North Melbourne 2012 season preview

 

by Josh Barnstable

 

“Close but no cigar”

“Almost there”

“Just not good enough”

One word comes to mind. Two, in fact. North Melbourne. If North’s ’10 and ’11 AFL seasons were made into a novel, pick any of those three sayings above and you have a perfectly suitable title. That’s the reality of finishing ninth two years running. They’ve developed the horrid ‘Richmond syndrome’. A cure is yet to be found, but hopefully the boys in the blue and white stripes will go out in the 2012 season to find the antidote to finishing one step below the final eight. It is all there for them. Good quality youngsters, players ready to take the next step, players who are coming off career-best seasons and of course, two new exciting prospects acquired in November’s Draft. I feel like my head is split in two. One is optimistic, the other pessimistic. The optimistic side believes North can push for a top four berth. They can do what West Coast did, what the Bulldogs did in the 2008 season. The pessimistic side knows that anything above 6th position is probably overachieving.

This last year I felt some unwavering optimism towards the 2011 season. We would make the finals, we would be noticed, Ben Cunnington would take the competition by storm, Lachie Hansen would actually do something useful. No, no, no. It didn’t happen. We finished ninth, Cunnington didn’t do much and ‘Lokie Hanson’ continued to ire many Roo supporters on the NMFC Facebook page. It is different this year. I’ve never felt something quite like it. Yes, we beat one top eight side last season. We lost to Sydney (1 point), West Coast (4 points), St Kilda (9 points), Hawthorn (17 points) and Carlton (18 points). Forget the 66 point hiding Geelong gave us, wipe the annihilations Collingwood handed us twice throughout the season; it was a step in the right direction. This year, we have a home game against Geelong for the first time since 2008. We have one game against Collingwood (an away game at Etihad Stadium), and play the two newcomers, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, a total of four times. Finally, a good fixture! Then to the National Draft. With pick 18, we received Brad McKenzie from Sturt, a talented teenager who plays off half-back and can pinpoint a target off one step from 60m away with his dangerous left boot. Apparently has the best kick in the draft, so a steal at 18, and at pick 40, we picked up Tom Curran, a flexible tall who can play forward or back, and also the son of former Hawthorn premiership player Peter. Our other two picks were used to elevate rookies Cam Pedersen and Luke Delaney onto the senior list. Due to my eagerness in writing this article, I can’t cover who we picked up in the Rookie Draft because I couldn’t wait until next Tuesday, but I doubt we’ll be making heads turn.

Now, I’ll cover each section of the ground relating to the 2012 AFL Season. Starting with the most important half of the ground…

BACKLINE

In 2011, North missed their most crucial man in defence. Nathan Grima battled fitness worries, injuries and confidence to play just 12 games. He’s had a ripper pre-season, he won our last time-trial after the boys returned from Utah and will be playing on the likes of the Riewoldt cousins and Matthew Pavlich next year.

Scott McMahon emerged from the 2011 season as one of North’s most important defenders. At just 184cm tall, he is too short to play on tall forwards but is suitable to the small goalsneaks such as Mark LeCras and Stephen Milne. His precise kicking and outstanding decision making makes him a lock for the back pocket every week.

Michael Firrito endured an indifferent season. With a new found tendency to just bomb the ball out of defensive 50, he found it coming back in a lot more often than not. Gone were his bullocking dashes out of defence with ball in hand, replaced by unsure chips around the backline and handballs that left much to be desired. Will be the first bloke picked each week though, his experience is invaluable.

Definitely more of a footballer than an athlete, Scott Thompson evolved his game even more in 2011, becoming more of a rebounding defender than a stopper. Claimed the scalp of Adam Goodes after tagging him out of the match in Round 10, and booted two long goals from outside 50 on the run to rub salt into the wounds. Hugely important.

One of the brightest heads around the club, Jamie Macmillan was a leader in the club’s most recent trip to Utah for pre-season training, showcasing his leadership abilities. The silky-smooth half-back should cement a position in the Roo side after playing nine games in 2011, not helped by a fractured cheekbone sustained in a head-on collision with Richard Douglas against Adelaide in Round 11.

After being promoted onto the senior list, Luke Delaney has every chance to make the full back position his own. Grima won’t be his best friend though, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod. In the Mick Martyn mould, he is not as athletic as Grima, but has a better capability to shut down the likes of Jonathon Brown and Josh Kennedy. His spoiling is superb, and he can take a mark. Has good speed too. Headed to Utah early to get a head-start on his pre-season training.

