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For the North Melbourne rebuild, the worst is yet to come

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Roar Rookie
19th April, 2019
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Friday night’s Good Friday affair between Essendon and North Melbourne showed that North Melbourne, at 1-4 to start the 2019 season, are not very good at football.

North got dominated by Essendon to the tune of 58 points and, as always, the same issues came up. They have a mediocre head coach who makes little-to-no adjustments with his game, no real plan as to what they want to do, and little-to-no young talent on their list.

While stars in their prime and young talents like Ben Cunnington, Ben Brown, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Tarryn Thomas do exist, they simply do not have enough quality on their list right now and, with that in mind, it’s going to be quite a few years before we see a North team make any real impact again.

Coming ninth in 2018 seemed like a blessing, with one of the least talented lists in the AFL going on a great early season run that saw the team in finals contention for virtually the whole year.

Though they did miss the finals, and not much noticeable improvement came from the young players on the list (2017 fourth overall pick Luke Davies-Uniacke was somewhat of a disappointment in his first year), a career year from 30-year old Shaun Higgins (the 2018 Syd Barker medallist), as well as solid yearly performances from 27-year-old Jack Ziebell, 30-year old Todd Goldstein, 26-year-old Ben Brown (nearly the Coleman medalist) and 27-year-old Ben Cunnington had many North fans thinking that, with another top ten pick in the line-up and more improvement from young players like Davies-Uniacke and Mason Wood, the team would be a finals contender once again in 2019.

This year, quite a few of their weaknesses are being exposed, and the near-future looks bleak at Arden Street. This article is going to target three of those issues.

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Lack of young talent and poor drafting in recent years

North Melbourne’s first two picks from 2014-2017;

  • No. 16, 2014 – Sam Durdin, key defender. Nine games.
  • No. 25, 2014 – Daniel Nielson, key defender. Seven games.
  • No. 21, 2015 – Ben McKay, key forward. One game.
  • No. 31, 2015 – Ryan Clarke, midfielder. 40 games, now with Sydney.
  • No. 12, 2016 – Jy Simpkin, midfielder. 35 games.
  • No. 34, 2016 – Declan Watson, defender. Yet to debut.
  • No. 4, 2017 – Luke Davies-Uniacke, midfielder. 11 games.
  • No. 23, 2017 – Will Walker, midfielder. Four games.


While, of course, further improvement could be shown by the eight players above, the average of 13.375 senior games per player drafted with one of North’s top two picks from 2014-2017 is frightening for any rebuilding team. 69 per cent of the 107 senior games played by the eight players above have been played by two players, one of whom was traded to Sydney last offseason for a mid-round draft pick.

Jy Simpkin is the only player from 2014-2016 (bar the now-gone Clarke) who has broken into the senior team and, while the jury is out on LDU, from 2017, for a team that hadn’t had a top five pick since 2009 and needed an influx of talent, he hasn’t lived up to potential yet. Although he still has lots of time.

North’s drafting has been terrible recently, and the sad thing is that their recruiting team will be tasked with using what will be a very high draft pick in 2019 to help the team (likely a top five pick) on another talented youngster.

This team’s horrible drafting and poor list management has led to some terrible young talent on the list, and it will take years to get enough talent back onto the list to put North in a position to win.

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Banking on free agency
It’s a running joke at this stage. North Melbourne offers big money to the likes of Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly, multi-million dollar contracts, only for these stars to turn down Arden Street to stay at their current team for less money.

At this stage I wouldn’t be surprised if North offered Wayne Carey a five-year deal to rejoin the list and provide a key target next to big Ben Brown.

North’s recruiting focus appears to be on getting big fish in free agency rather than developing young talent through the draft, a risky strategy that rarely works out.

It especially never works out for a small market team like North Melbourne, a team tipped to eventually go to Tasmania, as well as being one of the least marketable and supported Melbourne teams.

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A club that isn’t a major free agency destination should be trying to build a competitive team via trade, and there have been times where they’ve done that.

Last season they traded pick 11 and a fourth-rounder in 2019 for Jared Polec, Jasper Pittard and a third round pick in 2018 (48th). Pittard and Polec are solid players, and North should be trying to do more trades like that for solid stars on the cheap.

But instead, for the last few years, they’ve been banking on that one transcendent talent to come through and help begin a winning culture. That hasn’t happened, and it probably won’t happen soon.

If they continue banking on a superstar joining their team for big cash, they won’t go anywhere as a team. Free agents want to go join teams with good players; when Ben Cunnington, Shaun Higgins and Ben Brown are your biggest selling points as a team, you aren’t going to get anybody of note.

Mediocre coaching
I think we can all agree that Brad Scott is not a very good coach. Average? Maybe. Underrated? If you say so. But he isn’t very good.

Scott is famous for his few matchday and in-game adjustments, moves that can make or break a football team. There is no real direction with North Melbourne.

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott

Is it time for Brad Scott to move on? (AAP Image/David Crosling)

Scott’s vanilla tactics and conservative style of football are not exciting. ‘That’s fine’, you say, ‘you don’t need to be exciting to win football games’.

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The thing is, North Melbourne aren’t winning games either. For a team that wants to rely so heavily on a big fish acquisition in free agency, the conservative Scott isn’t going to draw many fans or new recruits in. After a decade in the job, North Melbourne needs a change. Brad Scott needs to go and a new coach needs to lead this next era of Kangaroo football, if the team wants any hope in the future.

The thing about the three mammoth issues I mentioned is, that isn’t even extending to the level of football and the players right now. Most of their quality players are ageing and only have a few years left to perform, and they’ll need to be moved on over the coming years to usher in a new brand of footy.

North’s list isn’t particularly talented right now, and that should be improved (barring any mortal blows from their management team). North are going to be bad for a few years, and in five or ten years we can look back at this article and compare this piece to what’s happened since. But down at Arden Street, some major changes need to be made.