The Roar
The Roar



Rather than continuing to bash Kangaroos on a weekly basis, there's got to be some things to like

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21st May, 2024
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The recent woes of North Melbourne have been well documented, but the stretch of not being a legitimate flag contender goes back over 20 years.

Only once since the year 2000 have the Kangaroos finished in the top four at the end of the home and away rounds – agreed by all as the starting position for a legitimate premiership assault.

The only time they did finish top four, in 2007, they lost two finals by a combined 193 points, running into the start of the Geelong dynasty juggernaut.

There have been a handful of seventh or eighth finishes in the last 23 years, and even a couple of preliminary final berths where they finished sixth and a few things went their way in the first two weeks of finals.

But mostly they have been mired in mediocrity for two decades.

The last four years have been their lowest ebb – finishing 17th, 18th, 18th and 17th – and in one of those funny quirks, despite four bottom two finishes, including a couple of wooden spoons, they still don’t have a number one draft pick on their list.

In another statistical quirk, Chris Scott has more rising star nominations in his time at Geelong, a team that is perennially near the top of the ladder and doesn’t rebuild, than Brad Scott does across his career.


That is despite being in a position over 10 years at North where he should have been developing talent at a greater rate.

Rhys Shaw was fed to the wolves when COVID hit, asked to bear a heavy burden as the youngest coach in the AFL when the world and our sport were in disarray, and had to walk away due to mental health issues.

David Noble was all bark and no bite, and at the helm when deciding to rebuild the list from the midfield out, leaving talls like Logan McDonald and Ollie Henry on the table, to take Will Phillips and Tom Powell.

The poor Roos couldn’t manage to keep the one Number 1 pick they did get in the 2021 draft, with the calamity that followed with Jason Horne-Francis.

Nor could they even ‘tank’ correctly, with their only win in the last 15 months costing them Harley Reid, who is making every neutral supporter drool, and giving West Coast fans visions of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr all in one body.

Cameron Zurhaar kicks a goal.

Cameron Zurhaar kicks a goal. (Photo by Jason McCawley/AFL Photos/via Getty Images )

It’s the easiest thing in the game to bash North Melbourne though, which my above list isn’t really doing. It’s more a simple observation of previous history.


But there have got to be some things to like.

In the 2022 draft, most footy observers would have to say the Roos got it right with Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw at this early stage.

Sheezel is a beautiful player, with a calmness, poise and vision that belies the fact he’s still a teenager. Wardlaw looked like a real terrier from the moment we saw him, the type of hard nut every quality midfield needs.

Of last year’s draft class, Colby McKercher oozes class, looks every inch the natural footballer the way he shapes to kick and hits the ball sweetly, and has shown he can find plenty of it.

Zane Duursma is going to have ups and downs as a lightly framed marking forward in this team but he looks to have what it takes.

Taylor Goad, Wil Dawson and Riley Hardeman weren’t necessarily expected to feature at the senior level, but the latter two have already earned promotion due to good form at VFL level.


It can’t just be about each year’s draft class improving the team each season when you’re on the bottom – you need other players with a few years under their belt to make a leap in performance too.

The Roos have seen Tom Powell having by far his career-best year, now in his fourth season and being played as the inside midfielder he was drafted as.

Tristan Xerri has taken the number one ruck role by the horns after Todd Goldstein’s departure.

The 25-year-old Xerri is a more physical presence than Goldstein and seems to be enjoying his role as an enforcer at ground level, averaging more than seven tackles and six clearances a game.

Charlie Comben, who was North’s first pick in the 2019 draft, has played seven games in a row without getting injured this year, which is a new record for him. He was recruited as a key forward, but Ben McKay leaving has created a need down back, and it’s a good place for him to get his confidence up – and make no mistake, he can play.

What you also want to see as a fan of a struggling team is a long-term commitment from quality players.


Sheezel has signed on until 2030, a vote of confidence from one of the best young players in the league. Nick Larkey, Jy Simpkin and Xerri are also there until 2029.

Simpkin has been squeezed out of the midfield to give the likes of Powell and the fresh faces more exposure, and Luke Davies-Uniacke is playing strong footy and starting to hit the scoreboard.

It’s not like North Melbourne has been feasting on all-you-can-eat draft concessions at the AFL table.

They’ve had high picks due to finishing so low and were given pick three last year as compensation for McKay leaving -no more and no less than what Melbourne got for James Frawley going to Hawthorn 10 years ago.

The other concessions they have received over the last two years have been picks in the 20’s and 30’s, some of which had to be traded.

If anything, North’s access to the very elite talent has been diluted due to father/sons and academy picks leapfrogging their own.

Is Nick Larkey in the AFL's top 50 players?

Nick Larkey. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)


Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Sam Darcy, Will Ashcroft and Jed Walter have all gone in the top four over the last four drafts, knocking North back a peg each time, and there have been 10 other F/S or academy selections taken in the top 20 over that time.

That starts having a significant impact on North’s second and third selections too.

Nor have we touched on the racism saga that engulfed Hawthorn and Alastair Clarkson in 2023, which was hardly an ideal circumstance for the coach to be starting a new job and trying to oversee a rebuild.

Clarkson ended up stepping out of the coach’s box and away from the club for over two months mid-season.

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In 2010, Richmond was regularly fielding teams that had 15+ players aged 23 and under, churning through the list to see what they had.


They were worse off on the ladder at this point of the season than the Roos are now.

It would be seven years before they won a premiership, but they already had the likes of Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin, and Shane Edwards on the list.

North is in a similar position to what the Tigers were back then and has debuted 11 players in the last season and a half.

You don’t have to look too hard to find five or six elite talents that can drive them to success at some stage over the next decade.

The future looks a long way away for Kangaroos fans right now, and there may be another year or two of real pain.

But the strong likelihood is they will make a leap up the ladder soon enough, and chances are it will be a bigger jump than people are expecting, and happen quicker than they realise too.