Younger brother of Luke, Cameron Delaney is a tall defender with good speed capable of playing at Centre Half Back, or even as a running defender if need be. Along with his brother, he spent extra time in Utah in a good show of dedication.

Time is running out for Robbie Tarrant to establish himself as a player North need to keep on their list. Another lacklustre season and he’ll be delisted, no questions asked. After being groomed as a key forward, he was transformed into a potential defensive beast, and played seven games in 2011, the most he has strung together in a year. Struggled to keep up with the demands of the AFL level, and kept finding himself back in the VFL. Needs a big year.

While not a trade that made headlines in the Herald Sun, Will Sierakowski is a good acquisition for North Melbourne. Has great pace and endurance, which was evident after he won one of our pre-season time trials, and has incredible foot skills. Will be a weapon off half back if he gets a game.

With three games of AFL experience under his belt, rookie Aaron Mullett will be keen to impress in his second year in the system. Played the final few games of the season and was impressive with his ability to find the ball and hit targets in the midfield. Only barrier is that he’s still on the rookie list, so may have to wait until after Round 11 to get another shot.

 

Best backline line-up

B: McMahon | Grima | Firrito

HB: Macmillan | | Thompson

 

MIDFIELD

With yet another interrupted start to the season sustained in the NAB Cup, it took until Round 10 for Levi Greenwood to play his first game. So far this pre-season he hasn’t missed a beat and his endurance levels are at an all-time high. With even more muscle bulked onto his already impressive frame, he looks an imposing figure for opposition midfielders.

After winning his second Syd Barker Medal, Andrew Swallow has the AFL at his feet. Combine his ability to find the ball at will with his hardness at the contest and you have an elite footballer with slick skills. Will play every game and will most likely win another Best and Fairest.

Also winning the Syd Barker Medal in 2011 was Daniel Wells. After years of not fulfilling his full potential, he strung together a consistent seasons full of highlights which netted his first Best and Fairest victory. After an end-of-season shoulder operation, doctors found blood clots in his lungs, so his pre-season has involved strictly no contact as he is on blood-thinning medication. May not be ready for the opening rounds of the season, but will be back by at least Round 4. His fitness will be even better than last year.

Off the back of a break-out season, Jack Ziebell has been slaving away in the high hills of Utah getting his fitness to an extraordinary level. Playing every game of the season for the first time is already out of question, with Jay-Z facing a two game suspension to start the year.  Ready to take the next step.

Also ready to take a big step is Ben Cunnington. Taken with pick 5 in the 2009 Draft, he has had an average start to his career, playing 34 out of a possible 44 games. He has been played in the midfield, off half back and in the back pocket as a tagger, but his true position is in the guts. Improved fitness from another pre-season should see him start to dominate games with his brute strength. His ability to hit a pack and come out with the ball ready to flick out a handball is priceless.

One of North’s most successful rookie stories, Leigh Adams was elevated onto the senior list and hasn’t looked back, becoming a very valuable and underrated player for North Melbourne. His ability to tackle, find the ball and kick a goal is second to none at the club. Rarely plays a bad game. Improved fitness will see him spend more time as a rover.

After an injury-interrupted year, Ryan Bastinac is ready to take the competition by the scruff of the neck. His speed, agility and endurance is vital to the midfield, and he is gaining the ability to run forward and kick goals. With a single digit upon his back inherited from Brady Rawlings, he is clearly one of North’s young leaders.

After being touted as the next Michael Barlow, it wasn’t the year many expected from Cam Richardson. He played just the eight games, mostly as a sub, so he failed to have much impact on games. Improved fitness from the Utah camp has seen him win a time-trial, so it is unlikely to be seeing him donning the green vest if picked in the 22 next season.

A couple of years ago he was seen as one of North’s best young players, but it hasn’t gone all the right way for Liam Anthony. Played just 13 games as he struggled to cope with the stress of a shoulder reconstruction. There were many times where he was seen going into a pack half-heartedly with his shoulder in mind. After a solid summer in the gym, he is bulked up and fitter than ever. Could stamp himself as one of our best players next year. A handy goalkicker.

With no Wells and no Ziebell in at least the opening two rounds, there is a perfect opportunity for draftee Brad McKenzie to stamp himself. If he is picked for a Round 1 debut, he will face a stern test against a quality Essendon outfit, who will no doubt be unveiling a youngster or two. His precision kicking will be needed with the loss of Wells.

Being incredibly skinny in your first season of the AFL can be extremely tough and challenging. It can take two or three pre-seasons to really bulk up and keep the fitness levels high. Shaun Atley has been working on that. His physical presence will get a lot more attention next year as he shrugs tackles at will, something he even managed to do this year. Keeping his speed, however, perhaps his most important asset, is the key. Sloppy kick.

