2023 Norm Smith Medallist Bobby Hill lines up for goal in the Pies' practice match against the Kangaroos. (Image: Brandon Patane - The Inner Sanctum)

A competitive battle at the AIA Centre turned one-sided by the end, as North Melbourne ran away with a 34-point victory over the reigning premiers Collingwood on Wednesday afternoon.

Missing 10 players from their Grand Final winning side, the Magpies were certainly undermanned going into the contest but started well nonetheless and took a lead into the first change following a high-scoring term.

However, from there it was all North Melbourne, as the young Roos piled on five goals and kept the Pies goalless in the second quarter, before holding firm in the second half to close out the victory.

Known as ‘North Ball’ internally, the Roos’ new fast-paced game style proved to be extremely successful in their first practice match for 2024, and it was far too much for the reigning premiers to keep up with in the end.

Harry Sheezel, Tom Powell, and Luke Davies-Uniacke, among others dominated for the Roos, with the Rising Star winner Sheezel showcasing more of the brilliant football which saw him pick up the award at the end of last season. He ended the contest with 42 disposals to his name, and is certainly setting himself up for another impressive year.

Midfield youngster George Wardlaw and new recruit Zac Fisher only played the first half of the game but were both very solid as they look to take their games to the next level, while Fisher’s fellow recruit Dylan Stephens kicked his first goal for the Roos and appears to be a handy pickup after showing plenty of promise at the Sydney Swans.

Colby McKercher impressed off the half-back flank in his first outing for the Kangaroos, making a strong case for selection in Round 1 after being taken at Pick 2 in last year’s AFL Draft. He finished with 25 disposals for the contest.

Paul Curtis and Nick Larkey were also back showcasing their goal kicking abilities, booting four and five goals respectively for the Kangaroos. The latter will look to follow up from a career-best 2023 season which saw him boot 71 goals for the year.

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As for the Pies, the usual suspects were brilliant early on with Nick Daicos and Jordan De Goey both finding ways to make an impact. De Goey in particular was his usual dominant self in the first term, finishing at half-time with 18 disposals and 5 marks. He will seemingly enter the home and away season in excellent condition once again.

Finlay Macrae also impressed throughout the contest, spending the most time at centre bounce for the Pies (72 per cent), and finishing with 18 touches and one goal to his name. Despite only managing one game in 2023, the youngster looks to be progressing very well and could definitely be a player to watch in 2024 given the role he was deployed in against the Roos.

North Melbourne assistant coach Jed Adcock spoke post-game about the game style the Roos have been looking to execute and how it developed as the game went on.

“[In] the first quarter, it’s fair to say we were probably too quick at times, turned the ball over, which really played into Collingwood’s game style off half-back,” Adcock said.

“We’re trying to move it at speed, but then also play with a bit of tempo at the same time, so I think across the whole ground there was nice play, and then our stoppage work was quite solid all day.”

Young midfielder George Wardlaw also reinforced this, and spoke about the faith the players have in the style of play that coach Alastair Clarkson is trying to implement at North Melbourne.

“It was a good day for us in the end. We came in quite confident, we took it very seriously, and we’re quite happy with the result,” Wardlaw said.

“We were really confident with ‘North Ball’. I think our offense was really strong, we used our hands, we challenged them, [and] we used the corridor strongly. So, I think that was really impressive.

“We’ve kind of shifted the way we play. We’re liking the speed on the ball, and as you saw out there it’s been good for us so far.

“Now that Clarko has had a full pre-season with us, and the back half of last year, the game plan couldn’t be anymore straight forward and we really understand it.”

North Melbourne will continue their pre-season when they take on St Kilda at RSEA Park next Sunday, March 3, while Collingwood will look to bounce back in inaugural Charity Shield against Richmond at IKON Park next Tuesday, February 27.

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