The North Melbourne Kangaroos would have envisioned a better year coming off the back of a disappointing 2021.
But as a new season rolled around, things had continued to sour for the side as they dealt with significant losses of games, key player absences, and the departure of head coach David Noble in the middle of the season.
Finishing position: 18th (Two wins, 20 losses)
Amidst what would be quite bleak for many Kangaroo fans, there were a number of positives that can be taken out of this season. This included a number of young talents who were unveiled this year, who all gave North Melbourne fans plenty to get excited about for the future.
Paul Curtis stood out for the side greatly, but flew under the radar for many this year.
Taken with pick 35 in last year’s national draft, Curtis has made for a handy addition to the forward line since he made his debut in Round 6.
He appeared in 15 games this year, and averaged 9.6 disposals and 2.9 tackles per game. Whilst his possessions look limited, the medium forward makes an immediate impact on field.
He’s most noticeable for his decision making and creativity. Having his season end early due to a shoulder injury, Curtis will be one to watch next season.
Jason Horne-Francis made his debut in Round 1. Initially, question marks were around how the number one draft pick would fit in an already established midfield.
He ultimately put those concerns to rest. Whilst Horne-Francis has had a challenging start in his inaugural year, he still proved that he can perform on the big stage averaging 16.5 disposals, 2.9 tackles and 3.5 total clearances per game.
North Melbourne also had a number of other debutants this season. Jackson Archer first appeared in Round 15, whilst Josh Goater debuted in Round 23, and Miller Bergman made his debut in Round 7.
Mid-season pick up Kallan Dawson also had his moment, being unveiled in Round 20 against Essendon.
Throughout the season, a noticeable issue for the Kangaroos was scoring. They suffered huge defeats, which at times often were in the double digits.
North Melbourne was ranked last goals this season, averaging just 8.8 per game.
Nick Larkey was the side’s leading goal scorer, and ranked 19th in the league goalkicking tally this season. Something that needs to improve for next season would be for other players to step up and take the load off the 24-year-old.
Several players contributed goals during the season including the likes of Jy Simpkin, Jayden Stephenson and Lachie Young. However, the frequent rotation of contributions at goal was inconsistent compared to Larkey’s continual efforts.
North Melbourne also struggled defensively this season too. It averaged 56 tackles during the season, which placed ranked it at 14th in the competition.
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Despite a disappointing season for North Melbourne, midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke provided some relief for the club’s supporters. The 23-year-old exploded and took his game to a new level in his breakout season.
With Ben Cunnington sidelined for majority of the season, Davies-Uniacke stepped in and made a significant impact after taking over responsibility within the midfield.
He averaged 24.9 disposals, 12.7 kicks, 12.1 handballs, 4.3 marks, 4.4 tackles and 5.3 total clearances across the 21 games he has appeared in.
North Melbourne’s clash against the Adelaide Crows marked Ben Cunnington’s return to the AFL. It was a long road back following the 31-year-old’s news of a cancer diagnosis back in November of the last year.
The two time club best and fairest delivered an inspiring performance on field after a 385-day absence from the senior side.
Whilst the team was unable to get over the line in the 29-point loss, the return of Cunnington was a memorable moment for all fans and remained a high point for the Kangaroos during 2022.
In even more good news for the embattled side, it was recently announced that Cunnington would remain in the blue and white for another two years after signing a contract extension with the club.
North Melbourne also had a number of players celebrate significant career milestones throughout the season. Jack Ziebell had a big game back in May when he played in his 250th.
Luke McDonald and Aaron Hall both played 150 games, meanwhile Hugh Greenwood and Jy Simpkin played in 100.
Curtis Taylor, Ben McKay, Bailey Scott and Tarryn Thomas all marked their 50th game during the year as well.
Perhaps the lowest point for the Kangaroos would have been their 112-point loss against Geelong. It followed their other big loss against the Brisbane Lions earlier in the year, where North Melbourne found itself handed a defeat to the tune of 108 points.
It was a bitter game for the side. During the match they had lost both Aaron Hall and Kanye Turner as a result of a quad injury and concussion respectively.
Despite a standout performance by Luke Davies-Uniacke that included 36 disposals, it wasn’t enough for the Kangaroos to avoid defeat. The loss against the Cats in Round 16 added to their woes, resulting in their 13th straight loss in a row.
Where to next?
North Melbourne will look to continue to rebuild as they bring in a new era for their 2023 campaign. It comes as the club has announced that four-time Hawthorn premiership coach Alastair Clarkson will lead the team next year.
With a revolving door of coaches seen over the past few years at Arden Street, a priority for the team will be to keep stability. The appointment of Clarkson should help to build cohesion at the club given that he was appointed to the top position for the next five seasons.
Cunnington, Curtis, Thomas and Tristian Xerri have already put pen to paper, agreeing to remain at Arden Street. However, a number of names are still yet to re-sign with the club. It will remain crucial for North to get their signatures to ensure the rebuild continues as smoothly as possible.
Horne-Francis is among those who is yet to confirm an extension. He is currently committed to the club until the end of next season.
Cam Zurhaar, Atu Bosenavulagi, Todd Goldstein, Aaron Hall, Flynn Perez, Bailey Scott, Kayne Turner, Josh Walker, Lachie Young and Cameron Zurhaar are all off-contract at the end of the season.
Aside from the contract negotiations, another focus for the Kangaroos will be to lure veteran players in an effort to aid younger players. Much of the playing list is comprised of young guns, with an average age of 24.6. This equals Essendon as the second youngest group in the competition.
The average could be set to become lower next year with Tom Lynch retiring. It has also been reported that Jed Anderson is set to depart Arden Street after seven years with the club.
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