Described as the best performer at the Utah camp by coach Brad Scott, Cruize Garlett’s fitness is through the roof and should expect to start in the midfield from Round 1 next seasons. While being one of the shortest players at the club, he attacks the ball the hardest and will win most one-on-one contests. Tackles hard, and has great disposal. Needs to establish himself.

Dubbed North Melbourne’s ‘Super Sub’, Ben Speight’s season finished prematurely after one of his best performances against the Western Bulldogs in Round 17 due to a shoulder injury. With his running capabilities already impressive, a good slog in Utah has helped him improve his durability and endurance, in the hope he can become a solid four quarter contributor instead of a substitute.

 

Best midfield line-up

C: Greenwood | Ziebell | Bastinac

R: | Swallow | Wells

 

FORWARD

It was a year of highlights for Drew Petrie in 2011. After his worst year in the AFL system in ’10, he bounced back to kick 48 goals in his career best season. Specky after specky he took, one-handed marks after one-handed marks, not to mention the crucial goals he slotted from the boundary line. Has been going along nicely in the pre-season, and will again start out of the goalsquare in 2012. The man with number 20 upon his back is an imposing figure for any defender.

A year to forget, but perhaps a year that needed to be had. Lindsay Thomas, by his own admissions, was terrible at times. He was fantastic in some games, but his best was far too rare. At his best, can chase, tackle and kick goals from his backside. At his worst, well, he can miss from 20 out, straight in front, which we saw all too often last season. A strong pre-season, improved fitness and a clear mindset might help Lindsay back on the right track. A lethal field kick.

As the legs get older and the fitness ever so slowly deteriorates, Brent Harvey should spend more time skulking around packs at half forward. The skipper had another impressive year, not without a bit of controversy, although gone from his repertoire were the long runs and goals and the impossible snaps that landed at the goal umpires feet. A year spent predominantly in the forward line should return 35 goals at worst. Should not be played against St Kilda.

After returning for the final eight games of the year, Matthew Campbell could count himself lucky to still be on the list. While looking at his return from those eight matches; eight goals, it is not evident that he only hit the scoreboard in two matches. Five goals came against Hawthorn, and three against the Western Bulldogs. His forward pressure was as good as ever however, and hopefully Campbell can reignite some of that forward line chemistry with Lindsay Thomas.

Acquired from West Coast, Ben McKinley was seen as a good pick-up for North. A proven goalkicker with the mobility to play through the midfield. After just two games and no goals in his debut season for the blue and white, his AFL career is teetering on the edge. Needs a big year, and has gotten into the pre-season work with a head full of steam.

After a career-best season in the forward line, Aaron Edwards will be keen to back-up his performances again. Booted a scarily accurate 36.8, so the pressure will be on him when he takes his first shot at goal for season 2012. His new-found determination and work ethic has been instrumental towards his performance this pre-season.

The skinny version of Dale Thomas has grown muscles and endurance to rival the Collingwood champion. Sam Wright’s season became a write-off after injuring his shoulder just after the halfway mark of the season, so he’s had plenty of time to work on his aerobic capacities. Can take a good mark, and has the best skills at the club around goal. Excellent footy smarts.

Seemed to have a future at the club a couple of years ago, but it is a bit more clouded now. With the emergence of Edwards, Ben Warren’s place in the team isn’t so certain now, especially since he managed only three games last season. Hasn’t set the world on fire in the pre-season, so it’ll be interesting to see if he is fair dinkum about claiming back his mantle in the forward line as the medium half forward.

Another who hasn’t exactly been tearing things up on the training track, but has been slowly gaining strength to his upper body and improving his fitness is Aaron Black. Tasted some AFL action in the last game of the 2011 season, and impressed. An injury or two and he could be into the side.

The mercurial youngster touted as the next Steve Johnson showed plenty of tricks in his debut season. Playing 12 games, Kieran Harper is the right size to play as a half forward pushing up into the midfield. He’s worked hard in the pre-season to increase his strength and fitness so he can do that. Ferocious tackler and knows where the goals are.

One of only four players on the North Melbourne list (not including new players) who hasn’t played a game, Ayden Kennedy is a tall forward who sat out the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Has been working hard in the gym to make it back to full fitness, and has put a fair bit of weight on. Is expected to make an appearance at some stage at the highest level.

