27/02/2024

Nick Larkey and Charlie Lazzaro celebrate a goal in the win over West Coast. (Photo: @NMFCOfficial - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

North Melbourne came into 2022 with plenty to be excited about. However, with just one win heading into the bye, fans are expecting more.

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, North Melbourne.

Snapshot:

After showing a lot of promise at the end of the 2021 season and with a number one draft pick joining the club, many expected more from North Melbourne in 2022.

However, their season has been far from that, the Kangaroos have recorded only the one win as they head into the bye, which came against a COVID-ravaged Eagles outfit in Round 2. They have been on the receiving end of multiple 10-goal hidings, and even a triple-figure defeat to top it all off.

Along with this, North has had issues off-field, including rumours of players being unhappy with the coach and people in important positions stepping down from their roles. However, with some of the lower-end teams remaining in its fixture, there is hope North can re-vitalise its season post-bye.

What’s Worked:

Not a lot has gone right for the Kangaroos in 2022, but there have been significant signs of continued improvement from their men in the midfield.

When North recruited exciting prospect Jason Horne-Francis with the pick one in the 2021 National Draft, many expected he would have an immediate impact. Still, the challenge for the Kangaroos was how he would fit into their midfield dynamic.

Horne-Francis has put these concerns to bed and is averaging 17 disposals and 2.8 score involvements per game.

The Kangaroos have the experience of Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke to assist the youngster, and they would be impressed with how their seasons are unfolding.

Simpkin is North Melbourne’s leading disposal winner, averaging 24.8 disposals per game, while Davies-Uniacke is averaging 21.8 touches per game. These numbers have been pivotal to the Kangaroos this year and have saved them from even bigger hidings.

Along with this, North supporters have renewed hope for the future, with this midfield brigade leading them for the next decade.

What Hasn’t:

Not a lot has gone North’s way so far in 2022, but the biggest problem is its forward line, with spearhead Nick Larkey having to take a lot of the load and suffering negatively. As a result, North has struggled to score.

Cameron Zurhaar and Jaidyn Stephenson have failed to put goals on the board in a consistent fashion. The Kangaroos were forced to move experienced campaigner Jack Ziebell into the forward line. While Ziebell is creating a threat, he hasn’t had the output he would have liked with just 10 goals this year.

This season, North Melbourne ranks 17th for goals scored, averaging just 8.1 per game, 18th for efficiency inside 50 (43 per cent), and 18th for tackles inside 50, averaging just 7.3 per game.

Having made genuine signs of progress in the back half of last year, mainly thanks to the forward line, even kicking 18 goals in one game with similar names in the side. The Kangaroos know they can do it again. However, they currently look like a shell of their former selves.

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Biggest Improver:

As North begins to navigate life after Todd Goldstein, young ruckman Tristan Xerri has certainly been a shining light so far this season.

The emerging ruckman who has spent more time taking the workload off Goldstein’s shoulders has put together a career-best season, despite missing three games through injury. Xerri is averaging career-best numbers in all areas of his game, including 21.8 hit-outs per game.

Xerri’s best performance of season 2022 came in North’s only win of the year against West Coast in Round 2. It was here he recorded 20 disposals, five marks and 24 hit outs. This showed Kangaroos fans that there is life after Goldstein after all.

Who needs to lift?

After an impressive start to life at Arden Street in 2021, Jaidyn Stephenson has failed to live up to the same hype in 2022.

After an interrupted start to pre-season training following an incident at home where he was left with minor hip fractures. This along with struggling to find his form and having more injury woes this year has meant Stephenson hasn’t had the output he would have liked.

Having played eight games so far in 2022, his most disappointing effort came in Round 13 against GWS, where he recorded just five disposals.

Jaidyn Stephenson in action for the Kangaroos in Round One. (Image: North Melbourne FC)

Best and Fairest Contenders:

It has been a difficult campaign for the continuously struggling Kangaroos, but a few have put together strong seasons, and are right in the mix to claim the Syd Barker Medal.

Having missed experienced campaigner Luke McDonald in the backline throughout the majority of 2021, his return has been thoroughly welcomed. McDonald has put together his strongest season yet, averaging 21 disposals, 5.9 rebound 50s, 5.2 intercept possessions, and 444.5 metres gained per game as the season reaches the halfway point.

Both Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke continue to show progression and should also poll high if their current form continues.

Luke Davies-Uniacke has enjoyed a breakout year in 2022. (Photo: North Melbourne FC)

Expectations for the second half of the year:

With just one win at the midway point of the season, expectations externally are low for the Kangaroos, but it is no doubt they will want more internally from the players at the club.

Having played seven teams who currently sit in the top eight, North Melbourne has the ability to pick up some wins against teams that it would see at a similar level to itself.

With games to come against Adelaide, Essendon, Hawthorn, and Gold Coast, there is definitely something North Melbourne can get out of season 2022 before it heads to the draft, likely to be strapped with a top-two pick.

Prediction:

18th.

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