clearances. With another preseason under his belt and looking noticeably trimmer, Ahern could very well become a household name in 2019 and beyond.

Expect man-mountain Ben McKay to feature prominently next season as well. The twin brother of Carlton’s Harry, Ben has managed just one match in his three seasons on the North list. Having spent this year locking down opposition forwards in the Kangaroos’ VFL side, he will be in line for a spot in the Round 1 team given Scott Thompson’s suspension hanging over from this year. I don’t see him giving up that spot.

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Last chance

I could perhaps be going the early crow here, but one player who would desperately be wanting to get a move on is versatile tall Sam Durdin. North’s first-round selection from the 2014 national draft, the South Australian-born Durdin has managed just nine appearances in his four years on the list, with only one game coming this season.

At 198 centimetres and tipping the scales at 100 kilograms, Durdin has plenty of athleticism but is a victim of his own versatility, having been unable to lock down a position in the senior side. He formed a formidable partnership with teammate Ben McKay in the North Melbourne defence at VFL level this year, but with an abundance of options down back, he may find it hard to get a look-in.

Durdin’s best match of his career thus far came while he was playing as a mark-up forward, so while unlikely, that could be an option for him in the final year of his current contract.

New colours

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Having gone on a significant recruiting drive in the off-season, North Melbourne will possess a new-look outfit in 2019. Aaron Hall and Jared Polec appear well-placed to make a significant change to the Roos’ premiership fortunes next year, with the duo set to inject some serious pace and class to the midfield.

Polec is coming off a career-best campaign in which he averaged over 25 touches and 4.5 marks a game while ranking sixth in the league for total metres gained. Meanwhile, Hall will be hoping that a change of scenery will spark a return to his best football after over 100 games with the Gold Coast Suns.

Like Polec, Jasper Pittard will also ditch the teal and black for the blue and white. A former All Australian squad member, the dashing defender will be hoping to bounce back after a poor year, while ex-Demon and Giant Dom Tyson will be hoping it’s third club lucky.

Ben Cunnington is one player who will welcome the inclusion of Tyson with open arms, allowing him to spend more time resting up forward while Tyson goes into the guts.

Jared Polec

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The kid

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning and discovering a tantalising present sitting under the tree, only to be told you had to wait two more years until you could open it. You now know what North Melbourne had to endure as they waited for Tarryn Thomas to reach his draft age.

Part of the club’s Next Generation Academy, the North Launceston product officially became a Roo at selection eight after a bid from the Adelaide Crows. At 189 centimetres, Thomas is strong overhead and silky when the ball is in his hands, even more so in wet conditions, while his background of playing rugby league as a child gives him a terrific tackling ability. Like fellow top draft pick Luke Davies-Uniacke, Thomas won’t be handed matches, but players like him aren’t kept in the VFL for long.

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While not necessarily a kid anymore, keep an eye also on rookie Tom Wilkinson. With a dearth of quality small forwards on the list, the Roos targeted the 22-year-old after a starring season for Southport that saw him named in the NEAFL team of the year. Depending on the fitness of oft-injured Taylor Garner, North fans could even see Wilkinson lining up for a Round 1 debut.

Supercoach star

At the ripe old age of 30, Shaun Higgins showed everyone in 2018 that you’re never too old for a career-best year. The reigning Syd Barker Medallist claimed the top gong at the club again after a magnificent campaign, averaging 27.4 possessions and 5.9 inside 50s and booting 14 goals. The former Bulldog averaged 103.2 Supercoach points, making it the first time in his long career that he has averaged three figures.

A left-field option for your midfield is Trent Dumont. The 23-year-old is blossoming into a very good player, coming off a terrific year in which he finished just a few votes off a podium finish in North Melbourne’s best and fairest. Dumont averaged 83.4 points, which doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but it was his final five matches of the year that raised eyebrows, averaging 113.6 points from that five-game stretch, including scores of 162 and 132. Get on while you can.