 

Best forward line-up

HF: Thomas | | Harvey

F: Wright | Petrie | Edwards

 

RUCKS

After a breakout year in which he announced himself as the best Ruckman from Victoria, Todd Goldstein will find things a bit more challenging in 2012, but for a good reason. Hamish McIntosh is back in the picture. How will this affect Goldy? It is yet to be seen. Perhaps we won’t see the 50+ hit-out matches as he shares the ruck duties, perhaps he won’t need to push himself as a sole ruckman, which is what he does best. Never the less, he has been outstanding on the track in the pre-season and should challenge Sandilands and Cox for the All-Australian ruck duties.

After a year out with Achilles injuries, Hamish McIntosh will be one of the biggest talking points at North Melbourne come NAB Cup time. He has attacked pre-season with a new-found vigour, and has passed every test with flying colours. He has lost his mantle as number one ruck, yet he’s still good enough to make an appearance in the All-Australian squad. His only hope of surviving in this team is to learn how to play forward. He can mark a ball in a pack, and he is a decent shot on goal, but at what cost does this come? Does this send the ever-impressive Cameron Pedersen back to the VFL? With Petrie and Hansen already in the side, I don’t think there is enough room for four men pushing 197cm and beyond.

Still clearly a project ruckman, Ben Mabon has quickly become one of the most likeable players at the club, and has a lot of determination to succeed. With Hamish unlikely to get a game in the ruck though, ‘Sawny’ won’t be getting a game either.

UTILITIES

A rookie success story. Formerly from the Box Hill Hawks, Cameron Pedersen made his mark on the big stage for North Melbourne and made a name for himself as a versatile tall, capable of playing anywhere and everywhere. He played ruck, as a defensive option, on the wing and as a focal point up forward. The latter was where he impressed most, and that’s where I expect to see him played next season. With a wife and a child, failing is not an option so he has ultimate determination to go through the pre-season unscathed while increasing his tank.

Much the same to Pedersen, but not quite as impressive at times. Lachie Hansen is much-maligned in the fact that he seems to miss targets and fumble easy marks in defence, although he does have a good ability to clunk big strong grabs in attack. Still, with Petrie in the forward line, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Hansen, so Centre Half Back is his spot. Can swap with Pedersen when needed. Has won a time-trial in the pre-season, so is clearly one of North’s best athletes.

Rookie sensation Majak Daw is surely ready to make his AFL debut. Barring serious injury, he will play his first game for North Melbourne sometime after Round 11, unless he is elevated before that due to a long term injury to a senior player. His aerobic capacities still isn’t flash, but another pre-season in Utah will help him.

North’s other recruit from the National Draft, Tom Curran is an impressive youngster with an impressive frame already. Can play forward or back, but isn’t expected to play senior footy at all in 2012. Foot injuries haven’t helped him this pre-season.

Best line-up

B: McMahon | Grima | Firrito

HB: Macmillan | Hansen | Thompson

C: Greenwood | Ziebell | Bastinac

HF: Thomas | Pedersen | Harvey

F: Wright | Petrie | Edwards

R: Goldstein | Swallow | Wells

I/C: Cunnington | Adams | Harper

Sub: Speight

EMG: Sierakowski | Anthony | Garlett

 

I have a feeling something special is brewing.

 

 

 

 

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

Comments

  1. Josh – love your optimism. I hope the Roos make the 8. They need to for their survival. I still have reservations about the backline. It leaked far too often last year. In my view you need Petrie back there and then you need to find another forward.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Very comprehensive Josh.

    I’ve heard that North are ‘flying’.

  3. Skip of Skipton says:

    Dear Leader has looked after his old side nicely with that draw. Seventh or Eigth for me. How long has Daw been on the rookie list?
    Don’t you either have to upgrade or delist a rookie after two years?

  4. John Butler says:

    Good onya Josh.

    Dream the dream. Actually, with that draw it would be a disappointment not to make the 8.

    Hoping Mullet plays plenty of games. About time there was a Mullet come bacls that didn’t involve the police.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    You’re obviously on holidays, Josh.

    Well considered thoughts.

    I honestly feel we’ll play finals. Our younger players will be a year older (obviously), Drew is fit, and most importantly, we have a good fixture.

    Personally, I’d prefer to see Adams on the ball, Garlett in the 22 and Pedersen starting at CHB, with the option of swinging him forward. I love his versatility. Something we’ve lacked in recent years. Actually, many years. Edwards at CHF – at least he has a go. Hansen out, Tarrant in if fit. Hamish can be a real ‘x factor;’ for us in 2012. He can be brought in for particular roles. I couldn’t believe people were calling for North to trade him. A big, talented ruckman is still worth his weight in gold.

    Bring on 2012.

  6. North should change their name to the Hobart Hippies.

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