With notable progression in the backend of the 2021 season, and the addition of highly anticipated draftee, Jason Horne-Francis, North Melbourne believes their darkest days are behind them.
18th (4-17-1), 70.3%
2021 was the season the club used to ‘bottom out’ and hit the reset button if you will. It was David Noble’s first season in charge after Rhyce Shaw stepped down and his appointment appeared fitting in this new era for the club.
North Melbourne has had its fair share of harsh criticism over the years but the club appears to now be on a path that leads to playing finals once again in the coming years.
Off the field, North announced that the club is officially ‘debt-free’ for the first time since 1987, which is an incredible achievement to accomplish during a pandemic.
On the field, it was the club’s lowest ladder finish in its history as it took a seven-point win over the Hawks in Round 9 to record their first victory of the season.
However, the improvement throughout the season was noticeable as the Roos were competing with opponents for longer periods with each game.
The development of the squad become the priority for the season with mature, best 22 players in Luke McDonald, Ben Cunnington, Jed Anderson, and Aidan Corr spending large portions of the year on the sidelines.
We saw the maturity of some players such as Jack Mahony, Bailey Scott, and Curtis Taylor, among others, get fast-tracked, leaving the squad depth at a better standard.
While they did finish last and were awarded the wooden spoon, North Melbourne has fared better than most and is expected to win more games and climb up the ladder in 2022.
Jackson Archer (Pick 59 – Northern Knights), Miller Bergman (Pick 38 – Dandenong Stingrays), Callum Coleman-Jones (Traded – Richmond Tigers), Paul Curtis (Pick 35 – Western Jets), Joshua Goater (Pick 22 – Calder Cannons), Hugh Greenwood (Delisted Free Agent – Gold Coast Suns), Jason Horne-Francis (Pick 1 – South Adelaide)
Shaun Atley (Delisted), Tom Campbell (Delisted), Trent Dumont (Delisted), Charlie Ham (Delisted), Taylor Garner (Delisted), Conor Menadue (Delisted), Robbie Tarrant (Traded), Dom Tyson (Delisted), Wil Walker (Delisted)
For North Melbourne, there’s a competition in the forward line involving new recruit, Callum Coleman-Jones as well as Charlie Comben and Tristan Xerri. A third tall/second ruckman position is up for grabs and all three are in the running.
At this stage, the verdict lies between Coleman-Jones and Comben but the AAMI Community match against the Swans is ultimately the last, good opportunity to impress. It also wouldn’t be the biggest shock if two of the three were selected to play Round 1.
Jared Polec found plenty of the ball in the intra-club match and would provide valuable experience to a young squad.
After struggling to get to his best form, Polec was delisted at the end of the 2021 season but was picked up again by North in the rookie draft. The ‘wake-up call’ could kickstart Polec into playing high-quality football consistently. Clutching at straws, a career revival to warrant the monster five-year contract he signed after leaving Port Adelaide in 2018 would be timely to support the club’s rebuild.
After only managing to play just two matches in 2021 due to a toe infection, Aidan Corr has been building up his fitness and is poised to make his return to AFL in round 1.
Corr joined the Kangaroos after spending eight seasons with GWS, but now after a season in blue and white, the key defender has been elevated to the leadership team ahead of the new season.
Pick 22 in last year’s national draft, Joshua Goater, looks like he could make an early-season debut after reports showing that he’s been impressing throughout his first preseason.
Additionally, a move to midfield appears to be on the cards for Luke McDonald.
What to look forward to:
The noise around Horne-Francis has led him to having one of the most anticipated debut’s the competition has ever seen.
There was little doubt that North Melbourne was going the select the South Australian with the first pick in the lead up to the 2021 AFL Draft, turning down three first-round picks from Adelaide to ensure they got their man.
For years, North has attempted to attract big-name players like Josh Kelly, Dustin Martin, and Isaac Heeney to become the face of the club and fill seats come match-day.
But with Horne-Francis, there’s an opportunity to create that attraction more authentically as a one-club player. From all reports, Horne-Francis has all the qualities and more to become the big-name player North Melbourne has been looking for since the retirement of Brent Harvey.Embed from Getty Images
Under David Noble, we saw development from North Melbourne in 2021. Injuries to important players created an opportunity for youth to get a taste at the highest level, so whilst gameplay was raw, the rhythm was generated as the season progressed.
In 2022, expect to see the North Melbourne brand of football take further shape under Noble throughout the season.
With the majority of North’s midfield being 24 years of age and younger, this is the area of the ground that needs the most attention and hopefully, we’ll see that development.
The inclusion of Hugh Greenwood into the mix will provide the midfield group with a tackling workhorse that will provide a boost to the Kangaroos’ defensive pressure.
We saw glimpses of the ability and match-winning quality that Tarryn Thomas possesses in 2021. Hopefully, this season will see him get more midfield minutes and allow him to grow even more and become a genuine force within the competition.
It’s a big year for:
This is the year that Nick Larkey can fully assert his authority as a leading goalkicker in the competition.
For North Melbourne to progress higher up the ladder, the club’s target man must improve his goal output.
A lot of faith has been placed in Larkey, who, alongside Aidan Corr, has also been promoted to North’s leadership group.
Whilst Larkey has been impressive and his development has been steady, he’s yet to complete a season with an average of over two goals per game. As a result, it’s difficult to picture him competing alongside the likes of McKay, Franklin, and Hawkins among others, as one of the best key forwards of the competition.
Larkey can be allowed some slack in recent years given he’s young in a rebuilding side, but this is the season for him to cash in.
Turning 24 in June, the developmental period is over for Larkey who must now take hold of his new leadership and become the team’s dominant spearhead.Embed from Getty Images
Biggest unanswered question:
Will the midfield actually improve this season?
It’s no secret that North Melbourne’s midfield was arguably the weakest in the competition in 2021.
18th in contested possessions, 17th in stoppage clearances, and 16th in total clearances is not a formula you want to have associated with your team and is largely the reason, statistically, they finished last on the ladder.
As mentioned previously, the recruitment of Hugh Greenwood was a massive coup and should improve the team in contested areas.
But again, with one of the youngest midfield groups in the competition, there’s every chance that the mature bodies of other teams will naturally have their way and win the footy with ease as they did last year.
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Coaching pressure index:
Provided that David Noble has come in to rebuild this team from the ground, he’ll be given the time to develop the team over the coming seasons.
We’ve already seen the growth that he’s been able to instill in this squad over the past 12 months and it appears that he’s a coach that can make North competitive soon enough.
It would take a catastrophically bad season for the Roos for Noble to be on the end of a sacking and whilst it’s not out of the realm of possibility, you’d have to say it is very unlikely.
Predicted Round 1 lineup:
There’s still plenty of growth that needs to be shown from North Melbourne before we start believing that it’s legitimately on the up.
The first goal for the Roos is to win more than four matches, which isn’t a massive step, but still a necessary one.
From there, fans will want to see consistency improved in all thirds of the field. The group of ‘mature youngsters’ in Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, and Tarryn Thomas, among others, must become more reliable members of the squad and elevate North to the next stage in their rebuild.
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