North Melbourne enters 2017 having turned over a quarter of its list and with it, over 2000 games of experience. While many of those let go were perhaps not part of the best 22, it raises serious questions of whether the team’s untried depth can step up to the rigours of AFL football.
So who makes the cut?
B: Ed Vickers-Willis, Robbie Tarrant, Marley Williams
Ed Vickers-Willis is set to make his long-awaited debut in a new-look defence for North Melbourne. An injury-ravaged start to his career has not stopped Vickers-Willis who has been earmarked as Michael Firrito’s heir apparent for a number of years. His rapid improvement towards the end of 2016 may even have contributed to Spud’s infamous sacking. Judging by his form in the JLT series, Vickers-Willis will make an instant impact with his ability to read the play and on-field leadership his key attributes.
Last year’s Syd Barker Medallist Robbie Tarrant is probably the most important player on North’s list. He was the shining light in the miserable second half of 2016 and the newly anointed vice-captain will be looking to cement his status as one of the league’s premier key defenders.
Arriving from Collingwood for peanuts, Marley Williams will be aiming to resurrect his career in blue and white and addressing one of North’s most pressing needs. He has hit the ground running with a strong JLT series and has already been confirmed as a starter in defence for North to face the Eagles.
HB: Jamie Macmillan, Sam Durdin, Luke McDonald
Macmillan enters 2017 not knowing where his best position is. Is he a wingman or a half-back? One thing is certain, however, his leadership has earnt him the praise and respect of his teammates.
Another from the draft class of 2014, Sam Durdin looks to have wrestled the spot as the second key back in North Melbourne’s defence. While he still has some way to go to improve his one-on-one defending, he possesses natural footy smarts in spades and represents the future of North Melbourne’s defence.
Luke McDonald’s career to date has resembled that of a rollercoaster. He finished third in the Rising Star in 2014 and had a case of second-year blues in 2015. He rebounded last year, playing a key role in defence until he injured his hamstring in a desperate run-down of Cyril Rioli against the Hawks. Look for McDonald to potentially join the midfield rotations this year as his star continues to rise.
C: Shaun Higgins, Jack Ziebell, Shaun Atley
Higgins possesses key qualities missing from North Melbourne’s side, oozing class, poise and leadership. An injury-free season for him will be key if North is to be competitive this season.
Captain and member of North’s inside brigade, it is no secret Jack Ziebell has perhaps not yet lived up to his potential. In his ninth season at the club, Ziebell will be aiming to prove North’s doubters wrong when he guides the second youngest side in the competition.
Like his captain, Shaun Atley has not reached the heights he was expected to when he was drafted. He is lightning fast but is let down by his less than impressive disposal and lack of footy smarts at times. He has played the last few seasons in defence but with the arrival of Marley Williams, coach Brad Scott has flagged that he will play further up the ground this year.
HF: Nathan Hrovat, Jarrad Waite, Mason Wood
Former Bulldog Nathan Hrovat’s impressive preseason will have fans salivating. One of three confirmed Roo debutants for round one, Nathan steps into the role previously occupied by club legend and games record holder Boomer Harvey. No pressure Nathan.
Many were perplexed by the decision to keep Jarrad Waite last season after the infamous cull. Indeed, the first half of Waite’s season was one of the best in his career but like many others, the second half of his season was ruined by injury playing only two games after round 12. Despite this, Waite returns in 2017 hopefully injury-free and leading North’s forward line alongside Ben Brown.
One of North’s most improved players last season, the versatile Mason Wood will miss at least a month after injuring his hamstring in preseason training. Over the off-season, Mason also claimed the title as the endurance king, taking out the team time trial. Wood’s ability to play on the wing as well as forward, along with his uncanny ability below his knees for a big man make him a dangerous prospect for opposition teams.
F: Lindsay Thomas, Ben Brown, Kayne Turner
Lindsay Thomas is a divisive figure. The cheeky small forward will probably spend more time in and around the contest this year after a strong showing in the JLT series and at points last season. While his on-field antics may put some offside, there is no denying his ability, possessing excellent vision and footy smarts. If only he could kick straight when lining up for goal.
Brown has the unenviable task of leading North’s young forward line. With Petrie gone, Brown is likely to attract the attention of the opposition’s best defender this season but has already shown what he is capable of in three seasons at the club. Brown’s strengths are his marking, footy smarts and a beautiful kick for goal. It is hard to imagine why he was overlooked in three drafts.
When Kayne Turner hits blokes, they stay hit. However, the human wrecking ball has been criticised at times for being one-dimensional. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, Turner’s spot will be under scrutiny given the quality of North’s small forwards.
R: Todd Goldstein, Ben Cunnington, Trent Dumont
Injury ruined Goldstein’s All-Australian defence last year to the man with the most beautiful beard in footy (Bartel notwithstanding). With Braydon Preuss’ rapid rise coming earlier than expected, Todd Goldstein finds himself finally with some competition in a spot he has held exclusively for over half-a-decade. Despite this, Goldstein’s seniority and versatility ensures his place in North Melbourne’s best 22 (for at least round one).
Like an alarming number of players on the list, 2016 was not a good year for Cunnington. However, a strong JLT series gave us a glimpse of an improved Cunnington. The 25-year-old is a clearance machine with don’t-argues rivalling those of Dustin Martin but still has obvious deficiencies in his endurance. He will be unavailable for round one after the MRP controversially rubbed him out but should take his place in North’s 22 to face Geelong.
Trent Dumont has had limited opportunities in his three seasons at the club, only having played 20 games. Dumont is one of North’s brightest young prospects as he firms as the natural replacement for Nick Dal Santo.
INT: Andrew Swallow, Sam Gibson, Ryan Clarke, Sam Wright
Former captain Andrew Swallow unfortunately looks to be in the twilight of his career. He is a manic tackler and contested beast but his poor disposal and lack of speed are beginning to cause more problems for the team.
Sam Gibson is North Melbourne’s Mr Reliable but is a divisive figure among North Melbourne fans. Gibson will gut run from contest to contest and gut run from one side of the field to the other to provide an option to a teammate. However, like Swallow, he is let down by his disposal and his speed, although rather confusingly, he is an excellent kick for goal.
A rare shining light for North last season was Ryan Clarke. He earnt the round 18 Rising Star nomination for his 27-disposal game against Collingwood. Clarke is still eligible for the Rising Star this year but the bigger goal for him will be to play all 22 games refining his trade.
The third Sam in the team, Sam Wright finds his place in the North 22 under threat from former Pie, Marley Williams. Indeed, after a limited preseason, it seems Marley has overtaken Sam at this point. However, Wright remains an important player in the team with the ability to play forward if required.