North Melbourne finished 2021 as wooden spooners, its first since 1972. An emerging young side shows promise for 2022 and beyond. (Photo: AFL Photos/ North Melbourne)

Despite claiming their first wooden spoon since 1972, North Melbourne's young joeys proved there is much promise ahead at Arden Street

In David Noble’s first season leading North Melbourne, things were looking grim, as his rebuilding side hit the mid-season bye with only one win.

A week’s rest saw a fire ignite within the Kangaroos, stringing together four wins and a draw in the remainder of the season, however, they claimed their first wooden spoon since 1972 by only a game and a half.

North Melbourne’s seniors were struck down with injuries in the first half of the season which may explain the poor start. The spots made available were a blessing for its young players, many stepping up when their side needed it.

What worked?

The Kangaroos’ youngsters found their feet in the latter half of the season, particularly the midfielders who made their way into the middle as Noble attempting to rebuild the group.

Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, and Tarryn Thomas become the core on-ball group for the Kangaroos this year in a clear changing of the guard. For Thomas, the midfield time proved successful in a fruitful season, averaging 18 disposals, and kicking 24 goals.

Key forward duo Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar were also younger players who stepped up to become the focal points in North Melbourne’s attacking 50. the duo combined for 73 goals this season and both took exciting steps forward as the Kangaroos look poised to grow into the future.

What didn’t?

It may have just been mentioned that Larkey and Zurhaar worked well together as a key forward duo, but it was far from enough for North Melbourne, who need reliable small-medium forwards to assist inside 50.

Ruckmen duo Tom Campbell and Tristan Xerri weren’t able to provide consistent marking targets, and Charlie Comben was one of the many injured Roos, restricted to only one game this season.

Who impressed?

In his first year as vice-captain, Jy Simpkin led by example on the field all season. Averaging 27 disposals, and finishing fifth in the league for centre clearances. Simpkin had previously shown signs of being a reliable midfielder and made his way into the centre as part of Noble’s midfield rebuild.

Traded to North Melbourne from the Gold Coast Suns at the end of 2018, Aaron Hall began his time at Arden Street as a half-forward. As Noble unfolded his midfield rebuild, Hall was pushed back into defence where he arguably had one of his best seasons.

Although it took some time for him to settle in his new role, Hall became much more reliable in the second half of the season with ball in hand and was an integral part of his side’s rebounding action. He averaged 27 disposals, with 21 kicks and seven marks.

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Season Highlight

Travelling over to the West is never an easy challenge, but North Melbourne secured its second win for 2021 after a late four-goal surge against West Coast, giving them victory by 10 points in one of the upsets of the season.

Jaidyn Stephenson led the way with 38 disposals and a fourth-quarter goal, Todd Goldstein broke the VFL/AFL record for most hit-outs ever, previously held by Aaron Sandilands with 8,502 hit-outs, and Ben Cunnington supported his young midfield group with 26 touches and four clearances. 

Season Lowlight

North Melbourne was handed 52 and 59 point losses by Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns in the first and second rounds respectively. Its biggest defeat, however, was in Round Three to the Western Bulldogs, going down by a whopping 128 points.

North’s defence failed to stop Josh Bruce who bagged 10 goals and further conceded 20 of the last 22 goals of the match only two days after Noble defended his side’s place in the Good Friday fixture.

Chopping block?

Veteran North Melbourne defender Shaun Atley may have his name thrown around during the off-season, as the 29-year-old enters trade time as an unrestricted free agent.

Although in considerable form, Atley couldn’t hold his position in the side for the entire year, as Noble’s reshuffle of the midfield some players pushed back, and consequently pushed out of the side. With North Melbourne looking to continue to rebuild and re-generate its list

Number one off-season priority

Noble began his sides rebuild in the midfield, but now it’s time to look at either end of the field to see where they are lacking and support key talls, Nick Larkey and Ben McKay.

Although small forward help for Larkey and Zurhaar should be considered, the Kangaroo’s number one priority should be in recruiting a tall defender. North Melbourne needs someone who will intercept high, floating balls, and will be reliable for key matchups.

Final word

While the going was tough early, the second half of North Melbourne’s season gave all the indications that the growth of the Kangaroos was on the right track.

The first wooden spoon since 1972 will sting but with promising signs from many of its draftees and young players, they will be an exciting side to watch as they continue to grow.

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