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Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: North Melbourne

Jy Simpkin (third from left at front) celebrates his first win as a Roo last season. The small forward is a genuinely exciting prospect. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Tale of the tape for your AFL team in 2018: North Melbourne

Rohan Connolly    

2017 record: 6 wins, 16 losses (15th)

Alex Morgan (Essendon), Luke Davies-Uniacke (Dandenong Stingrays), Will Walker (Sandringham Dragons), Kyron Hayden (Subiaco), Tristan Xerri (Western Jets), Billy Hartung (Hawthorn), Tom Murphy (Dandenong Stingrays), Gordon Narrier (Perth), Tom Jeffries (Werribee)

Sam Gibson (Adelaide), Aaron Mullett (delisted/Carlton), Lachie Hansen (delisted), Will Fordham (delisted), Matthew Taylor (delisted), Corey Wagner (delisted), Lindsay Thomas (delisted/Port Adelaide), Andrew Swallow (retired)

For a team which won only six games and was a wooden spoon chance headed into its final game, North Melbourne had a pretty solid forward set-up in 2017, the Roos finishing ninth for points scored at an average of more than 90 points per game, Ben Brown fourth in the Coleman Medal with 63 goals. A fit Jarrad Waite and Mason Wood theoretically should add further to that potency, while there’s plenty of smaller forward options in Jy Simpkin, Nathan Hrovat, Taylor Garner and Kayne Turner, Shaun Higgins also very damaging on the scoreboard when sneaking forward. North Melbourne also has a whole clutch of senior players who will hopefully play more football than during injury-interrupted seasons, such as those two just mentioned, Ben Jacobs and Sam Wright, neither of whom played a single game, Jamie Macmillan, Marley Williams and Kayne Turner. There is also now a considerably-sized group between the 30-80 game range, several of whom have the potential to improve quickly with the initial AFL developmental steps already taken.

Defence is definitely one area of concern for the Roos. While forward lines are generally getting shorter, opponents will still have the potential to exploit North with height up forward, the only established key position backmen Robbie Tarrant and veteran Scott Thompson, with next cab off the rank, Daniel Nielson, having played just seven senior games. If Tarrant or Thompson are lost to injury, problems loom. Pace is also still an issue for the Roos, though it had been addressed to a degree with the recruitment of former Hawk speedster Billy Hartung, while Simpkin, Shaun Atley and Garner also have plenty of toe. The mainstays of the North midfield, however, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Shaun Higgins, whilst handy around the contest, are hardly Stawell Gift prospects. Lack of star quality is also another handicap for a team very much in transition, Brown the only Roo among 40 nominations for last season’s All-Australian team. North is going to need all hands on deck in 2018 if it is to pinch its share of victories.

There’s more young talent coming through the ranks at Arden Street than a lot of people think, but even after just 13 senior games, Jy Simpkin looks like he could be the pick of the lot. North’s first selection in the 2016 national draft was coming into the club having missed a lot of football after breaking a leg, but shone enough to take out the Roos’ best first year player and can confidently expect to build on that further in 2018. An exciting, quick small forward, Simpkin has real “X-factor” about him, reads the play well and likes to show off his bag of tricks. There’s every chance he could find himself spending a lot more game time in the midfield set up in his second year.

It’s been an ordinary couple of years for Todd Goldstein since his career-best 2015 season, good enough to earn him All-Australian ruck selection and win a best and fairest. In 2016, injuries were a major factor, but last season, “Goldy” just had a bad one. The 29-year-old had, however, been dealing with some major upheaval in his personal life, and with those obstacles now essentially cleared, the Roos are confident he can get back to somewhere near his best. He’s certainly no shoo-in for the No.1 ruck role if he doesn’t, as Braydon Preuss showed some good signs in his eight games, and Majak Daw is also desperate to final deliver consistently in senior ranks, wherever that position may be. “Goldy” has shown just how good he can be, but in a sense, he needs to reclaim that No.1 role all over again in 2018.

B: Sam Wright, Scott Thompson, Jamie Macmillan
HB: Marley Williams, Robbie Tarrant, Luke McDonald
C: Nathan Hrovat, Shaun Higgins, Billy Hartung
HF: Kayne Turner, Jarrad Waite, Taylor Garner
F: Mason Wood, Ben Brown, Jy Simpkin
Foll: Todd Goldstein, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington
Inter: Trent Dumont, Shaun Atley, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Ryan Clarke
Emerg: Ben Jacobs, Majak Daw, Paul Ahern

Even the Roos themselves might have some issues settling on a best 22 at this stage with such a big turnover of experienced talent over a couple of years. But pace and skill are musts. Recruit Hartung offers the former, at least, and No.4 draft pick “LDU” is capable of playing all season. I’ve gone for promising on-baller Clarke ahead of Jacobs at this stage, with Ahern another one to watch after two full years out with major knee problems.

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