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Opinion

Four burning questions for North Melbourne ahead of the AFL restart

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Editor
2nd June, 2020
20

You can be forgiven for forgetting Round 1’s most thrilling match was an almighty North Melbourne comeback win.

The Kangaroos whittled down a 29-point halftime deficit against the Saints to claim an exhilarating two-point win in Rhyce Shaw’s first ‘official’ game as coach.

It’s a good start, but North have plenty of questions to answer in 2020.

Here are four burning questions for North Melbourne before play gets back underway.

1. Is Rhyce Shaw the real deal?

I wasn’t surprised when Brad Scott decided to stand down midway through last season, but my eyebrows were raised when Shaw – in just his first year as an assistant with the club – was appointed caretaker.

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Despite their 7-5 finish to the season, I was also surprised with the speed at which he was given the role full-time.

In fairness, it’s not like he came off the street. The older Shaw brother spent three years as an assistant with Sydney before coming to the Kangas. But there would have been plenty of more experienced candidates vying for the role and North fans better hope their team made the right choice.

Round 1 was a good early tick, however, with the Kangaroos overcoming a swathe of injuries that only allowed them to use 50 of their allotted 90 interchanges to run down the Saints.

They out-hunted their opposition at the coalface, winning the contested possession and clearance tallies, a continuation of the trend Shaw started last season.

Rhyce Shaw, Senior Coach of the Kangaroos celebrates his team win

Rhyce Shaw’s rise to the top job has been meteoric – but was it too quick? (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

2. What are we actually building towards?

This is the big one.

Four years ago, North crashed to an eighth-place finish after starting 9-0 and controversially elected not to offer new contracts to Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito.

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It was an aggressive move that, if successful, could have gone down as a revolutionary rebuild.

In the years since, the Roos have missed the finals every season (fair enough) and their Round 1 side was the… sixth oldest and fifth-most experienced?

Hang on. What’s going on here?

Shaw shouldn’t be held accountable for the decisions of the Scott regime, but this fervent dedication to youth simply wasn’t followed on in the subsequent years (see: Jarrad Waite getting two one-year extensions after the infamous cull) and it’s put the club in a strange position.

They’re the same average age as last year’s premiers, Richmond, with just three fewer games of experience. They’re older and more experienced than the Giants, while being slightly younger but more experienced than Collingwood.

How are those clubs firmly in the premiership conversation, while the Kangaroos aren’t? How can they have one of the least exciting cohorts of under-24s – with just one player boasting 50 games of experience – if they clearly aren’t in a position to win the flag now?

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3. Will our draftees finally start to shine?

North’s misses at draft time have been far better documented by my good friend and club tragic Josh Elliott.

As Josh pointed out in August last year, only one of the thirty-eight players drafted since 2014 has played 50 games for the club.

Daniel Nielsen ahead of Toby McLean, Ed Vickers-Willis ahead of Mitch McGovern, Corey Wagner ahead of Blake Hardwick, Will Walker ahead of Tim Kelly. There have been some shockers.

But, the wheel might finally be turning.

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Jy Simpkin – the lone-50 gamer in both the draftees and under 24 clubs – has gone from strength to strength since debuting in 2017. His 23-disposal effort in Round 1 was particularly impressive and could be a great sign of things to come.

Luke Davies-Uniacke, currently struck down with a groin problem, looked to be coming good last season. Taken at pick 4, he’s well behind Jaidyn Stephenson (pick 6) and Aaron Naughton (9) in the same draft class, but has plenty of time to get there.

The real good news story is, of course, Tarryn Thomas. The next generation academy graduate hit the ground running last season with 16 goals in 20 games – superb for a debut season.

While he couldn’t hit the scoreboard in Round 1, he made his presence felt with seven tackles. He looks like an absolute superstar.

The Kangaroos need a lot more from the youth department, but there are some bright spots starting to shine through.

Tarryn Thomas

Tarryn Thomas is one to keep an eye on. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

4. Would no Hobart home games be that big of a deal?

Among the many ways COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on this season is the possibility North and Hawthorn will have to forfeit their usual allotment of home games in Tasmania.

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The Kangas have been imperious at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena, winning 16 of 22 matches. If you take out the Swans and Giants, however, that record improves to 16-1. They’ve never lost to a Victorian side at the venue.

But I wouldn’t be that worried if I was a Shinboner.

That’s because the Roos have become hard to beat at Marvel Stadium too. After a disastrous 8-16 stretch from 2017-18, they turned it around with an 8-4 record last season.

Under Shaw, they were 6-1 at Docklands, with the solitary loss coming by five points.