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'Best wooden spooner ever?': North Melbourne's 2021 in review

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Roar Guru
6th September, 2021
50

I’ve decided to do season reviews of every single club starting with the lowest ranked side and working my way up.

We will start with what has worked, what hasn’t, key questions that need answering and a way to early prediction as to where they’re going to end up next year. Now without further ado let us begin with the North Melbourne Kangaroos.

What worked?

They won the Horne-Francis Cup
Jason Horne-Francis is the stand out selection that is not bound by blood to an AFL side like Nick Daicos and Sam Darcy. Horne Francis has not looked uncomfortable playing senior footy at SANFL level average 16 disposals and kicking 12 goals.

The one mark against him is the possibility of the interstate move and with Covid exacerbating the go home factor it may make North Melbourne reluctant to go after him. However, when you combine Horne-Francis’ ability to go forward and hit the score board it becomes extremely enticing when you consider the menagerie of small forwards and high half forwards the Roos have collected.

Moving Jack Ziebell to the half-back line
Jack Ziebell was rated elite in every key performance indicator for the Kangaroos 1/ a general defender. Now part of that is definitely to do with the fact that the ball was simply down in North Melbourne’s back line a lot, you observe a similar trend with regards to loose ball Aaron as well.

However, Ziebell was a hardened in an under midfielder before this season and the move to the back line has seen him flourish. I believe this move by David Noble will see Ziebell extend his career by two or three years to provide North with important intangibles.

Their young forward line
Nick Larkey, Cam Zurhaar, Jaidyn Stephenson (hip fracture not withstanding), and Tarryn Thomas are forming the bare bones of what will make a spectacular forward line in the future. Particularly in the second half of the year they have made lemonade out of the proverbial lemons.

Nick Larkey, in particular, with 42 goals on the year has made the number one forward spot his own when last year it was uncertain as he had Ben Brown to take the best key defender. However, the 2016 AFL draft’s Mr Irrelevant managed to take big strides in a down forward line and he ought to be commended for that.

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Jaidyn Stephenson

Jaidyn Stephenson is flourishing at Arden Street. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

What didn’t work

Reliance on over 30s
For a side down the bottom of the ladder you want to have a couple people in the end stages of their career to provide leadership and protect the young bodies from injury. However, they routinely relied on players like Jack Ziebell, Todd Goldstein and Ben Cunnington to get them over the line in close matches.

The reliance on 30 year olds in key aspects of their game style may mean this year is something of a false dawn for the Kangaroos. Additionally they have several players on the wrong side of 25 though this is less of an issue as they’re still in what can be considered their peak.

The 2020 draft class
Questions are always going to be asked of this class in large part because of how compromised it was with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan going pick one and the majority of Victorian selections being unable to take to the field.

North Melbourne in particular brought in Will Phillips and Tom Powell both of whom will eventually be good players but neither of whom address a need for the Kangaroos. You had Will Phillips rated as an inside midfield with untapped leadership potential but Logan McDonald, Denver Grainger-Barass even Nik Cox would suit the Kangas needs more than yet another blue-collar midfielder.

Now I’m at least willing to attribute part of this to the instability surrounding the coaching department and the handling of off field staff that was occurring last year but for the first part of this season at least the Kangaroos were historically bad, rivalling the Crows of last year and Fitzroy of 1964.

Questions still to be answered

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Are they the best wooden spooner ever?
Statistically speaking? No. Brisbane won five games in 1998. But the second half of the year was something to behold for the Kangaroos, they were playing with their nose to the grind stone as they showed up a mentally weak Carlton side and a pampered West Coast side in front of their home supporters.

Will Jaidyn Stephenson’s hip fracture affect them?
The former rising star was excellent for the Kangaroos this season in a new high half forward midfield role that leaves the Magpies with some egg on their face. However all that good work may be undone with recent news of a BMX accident when he had friends over to his house fracturing his hip.

Depending on the severity of the injury it could see Stephenson out for the entirety of next year in something similar to the Gold Coast Suns’ Sam Day (though that was a dislocation).

How can North improve?

Trade pick 1
This draft is already compromised with the top two picks already bound to clubs. That and North Melbourne still have severe problems across the entirety of their list. Notably they lack a key defender to succeed Robbie Tarrant and a key forward to go with Nick Larkey.

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Now clubs have been reluctant to trade pick one since the horrendous trade for Trent Croad from Hawthorn to Fremantle. This wouldn’t be for a player though, it would be for multiple picks in the first round and maybe a set of steak knives.

A side like the Adelaide would be eager to set up such a trade with Jason Horne Francis being a south Australian native. The trade would advantage both parties and would enable the Roos to select a talented key forward or defender at the pointy end of this draft.

Develop their ruck stocks
Tristan Xerri, Tom Campbell, and Jacob Edwards form the bulk of North Melbourne’s ruck stocks without Todd Goldstein. They will need to begin developing these players for the inevitability that Todd Goldstein will retire in the near future.

Now Goldstein can clearly still go around for at least one more season but he will be thirty four through the middle of next season and his own game style relies on his aerobic capacity as a player, without developing viable alternatives in the ruck North Melbourne.

Oils be left in a lurch insofar as none of their other ruckman are ready to take primary ruck duties yet.

Best and Fairest: Jack Ziebell
He was elite for disposals, intercept possessions, intercept marks and metres gained. He has been a rock down back for the Kangaroos and should earn his first best and fairest.

Grade on the season: D-
I’m sorry but this is the highest mark that I can give North Melbourne when they came last. I may very well have egg on my face come next year however I dare not rate them higher than this.

Next year: 7th-14th
The Kangaroos could be anywhere from the lower reaches of the eight to the bottom four and my prediction reflects that. If they can take steps forward into the future then they’ll challenge the Eight, and if they can make Tasmania a fortress then they’ll make the eight.

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That is part one of this series. Tune in tomorrow for my season review of the Collingwood Magpies. I will eviscerate them in the written word leaving their entrails for you all to see.

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