Who, What and Why: The 2017 North Melbourne Season

2017 was a strange season for North Melbourne. The club missed finals for the first time since 2013, the first time we took to the field without Harvey, Petrie and Co. There were 13 new faces, a new captain and a whole lot of uncertainty.

In a year that delivered a lot of bad and a lot of good, I’ve pinpointed who and what defined North Melbourne’s season, and why they were so important.

 

Good Friday Football

For two decades North has lead the charge towards Good Friday Football and in 2017 they were given the green light. Round 4 would be the first of two thrilling matches between North and reigning premiers Western Bulldogs. Over 40,000 fans were treated to a heart stopper at Etihad Stadium however the result didn’t go the Roos’ way. In the dying moments of his 200th game, Lindsay Thomas missed a shot on the run giving the Bulldogs a three point win. The positive? The inaugural Good Friday game featured the Roos on the big stage in a thriller. The negative? There are three. Firstly, they didn’t win the game and secondly, they finished 15th on the ladder. That put point three in limbo: neither North or the Bulldogs were promised the spot permanently. St Kilda are waiting in the wings for a chance to play on Good Friday. Despite the entertaining game, high attendance and TV ratings, the Roos could be a risk of slipping out of the time slot in 2018 and replaced by an 11th placed St Kilda and 10th placed Bulldogs.

 

Ruthlessness 

Five losses and no wins. Not exactly the way any of us expected the season to start… including the coach. It lead to the omission of former skipper Andrew Swallow and small forward Lindsay Thomas from the round six team. Both underperforming and as senior players they weren’t doing a whole lot to lead the side to its first win. It was the first time we had seen Brad Scott make a bold statement at the selection table and it was a well received move all round. North went on to win four of its next five games, including that round six clash with the Suns.

 

Marley Williams

When he came from Collingwood in exchange for pick 105 no one really knew what to think. I mean you probably start passing on picks by the 80s mark so Williams was welcomed with open arms. He was relieved to find a new home, promise to fix up his kicking, his attitude and embrace his second opportunity… and he did. By halfway through the season, he became one of the most reliable small defenders in the AFL and if it weren’t for injury he probably would’ve finished top 5 in the Syd Barker, if not the winner. Of his 13 games this season, he chased down the likes of Dustin Martin and Gary Ablett, kicked what should have been the winning goal against Geelong in round two, injected some much needed pace and excitement into the team and already signed a contract extension until 2019 (at least). If that’s just a handful of what he can do then bring on 2018 and beyond.

 

North Melbourne v Adelaide 

I had work the day North played Adelaide in Tasmania so I was checking the scores when I had the chance. Five minutes in and the score was 19-0 North’s way and I actually took a screenshot because I wanted to cherish that moment while I could. When I returned to my phone 20 minutes later, the Roos were 64-0 at quarter time. I didn’t know what to think, I was certain the app had a glitch.

North defeated the Crows by 59 points and it was quite literally one of the strangest yet best moments of the season. Handing Adelaide its first loss of the season and in quite stunning fashion. Everyone played their role, none better than rejuvenated midfielder Ben Cunnington and Jarrad Waite, with six goals in his return from injury. The game meant a lot more for North than it did for the Crows. It was a well deserved reward for effort over the previous six weeks and it just felt awesome. The opening quarter was one of three this season where the Crows were held goalless and the only one where they were held scoreless.

 

Round 11 v Richmond

I think this was THE defining moment of our season. A bit of a rude awakening about where the club once was and where they are now. In 2010, Brad Scott and Damien Hardwick took over North, Richmond respectively and up until this point North had the Tiges covered. Only lost to Richmond twice and one of those losses was in round 23, 2015 when we rested most of our side so I don’t know if it counts. We had big wins, thrilling wins and elimination final wins… but our third loss to Richmond in eight seasons was the most sobering of them all. What started as a tight and entertaining contest was all over by the 5 minute mark of the third quarter. Three unanswered Richmond goals, a dominant Dusty and we went into the bye 35 point losers. Tigers went on to win the premiership while North went back to the rebuild. A reflection of missed opportunity and a “where did we go wrong?” moment.

 

Todd Goldstein and Round 18

Everyone called for it but no one saw it coming. Given our reluctancy to drop underperforming players in the past, no one knew if we would actually drop the out of form ruck man. But 2017 is a new year and we dropped Goldy and it was a really bold move by Brad Scott. We went into round 18 without the ruckman, Ziebell and Robbie Tarrant was a late withdrawal but somehow this was one of the most satisfying performances of the year. No one thought we were a chance going into the game so to be in control up until three quarter time was outstanding. Brown and Waite kicked 10 goals between them while Scott Thompson kept Daniher to two at the other end. Upon his return to the senior side a few weeks later, Goldstein showed signs of improvement the way Andrew Swallow did when he came back and both can hope for a full revival next season.

