North Melbourne's phenomenal ability to develop ruckmen has more often than not been a victim of its own success. Many a ruckman has been forced to move on well before expected. Recent transitions include David Hale to Hamish McIntosh and McIntosh to Todd Goldstein. Now it's Goldstein to Braydon Preuss.
Few outside of North will have known Preuss' name at the beginning of 2017. The 21-year-old ruckman spent two years on North's rookie list before good form at Werribee earned him a senior promotion. Since then, he has played every game, building a reputation as a take-no-prisoners hard-nut.
The rugby league convert has almost displaced one of the league's premier ruckmen and has comfortably overtaken Majak Daw as the club's second-choice ruckman. Some may disagree, but it is reasonable to say North has the best ruck division currently in the league. That in itself is a major problem.
The injury to Mason Wood means there are spots for both in North's 22, rotating between the ruck and the forward line despite their relatively limited ability in the latter role. When Wood went down, the expectation was that the junior ruckman would naturally make way when he returned, but Preuss' excellent form will pose a significant selection problem in the next few weeks. Playing both ruckmen also has the potential to upset the balance of the side.
Goldstein's seniority and Preuss' status as the newcomer mean he is still more likely to make way, but whatever the case, it would mean North is left in a less-than-ideal situation with Ben Brown having to play as the backup ruck. Not to mention Preuss is wasted playing in the VFL. A tough decision now awaits, not just in the immediate future, but when the trade period rolls around in October.
Both Goldstein and Preuss thrive as the sole ruckman – but as the AFL has so tirelessly sought to codify this year, only one ruckman can play at a time. The Preuss of today is far from a finished product, so North must decide whether it should compromise the development of both Preuss and Daw to keep the quality of Goldstein on its list.
To further complicate matters, should the mooted Josh Kelly to North move materialise, the club will struggle to satisfy GWS' expected trade demands without parting with a player of Goldstein's standard. Goldstein himself implied he would open to a move when he appeared on Future Stars last Sunday. The romanticism of being a one-club player have slowly faded, with the lure of premiership success and financial security enough to tempt even the most loyal clubmen. But Goldstein is still young enough to be considered part of North's next premiership side, whether his performances will get him there, however, is another question.
For now, Goldstein and Preuss will need to learn to play in roles foreign to them.
Both have shown enough over three rounds to suggest they can work together – which begs the question: where does this leave Daw? (A story for another time). There can be no doubting the quality of Goldstein, but whether there is a future for him at North post-2017 is a question which will eventually be answered over the course of the season. It seems bizarre that North may entertain the idea of shopping around a man who dominated his peers just 18 months ago. But with Preuss waiting in the wings, it may not have to wait long for another.