AFL Season Preview: North heading in the right direction

by Andrew Starkie

I’m lying in the shade on the hill in the Uncle Allan Pocket (named after the great man who first took me as a child to Arden Street).  The sparkling new facilities are opposite and young players are jogging slow laps and slotting through banana goals with bright, new balls.  A sausage sizzle is spitting into life and a sprinkling of supporters has drifted in to have a look at this public training session less than two weeks before Round 1.

As remaining players and coaching staff saunter onto the oval and the warm-up begins, I’m reading a Rolling Stone article on AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson.  Even though Johnson has been in charge for 30 years, many rock fans still consider him the ‘new guy’, such is the omnipresent impact left by the late Bon Scott.  In case you’re interested, Johnson is 62.  Incredible.

I can’t help but make the connection with what has been happening at North Melbourne over the Summer.  A fresh new atmosphere of change hovers excitedly over Arden Street.  New coach Brad Scott has just completed a sky dive to drum up publicity and members.  Our new training and administration facilities  – which have a bit of Babylon about them from where I’m sitting – have replaced the portables and burnt out grandstand.  As Scott said, ‘No excuses now’.

However, as always, it’s on the ground where the season will be judged.  Despite patchy preseason form – two wins, two losses – I’m more confident going into this season than I have been for several years.

Scott has brought an enthusiasm and energy that has been missing in recent seasons.  His game plan is aggressive, daring and attacking (Thank God!) and his attitude infectious and demanding.  Experienced players such as Harvey, Petrie, McIntosh and Rawlings appear rejuvenated.  

Last season saw the development and introduction of many young players who must continue to improve if we are to move up the ladder.  Now that Best and Fairest, Swallow and leading defender, Thompson, have established themselves in the team they must continue 2009’s good form.

Our new onballers and runners are crucial to our success this season.  Anthony, Ziebell, Ross, Adams, Greenwood, Wright and Goldstein must seize the opportunities they will receive.  Ziebell looks to be the best of the above named.  He is skilful, intelligent and knows how to win the contested ball.  He reminds of Nathan Buckley, only harder at the ball.  He’ll win a Brownlow one day. 

Anthony came into the team late last year after injury and showed himself to be a ready senior player.  Like Ziebell, he is mature and wins the ball, however, his field kicking needs to be more consistent.  Greenwood is a tough, old-fashioned footballer.  His game on Judd last year was excellent.  A recently broken toe may keep him out of the season opener and this will hurt our chances away against Port.  Goldstein is agile and deceptively skilful and will compliment McIntosh well in the ruck. 

These young players are the future of the club and will take much responsibility from Harvey and Rawlings who may find themselves playing less on the ball.  As the season progresses, the captain may have a roaming roll in the forward line or through the centre while Rawlings may move to defence.

Despite our low ladder position, our defence took shape towards the end of 2009.  Thompson, Grima and Firrito will lead our defence.  The latter should not play on the ball, where he lacks the speed to compete with lighter opponents.  If fit, Tarrant will be finally welcomed.  Gibson won’t be missed as he became a spare parts player at North.  He’s more suited to the eastern suburban latte set.

As usual, our problem is with kicking goals.  We were one of the lowest scoring teams last year.  Hale and Petrie must keep out of each other’s way.  Space needs to be left in front of Hale to lead into as balls kicked high to him are easily cleared.  His forward pressure once the ball has hit the ground needs to improve.  Scott should leave Petrie up forward for the entire season and not use him to fill holes in the ruck or defence when games aren’t going well.  Before being injured last season, Warren proved himself to be a natural league footballer.  Like James Hird, he has the ability to lead into space and attract the ball.  Small forwards Campbell and Thomas also need to contribute consistently with forward line pressure.

Generally, it’s difficult at this time of the year to identify which scruffy-haired 18 year old is which and therefore, comment about the progress of recruits is useless.  However, and I may regret to say this, we appear to have drafted well.  Bastinac was busy and competitive in preseason games and if half the hype about Cunnington and Black is true, they should go ok.  Fingers crossed.

A new coach and an influx of younger players brings pressure on established players and competition for places.  In particular, Jones, Wells, Thomas, Campbell, Harding and Hale had inconsistent or interrupted seasons in 2009 and need to perform.  Urquhart had an excellent 2008, however, last year his kicking was ordinary.  Edwards is fortunate to be on the list and with Petrie suspended for the first few rounds, may get a game.  If he doesn’t kick goals, Scott should give him the flick for good.  He has impressive body ink, but no footy brain.

The training session is ending with the players having pots shots for goal.  Whoops and hollers accompany each kick and the players are bouncing around like U12s.  The crowd of onlookers has grown and the sausage sizzle is doing a roaring trade.  Families shelter from the early evening sun in the shade of the new facilities and Kangaroo supporters of every race, religion, age and size look on with the glow of anticipation.  This season brings promise for North Melbourne.  The new coach may not be around for as long as Brian Johnson, but at this early stage he looks a born frontman.  As the sticker on the rear window of my car promises: ‘NEW GAME, NEW ERA, MEMBER 2010’.

Come on you Roo boys!


  1. Great preview Andrew. I hear your optimism, the Roos are looking to a new horizon. Warren, Ziebell and Anthony are the future, Cunnington should get some game time and Bastinac is has been impressive in the NAB Cup. Wells, Harvey, Rawlings and Harding were all terrific in the NAB Cup. Signs are good, top 8 or nothing in my opinion. Although, I would like your opinion on a certain matter.

    David Hale or Todd Goldstein? I think it’s time for North to move Hale on, Goldstein has real potential.

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