Things may be improving for North Melbourne after a tumultuous 2020.
This year started well, with two wins and a Round 9 thrashing of Adelaide, but it descended into chaos from then on and resulted in the departure of coach Rhyce Shaw just one year into his three-year contract.
Then came a massive clean-out of 13 players, only two of which were traded.
An analysis of the 11 players delisted shows that only two of them played ten or more games during the year, with two of them named as not having played a single game.
There is no doubt the Kangaroos are committed to a rebuild program similar to that undertaken by Adelaide this year. A cull of those players not considered finals material was necessary.
Some comment was made that suggested the club may have been too hasty and in some cases have thrown out the baby with the bath water.
There is also no doubt the limited number of games played by two of the club’s main performers – Ben Cunnington, three games, and Jack Ziebell, eight games – would have had a major impact on the Kangaroo’s performances, as would the poor form of Ben Brown.
The trading of Ben Brown – telegraphed early, thus reducing any leverage he may have provided – and Shaun Higgins, who was just four goals short of 100 goals for the Kangaroos, was a surprise but may have been based on financial considerations.
The sacked Jamie Macmillan was a top 100 game player at the club, having played 167 games, including ten average ones in 2020.
This placed him in equal 45th place with John ‘Jock’ McCorkell, born 102 years ago. McCorkell missed four years of football due to service in WWII but went on to win the best and fairest and coach the club, and North Albury recruit Ross Henshaw, who played in 17 finals, including four grand finals, in the 1970s.
Ben Brown also had made it into the top 100, sharing 80th position with Keith McKenzie, Ted Jarrad and Sam Gibson.
Despite the exit of these two players, the Kangaroos still boast six top 100 players. They’ll form the backbone of the club now that new coach David Noble has taken over.
None of the six is close enough to a traditional game milestone to celebrate achieving it in 2021, but another unbroken season like 2020 will move the most senior player, Todd Goldstein, to within a small margin of the two players who are currently equal ninth on North Melbourne’s top 100 game players list: David Dench and Michael Firrito.
Dench was a four-time best and fairest and North’s youngest ever captain. He played in the club’s first two premierships in 1975 and 1977.
The son of Sicilian parents, Michael ‘Spud’ Firrito played at the club from 2003 until 2016 and built a reputation as a backman who could quell forwards no matter their height or weight.
Shaun Atley (2011), Ben Cunnington (2010) and captain Jack Ziebell (2009) all started their careers at North Melbourne in different years but have played a similar number of games (200-plus) for the Kangaroos.
Robbie Tarrant, the much younger brother of former Collingwood and Fremantle star Chris, has now chalked up 164 games and should move into the top 40 game players at the club with a reasonable 2021.
Luke McDonald, with 126 games to his credit, should climb much higher up the top 100 game ladder than his current equal 86th position.
Unfortunately, due to the axe being swung, three of North Melbourne’s six top 100 goal scorers will not be at the club next year: Ben Brown (No. 1) Shaun Higgins (No. 4) and Mason Wood (No. 6), and David Noble will be looking for step-ups from Cameron Zurhaar, Nick Larkey and Jy Simpkin to fill the void