Fixture

Round Team Venue
Round 1 Fremantle Optus Stadium
Round 2 Brisbane Lions Marvel Stadium
Round 3 Hawthorn MCG
Round 4 Adelaide Marvel Stadium
Round 5 Essendon Marvel Stadium
Round 6 Port Adelaide Adelaide Oval
Round 7 Carlton Marvel Stadium
Round 8 Geelong Marvel Stadium
Round 9 Sydney Blundstone Arena
Round 10 Western Bulldogs Marvel Stadium
Round 11 Richmond Marvel Stadium
Round 12 Gold Coast Metricon Stadium
Round 13 GWS Giants Blundstone Arena
Round 14 Bye
Round 15 Collingwood Marvel Stadium
Round 16 St Kilda Blundstone Arena
Round 17 Essendon Marvel Stadium
Round 18 Brisbane Lions The Gabba
Round 19 West Coast Optus Stadium
Round 20 Hawthorn Marvel Stadium
Round 21 Geelong GMHBA Stadium
Round 22 Port Adelaide Marvel Stadium
Round 23 Melbourne Blundstone Arena

View the full 2019 AFL fixture here.

A very good fixture for North Melbourne, who have been rewarded after a very promising year on-field in 2018 with three Friday night matches. They also retain the Good Friday match. Controversially, the Roos will play an extra game in Hobart, making it four matches at Blundstone Arena, a venue they hold a 14-4 win-loss record at.

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In a horror two-week period the Roos will face the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in Round 19 on a Saturday night before heading to Perth seven days later to face the reigning premiers at Optus Stadium. They will make two separate trips each to Queensland and Western Australia to face the Suns and Dockers respectively, while they go to their bogey venue, Adelaide Oval, just once, avoiding a trip to New South Wales.

For the second consecutive year the Roos will head down the highway to GMHBA Stadium to play the Cats. Geelong are one of five teams North face twice in 2019, with Port Adelaide, Essendon, Brisbane and Hawthorn the others.

The quirks

As aforementioned, 2019 will be the first season that North Melbourne will play four ‘home’ matches at Blundstone Arena in Hobart, with Sydney, St Kilda, Melbourne and the GWS Giants to be their opponents. Round 6 will also see the Kangaroos face the Power on a Friday night at the Adelaide Oval. It will be the first-ever encounter between the two sides in the marquee timeslot, and it will also be the first time they meet in a genuine night match in Adelaide since 2009.

‘Is this really that interesting?’, I hear you ask. No, but it is to me.

Paul Ahern

(AAP Image/Hamish Blair)

Don’t miss it

Heading into the third year of footy being played on Good Friday, North Melbourne will once again host the highly contentious match, but against yet another opponent. Having faced the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda in previous years, 2019 will see the Kangaroos take on their biggest rival, Essendon, in the 4:20pm timeslot at Marvel Stadium.

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Games between these two sides rarely disappoint, with this season’s match-up regarded as one of the best in 2018. With these teams averaging a crowd in excess of 40,000 in games played under the roof at Docklands, expect a bumper crowd and an even better contest.

Make other plans

Another big crowd will be expected when North Melbourne play a rare away game to Collingwood at Marvel Stadium in Round 15, but the Roos will be up against it to claim the four points. Their recent record against the 2018 grand finalists is poor, winning just three of their last 13 encounters, while North’s worst performance in each of the past two seasons has come in matches against Nathan Buckley’s men.

To make matters worse, the game comes directly after the Kangaroos’ midseason bye. The Roos have a 1-4 record in matches played after a week off since 2015.

Final word

There is a genuine air of excitement at North Melbourne going into 2019. Having suffered a dip in performance in 2017, the club bounced back in a big way to silence the critics this year, and with the acquisition of several key players in the off-season, they appear well-placed to continue bounding back up the ladder next season.

A lot of it will depend on the development of their youth and the health of certain players. Ben Jacobs underlined his importance to the side, with the Roos winning eight games of the 13 he played this year, while Ed Vickers-Willis and Taylor Garner have done nothing but impress in the short time they have been on the park. If all three can play some consistent footy, and the likes of Nick Larkey, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin, Ben McKay and Sam Durdin take the next step in their development, the sky is the limit in the club’s 150th year.

Predicted finish: Fourth to eighth.

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