 

The Kids

So many fresh faces, and some promising kids made a big impact on field in 2018 and the future is bright. We welcomed back Mason Wood, Kanye Turner and Taylor Garner from injury, pumped some more game time into Clarke and Dumont while welcomed the likes of Simpkin, Durdin, EVW, Mountford, Hibbard, Zurhaar, Preuss and Nielson into the team. It was enough to get North fans really excited about the future and what’s to come. We traded the underperforming for those eager to have a crack in the big time and you couldn’t fault any of them on effort. The highlight was Luke McDonald and his shift into the midfield proved a popular move. He took his game to a new level complimenting his hard attack at the ball with good decision making and those new trademark goals on the run from outside 50.

 

The Tanking Debate: Round 19 v Melbourne 

Alongside round 11, this was the other game that defined our season and defined the soul of the club. The Australian‘s Greg Denham wrote an article accusing North of tanking and it sent the media into a meltdown. For once there were more people defending us than against us but it still didn’t make the accusations any less insulting. The response, however, was incredible and given the circumstances it might have been our best win of the season. A 17th straight win against Melbourne, who were looking like finals contenders at that point. The four point win was also our first victory under a goal that season. Everyone got involved, even Scott Thompson kicked a goal. A win of heart and guts and shinboner spirit.

 

Captain Jack

I’ve always loved the idea of Ziebell as captain and think he did well in his first year. We recently discovered he battled with injury for most of the season and he handled himself well. Against Collingwood in round 20 he showed why he was chosen as North’s captain. Ben Brown tackled and knocked out halfway through the second quarter left Ziebell, who had already received a decent knock to the ribs, to inspire the Roos up forward. He kicked five second half goals and stood up like the side needed him to. For a player who prefers his role in the midfield he sucked it up and did well and it was a brilliant captains’ game.

 

Ben Brown

What’s left to say about him? He’s been our most talked about player for the season and rightly so. 63 goals in a side that finished 15th for the year. Third in the Coleman and Syd Barker, All Australian nomination and just a bloody good season. Gold Coast’s Tom Lynch was the next best goal kicker in a team outside the eight – 16th in the Coleman with 44 goals. Kicked a career high six goals in round 6, again in round 18 and then beat his PB with seven goals in round 23. The best part about him is that he’s just extended his contract until the end of 2020. Yes yes yes.

 

Higgins and Cunnington 

Best and Fairest winner and runner up and so well deserved. Brown had an unreal season but both Higgins and Cunnington reached great heights. Cunnington was amongst the best clearance players in the comp while Higgins was pulling elite numbers. They polled 11 (Cunnington) and 9 (Higgins) Brownlow votes only behind Brown in our side. Really impressive seasons from both of them and stood up in times of need.

 

AFLW 2019

In a time where AFLW is on the rise, North securing a license for 2019 is outstanding. The club has been building towards a women’s side for quite sometime and to see the efforts pay off is really rewarding. Partnering with Tasmania, the team will help the league expand in a couple of seasons time and will hopefully lead to more success for North Melbourne in the near future.

 

Roos in Rebuild

We made a big play for Dusty and Kelly and we couldn’t get it done. We responded by delisting another long list of players including life member Lachie Hansen and mr reliable Sam Gibson. North are in the middle of a serious rebuild and it’s probably what we need to get going again. Pick four in the draft could be a key to getting us back on track and back into the top right. Brad Scott did a really great job in a difficult season and did everything we asked: played the kids, held under performers accountable and a little faith in him and the club could go a long way.

 

Comments

  1. I reckon you nailed it Intuit. It was a difficult season for The Shinboners, and such a letdown after a good run the previous few seasons. Good luck with the rebuild. They can be exciting times too.

  2. Paul Young says:

    Nice work Marnie.

    You had me until the last paragraph. I’m not convinced about Brad Scott. I think most AFL standard coaches could have achieved the same results given the list he’s had at his disposal. I wouldn’t have been too upset had he moved to the Gold Coast. But we’re stuck with him and I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    One thing I still can’t get my head around. So where was the benefit gained by getting rid of one our elite players in Brent Harvey? Harvey should have played in 2017 – similar to Sam Mitchell at WCE. On ground coaching sort of role.

    And finally…..Greg Denham went out on a limb to accuse the Roos of tanking – without any substantive evidence and made himself look a fool. Funny how when a player or coach makes a fool of themselves, the footy industry demands an apology. But when a footy scribe gets it horribly wrong, he just moves on to the next story.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    well done Marnie. Very thorough. All aspects of the season covered. By 2020 we will be ready to challenge again.

