I don’t want to be a pessimist just a few days out from North Melbourne’s season opener against West Coast, but it’s in my nature. unfortunately.
It’s been a big off-season for North, probably the biggest in recent History. While I am concerned, I’m also excited.
The Club made a bold and brave move de-listing senior players Drew Petrie, Michael Firrito, Nick Dal Santo and Brent Harvey. They also didn’t want to over-pay Daniel Wells, who got a contract offer too good to refuse from Collingwood.
That’s 1588 games of experience gone, going from the second oldest list to the second youngest.
The question on everybody’s lips is: Was this the right move?
The answer is yes.
After a promising start in 2016 which saw North Melbourne win their first 9 games (best start since 1950). It fell apart very quickly with injuries and form tailing off. The club just hung onto 8th spot on percentage, only winning 3 more games for the season. This was followed by a quick finals exit to Adelaide. Changes had to be made and the team had to become younger.
So what will 2017 bring?
One thing for sure is there will be more youth; even champion data are in the ‘unknown’ category with a lot of players on the list. Champion Data is the most notable measure of how damaging a player is by hand and foot. It’s reserved for players who have made less than 10 AFL appearances in the previous 2 seasons. Braydon Pruess, Ed Vickers-Willis, Sam Durdin, Mitchell Hibberd, Declan Mountford and Jy Simpkin are players who should debut this year.
The pre-season showed some good signs, with good wins against Sydney and Hawthorn, with also a good first half against premiership Favourites GWS. New Recruits Nathan Hrovat and Marley Williams seemed to have settled in well, with both likely to play Round 1. Braydon Pruess looked dominant in the ruck with his tap work and follow up work around the stoppages, also going forward kicking 3 goals against the Hawks. Hibberd will also play round 1 with solid showings against Sydney and Hawthorn. Shaun Higgins will move to the midfield and adds much needed class in the midfield that lacks polish. Jamie McMillan also looks like a player that will step up another level this year; he’s been used a lot for the link up play in pre-season games and has been quite efficient with his skills.
The main area of concern for North this year will be efficiency going forward. We had 8 players in the top 100 for effective disposals per game in 2016. Lachlan Hansen, Scott Thompson, Shaun Atley, Luke McDonald, Brad McKenzie (delisted), Todd Goldstein, Robbie Tarrant and Jamie McMillan. The big outlier in all those names is that they are players that spent a large chunk of time in the back 50. Shaun Atley will play in the midfield this year to run and create going forward and try and break the lines with some much-needed pace.
Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow and Trent Dumont who will be a big part of the 2017 engine room, lack quality, they definitely don’t lack heart, but efficiency going forward has always been a big issue with those players. Jack Ziebell was in the top 10 of clangers per game last year, Averaging 3.96 a game.
3 of our 4 most effective disposal per game leaders have either left or retired. Nick Dal Santo, Daniel Wells, and Brent Harvey.
One thing I have noticed in the pre-season games is that the defensive pressure seemed right up from last year. The second half of the year, was in particular frustrating, with teams playing through the corridor and putting the back 6 under huge pressure. Whether that’s to do with Wells, Dal Santo and Harvey who weren’t the greatest defensive players, or that the first time in years, competition for spots in the senior team are quite open between players 10/35 on the list. Maybe it’s a combination of both.
The Main strength of the team will be its Ruck Division and clearances. Todd Goldstein has been one of the most dominant ruckmen in the game over the last 3-4 years. Braydon Pruess has had a very good pre-season as well, in particular, his body strength around the contest and follow up work. He said he models his game around Shane Mumford and is a great player to model it around.
Ziebell, Cunnington and Swallow are excellent clearance players. All 3 players were in top 30 for total clearances in 2016. Dumont is another player who is a very good clearance player as well. It helps having an elite ruckman who feeds you the ball, but they are still good enough to win their own ball. The thing that lets them down is disposal by foot. Higgins, Hrovat and you may even see Jamie McMillan have spells in the midfield at different times to add efficiency, if nothing else.
The fixture at the start of the season is particularly tough. West coast 1st round followed by Geelong, GWS, Western Bulldogs, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Sydney in the first 8 rounds makes for tough going. Realistically a 2-6 start or 1-7 is not unfathomable. 3-5 would almost be a good result.
It’ll be a tough year with lots of changes to the list and a wealth of experience lost. Fans will have to stay patient and enjoy the ups and downs.