For a side that have made consecutive preliminary finals, there remains a feeling of uncertainty around the Kangaroos. Perennially underrated by some, they have proven themselves to do enough to contest finals and over the last two season have won numerous finals as the lower ranked team. North comes into this season with the second oldest and most experienced list and with 2016 looming as an even season, their premiership window is definitely wide open.
North Melbourne - 4th
B: Lachie Hansen, Scott Thompson, Jamie MacMillan
HB: Sam Wright, Robbie Tarrant, Shaun Atley
C: Nick Dal Santo, Jack Ziebell, Ben Jacobs
HF: Shaun Higgins, Drew Petrie, Brent Harvey
F: Lindsay Thomas, Jarrad Waite, Ben Brown
R: Todd Goldstein, Ben Cunnington, Andrew Swallow
INT: Sam Gibson, Kayne Turner, Jed Anderson, Daniel Wells
Waite and Higgins were brought to the club to assist in September and both played their part in 2015, with Waite in particular delivering in spades on the big stage. Consistency is not a strength and at 33 years of age it is unlikely to become one, but the Roos will be confident he will remain among the league leaders in contested marks and marks inside 50.
Petrie had his fifth consecutive season of kicking 40 plus goals in 2015 and remains serviceable, providing a reliable pairing with Waite albeit one that does not have time on its side. Higgins and Thomas contribute strongly to the attack that ranked fifth in the league in 2015; Higgins is coming off a career-best 39 goals while averaging almost 20 possessions a game and despite an injury-ravaged career, is just 28 years old and with plenty of quality football ahead of him should his body hold up.
Harvey is a modern day marvel, moving from a quality midfielder to a highly effective half forward flanker and one that remains among the AFL’s best in terms of gathering uncontested possessions and effective disposals. While he would probably still be the team’s best pure midfielder if he played in the middle, he enters his 38th year showing very few signs of slowing down.
Forward line – 7/10
This backline was North’s weakness in 2015, conceding the 7th most points in the AFL. They allowed more than 90 points in seven of their nine games against fellow finalists in 2015 and while they rectified these issues in the finals, they will look to improve in this area to push for a top four spot.
Thompson and Tarrant provide solid service as key back men, with neither player providing flair nor attack but both holding down key positions with a degree of aplomb. Tarrant has fought injury his entire career and 2015 represented the first time he played more than 16 games in his career. Staying on the park allowed him to hold down a position; while he will need to improve further to help solidify the list, he seems to have the physical assets to become a consistent, serviceable key defender.
Thompson is a polarising figure, having made a career of niggling opponents and playing well out of his weight division over a solid career. What you see is what you get; Thompson has missed just a dozen or so games since 2009 and is very rarely comprehensively beaten.
The Roos have plenty of players who should be attacking, running back men - Atley, Wright, McDonald and even Wells are players who have the size to become players who provide the Roos with run and carry from the halfback line. Atley in particular should be primed to explode; at 23 years of age and with significant athletic ability, with a more attacking license he could become a top flight attacking defender. MacMillan ranked among the league leaders in rebound 50s and will be a certain starter as a small defender while Luke McDonald provides depth and may well push into the side ahead of Hansen should the defence be deemed too top heavy.
Backline rating – 6/10
While short of big names, the midfield is very deep and led by one of the best ruckman in the AFL. Goldstein was outstanding in 2015, leading the league in hit outs and also featuring among the league leaders in contested marks and at 27 years of age he should be entering his prime. Ziebell, Cunnington, Swallow, Gibson, Dal Santo, Anderson, Jacobs…in large part this is a young group and those first two names in particular are at the stage in their careers where they should be ready to take a leap into stardom.
Cunnington ranked among the AFL’s best in contested possessions and clearances in 2015 and is now the #1 inside player in this team; causal fans probably still overlook him due to his low profile but he is primed to become a star. Ziebell has fought minor injuries and regular suspensions throughout his career but he developed as a more consistent player in 2015 and should progress to be what he has always promised to be – a goal kicking, big bodied midfielder who will become a shining star.
Swallow epitomizes consistency and provides the Kangaroos with 20-25 disposals, 6-8 tackles and unwavering courage while Dal Santo has thrived in the twilight of his career at North, playing as an effective outside midfielder and using his strong kicking skills to advantage.
The Roos play a very strong contested possession game, ranking fifth in contested possession differential and seventh in effective disposal possession as well as ranking fourth in clearance differential. If they are to take an extra step in 2016, it will be on the back of this midfield group.
Midfield rating – 8/10
North’s fixture starts with three of their first four games being at home and the fourth at the Gabba, which provides them with the chance to jump out to a strong start. However they face eight 6-day breaks and play three of last year’s finalists twice.
They double up against the Bulldogs, Hawthorn and Sydney as well as one of the expected 2016 improvers in Adelaide and the last month of the season sees them play the Dogs, Hawks and Swans.
For a low profile club craving the spotlight, they get their wish with Friday and Saturday night game aplenty; with that profile comes a tougher draw which is sure to test the men from Arden Street.
Fixture rating – 6/10
Brad Scott is a polarising figure, much of it his own doing. He continually puts his head above the surface with flammable comments and a fiery disposition, but few could argue his ability to manufacture a very competitive football team.
Interestingly his career winning percentage ranks below the under-pressure Nathan Buckley but the difference is that Scott has found a way to get his team deep into September over the last two seasons; the challenge now is to take them one step further before the veterans ride off into the sunset.
Coaching rating – 7/10
Where exactly the Kangaroos fit into the puzzle that is the 2016 season is debatable. Despite finishing in the lower half of the top eight in the last two seasons, they have won four sudden death games in the first fortnight before falling in interstate preliminary finals. To rectify this, they need to finish in the top four and do all they can to secure home finals.
With Anderson, Turner, MacMillan and Brown all capable of significant improvement and with a stable of experienced, hardened players who have continued to perform in September this may not only be this squad’s last chance of making the Grand Final, but also their best chance.
Predicted finish –4th