02/03/2024

Jacob Edwards kicked a goal in his first proper VFL hit-out on Saturday. (Photo: North Melbourne FC)

With more tough defensive match ups coming for the North Melbourne forward line, coach David Noble says his young players are still doing their homework; some more literally than others.

Having won three of its past six matches, optimism is at an all time at Arden Street.

North Melbourne fans have had the joy of watching their young forwards grow and develop their games, both at VFL and AFL level.

23-year-old Nick Larkey has been kicking well above his average over the past month, kicking 15 goals in his past four games. This included a career-high seven goal haul against Carlton in Round 19.

He’s averaging career high numbers for disposals (9.63), marks (3.74), inside 50s (1.42) and has already kicked 36 goals (also career-best).

Charlie Comben, Jacob Edwards and Eddie Ford are beginning to impress both fans and coaches alike. Ford, deservedly so, will keep his spot in the team this week against the Tigers.

First-year head coach David Noble has seen the development of his young forwards first hand. While he credits Larkey for his development, he’s also seen the players around him lift.

“He’s continued to work really hard at his craft,” Noble said.

“One of the things I’ve mentioned before… our ball movement has helped him too. We’ve gotten a bit more consistent and been able to deliver the ball for him.

“He’s just continued to do his homework on his opposition most weeks. Heath Younie’s been terrific for him in leading patterns and understanding his skillset that he can pitch against the opposition.

“We actually think some of his defensive pressure as a forward – which is pretty crucial nowadays – has been a real fundamental part of his game.”

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Noble isn’t just flattering his young forward; Larkey’s pressure has been of note.

He’s averaging 9.8 pressure acts a game, which ranks well above average for key forwards. This included an equal season-high 17 against Essendon, a game where he also kicked three crucial goals.

Though he only gathered five disposals and three marks against Geelong, he made the most of his opportunities against the likes of Jake Kolodjashnij and All-Australian Mark Blicavs.

With the prospect of tough opposition waiting for Larkey in the Richmond backline on Saturday afternoon, the coach is backing in his young charge.

“[It’s] no more [challenging] than playing the team that sits second on the ladder last week as well, with a couple of tough defenders,” Noble said.

“[Larkey] needs to go to work with a couple of high quality defenders this week, there’s no doubt about that. [Astbury and Grimes] in particular are really hard to score goals on, and to compete in one on one contests.”

Practice makes perfect

North Melbourne mid-season draft selection Jacob Edwards was given the opportunity to play his first full VFL match in last weekend’s win over Port Melbourne.

While it was a slow start for the highly rated 202cm ruck/forward, he helped the Roos reserves over the line with a late goal to seal the game.

The goal came in addition to six disposals and four marks for the budding tall.

While it was his first match for premiership points (and in North Melbourne colours!), it wasn’t the first time Noble had been able to get a closer look at what Edwards can do against AFL-level opposition.

“He was able to play the week before as well,” Noble explained.

“We had a bit of a scratchy between the Hawks and Carlton. We really like the look of him and Charlie Comben up forward. The two talls up there, and with Nick Larkey in good form at the moment, our tall stocks look like they’re in a pretty good position.”

While Larkey has had to do his homework on his opposition, Edwards has had homework of a more literal kind.

Still finishing his year 12 VCE studies, Edwards hasn’t been able to commit to life as a North Melbourne player full time just yet. It’s the same story for fellow mid-season recruit Max Heath at St Kilda, who is similarly still finishing high school.

While the coach sees it as a challenge, it hasn’t stopped Edwards from demonstrating his best attributes to his teammates and coaches.

“The difficulty we’ve had with him with his school and the protocols with COVID, we haven’t been able to have him in regularly,” Noble said.

“The times we have been able to have him in for training [he’s been] really diligent. [We’re] excited with his capacity to be able to learn and improve. He’s a really driven, determined young man that wants to make his mark in the next few years with us.”

The scratch matches, meanwhile, provide another challenge in themselves.

Without VFL players able to join the squads due to being unable to stay in a bubble as semi-professional players, makeshift squads have had to come together more than once.

Thought it’s made life difficult at times for coaches to get game time back into injured players, Noble sees them as a viable alternative. This will be particularly relevant to Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland teams with no VFL footy again this weekend.

“I actually don’t think there’s been much difference, to be honest, because you’ve got AFL-listed players playing in those games,” Noble said.

“The standards of those games have been really high. There’s probably been not as much defence at different times, it’s probably been very offensive.

“To be able to have a really high calibre game in those scratch matches has been really valuable, particularly for us, with some injuries early and for players to gain some form in those games and put the pressure on.

“Eddie Ford had a really good game in that scratch match, kicked a couple of goals and had a bit of midfield time. [He was] able to put his name up in match committee. That’s certainly what it’s allowed us to do.”

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