  4. A fairly comprehensive review, Marnie. We are a club in transition.

    I’m afraid I am with Paul re Brad Scott. I am not sure he is the right man. I understand the reasons for North signing him to a further few years, but that does not mean I agree with them. I could not stand how until about Round 13 he banged on about how we were still aiming for finals.

  5. A very good analysis.

    I do have to agree with Paul and say that our senior coach and the general coaching staff need a much needed re-boot. I have seen little ‘game strategy’ improvement from our coaches in the last two years to convince me they are on the right track. For example, it was particularly annoying to see the big men (Brown, Waite, Petrie) fly for the mark in the forward line with Lindsay Thomas trying to take a spekky over the top of them. What game plan is that?

    B.Scott is secure for three years as he is now under the auspices of a ‘rebuilding’ period – he can lose as many games as he likes. But if does not show a better game plan, then we can only hope that 2021 comes around very quickly. Don’t forget, Damien Hardwick made a significant mind shift this year and the club also brought in certified premiership experienced coaching/admin staff. It seemed to make a very good improvement!

    Loved the AFLW season and its future. I can’t help but feel the AFL granted the license to NM mainly based on the Tasmanian connection. So yet again, we have to spread our wings ( a la Canberra, Hobart, etc) whereas the stronger clubs don’t need to do that.

    The positive is that we have a ready made VFLW team on the back of the Melbourne Uni Muggars. And it is a very good team! That’s if they keep their AFLW stars – but will Kearney and Blackburn switch to Western Bulldogs’ VFLW team? Will Celia McIntosh play for Collingwood? Will Gab Pound, Nic Stevens and Maddie Kerryk play for Carlton? Will De Berry, Jess Anderson and Cat Phillips play for the Casey Demons? How many will transition into our new AFLW team? NM have been developing its own academy and that in combination with the Tasmanian arm should prove lucrative. Roll on 2019!

  6. Look, as a non-North person, I didn’t want to get stuck into Brad Scott right away, but I’m not a great fan of either of the Scotts – although I thought Chris gave Geelong a clear message, which I suspect hinged on the romantic nonsense of giving Ablett Jnr a testimonial year.

    Dave, the take home message from D. Hardwick is – and I quote – They coach themselves;i t’s a real pleasure to be in the box. The scene you describe — Petrie, Brown & Waite going for the mark with Lindsay Thomas going for the screamer overs the top of them — happens on Saturday afternoon, not on Tuesday night at training. I know, The Tiges used to play like that. The culture starts in the lockerroom. But somehow the coach has to make that happen.

  7. The NM list had been building since 2010 and I felt that the window would be there around ’14/15/16. I gave Brad S credit for continuing to build that list. Yet the two disappointing preliminary finals and subsequent years convinced me that he was a good coach that could recruit a team. He could get them to a preliminary final level. Taking the next step is an ability, I believe, he does not have. It appears the players and admin at NM love him and that is good. Yet the players do not perform for him. Is that because they are simply not skilled enough? Not smart enough despite good skills? Or love and respect are two different emotions? Either way, this club is no Western Bulldogs … and no Richmond.

  8. Am I hearing the Bagmen may be running a book on which Scott Twin gets the DCM before their respective 2-year contracts have expired?

  9. steve todorovic says:

    Certainly no Richmond, Dave! Your passion for the Rooboys come shining through but so does your frustration with Scott and his assistant coaches. North are further behind the eight ball than ever. They are the least likely of all the Victorian clubs to be a current “destination” club of choice for the stars coming out of contract or becoming free agents. The one advantage this year is that they get a high draft pick for the first time in ages and they do have an armoured truck load of cash just waiting for a star willing to take a punt. How do you feel about the de-listing of one of your all time great stalwarts…Lachie Hanson?

    BTW, you’re all over the AFLW competition. Are you a list manager or perhaps a women’s player agent? Who should the Kangas AFLW team make their key targets?

  10. Whatever the case, North need to smarten up in the next year. The senior players have to take control of the clubs destiny and really lead strongly and the senior guys owe it to the young players coming through to lead well and strongly.That is the responsibility of the senior players at North and they need to continue to develop strong leadership among the players. The club has not made the grand final for 19 years now. That is not good enough from this North supporter.So we can pat ourselves on the back, but the cold facts are we finished 15th! That is not ok from my point of view. We want to get back into the finals from next year, and aim high.Why not? Never at North Melbourne, do I want to see mediocrity celebrated and No North person wants to see it either.We will be back in the finals next year, because North people will not accept anything less and I look forward with immense expectations and huge amounts of confidence to a really positive 2018, when North get back in the top bracket. go Roos!

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