A North Season Preview of Sorts: Who Needs a Big Year?

It’s often said that premierships are won not on the strength of your best half dozen players, but on your bottom half dozen. That might be overstated sometimes, but look at the contributions of the likes of Matt Spangher, Max Rooke and Leigh Brown, while conversely Ross Lyon has fallen short with Zac Dawson, Clint Jones and Farren Ray filling out his 22. Herewith six players who find themselves on the fringes at North this year, and whose success or otherwise could go a long way in determining how the club goes.

“I Love it When we’re Cruisin’ Together” – Ryan Bastinac

Basti’s part of that core Brad Scott rebuild group, along with Ziebell, Cunnington, Macmillan, Atley, Black and Wright (Harper too, but that’s just too sad to go into). He burst onto the scene with an impressive shutdown job on Daniel Kerr, and in his first couple of years looked the goods. Since then, he’s become a bit of a ‘tweener. He has an inside midfielder’s instincts and a winger’s endurance, but hasn’t developed the body or disposal to be great at either. He’s nifty around goal but manages about 15 goals a year when he should be kicking 25. When Dal Santo came in he was expected to benefit, but the opposite happened and he wound up as sub during the finals.

From our side of the fence, it seems that what Bastinac needs this year is to look like he gives a damn. The alternative is an inevitable slide to whipping boyhood, and may be the first of the Brad-y Bunch to slide out of view (apart from Harper, but that’s just too sad to go into).

“Your Big Heart’s Gonna Break Your Little Body” – Leigh Adams

The polar opposite of Ryan Bastinac. It seems like every year there’s an undersized kid in the draft who slips down the order thanks to his size, but then everyone mentions that he might turn out alright because Boomer Harvey. The Doggies got the last couple in Nathan Hrovat and Caleb Daniel. Another Boomer would be great for the game but it’s probably more likely that they’ll end up as the next Patch Adams. At 27 he should be in his prime, but he’s pretty much broken.

You never ever get the impression that he’s not putting in. He’s not a long kick or particularly fast, but knows where to be and isn’t shy about being at the bottom of packs. It would be helpful if people who should know better didn’t try to rip his shoulder out of its socket. And despite playing 22 games last year, missed the finals with a lingering concussion and it’s looking like his half forward spot will go to some combination of Shaun Higgins, Kayne Turner and even Taylor Garner (and of course Harper, but that’s just too sad to go into). Has made it to 100 games but hasn’t been able to play in a final. I’d love to see him get back to his best and play in September.

And Doggies fans: if Hrovat and Daniel turn out as good and as easy to love as Patch Adams, that’s fine. You won’t have wasted those picks.

“I’ll make them see that I have confidence in me” – Ben Jacobs

I’d love for this kid to succeed. Didn’t fit in at Port, and made it to North the hard way via the draft when they couldn’t manage a trade. You can just tell he loves being at the club. As a midfielder in juniors and the VFL, he’s been unstoppable. At AFL level he’s been played out of position as a half back flanker and had a deer-in-the-headlights air about him. So it was not without some misgivings that I read on the club website that he’s training with the defensive group full time. Still, he had his good games in 2014, including one of my favourite moments of the season when he drilled a clutch goal from 50 against Port. You just feel don’t you Dennis, that he’s one of those guys who can step it up a level if he can just find a bit of self-belief? I hope he’s got time to find it.

“You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out” – Brad McKenzie

It’s been a feature of North’s list rebuild and an article of faith among North supporters that they’ve put together a pretty decent group without access to high picks during the expansion-ravaged drafts of 2010-2012, and the recruiters and list managers therefore embody shinboner spirit finding diamonds in the rough. Truth be told, a fair number of their best players were in fact top 10 picks: Daniel Wells (2), Lachie Hansen (3), Ben Cunnington (5), Jack Ziebell (9). Throw in imports Dal Santo (13) and Higgins (11), and there’s clearly a good group of top-end talent. Not elite — not  Ablett-Bennell-O’Meara-Martin levels of talent, or Selwood-Chapman-Bartel-Taylor levels of achievement — but good.

It is true though that North’s recruiters have a good recent record outside the can’t-miss picks, with the likes of Goldstein, Atley, Macmillan, Thompson, Black and Swallow all excellent value for their draft ranges.

Brad McKenzie might end up being the fly in that ointment. North have tended to pick guys with attributes they like, and trust in the development systems to take care of the weaknesses. Exhibit A: a smart, skilful, skinny, slow, South Australian kid. Taken in 2011 when the glaring weakness across North’s list was footskills, McKenzie is a seriously beautiful left foot kick. Not necessarily a booming kick, not a flashy Suckling type, but jaw-dropping needle-threading touch. We hoped that by now he’d be roaming the wing, dropping pinpoint passes on leading forwards. Instead he looks a bit soft, a bit hesitant, and can’t quite figure out how to get enough of the ball at AFL level. He’s nearly 22, with 22 games to his name, in the last year of his contract and it’s about time for a first rounder to make his presence felt.

“Then a Big Yellow Taxi …” – Trent Dumont

You idiot Froggy. Getting pissed and roughing up a taxi driver. Let’s just hope it really was as out of character as the club would like us to believe. Keep your head down and earn your spot son.

“I hurt myself today” – Shaun Higgins

Not exactly on the fringes, but will inevitably draw comparisons to how Levi Greenwood is going at Collingwood as the season wears on. If footy is essentially a game of getting it when you don’t have it and doing something useful with it when you do, then we’ve given up a bit in column A for a lot in column B. His first NB hitout was a classic Higgins pre-season tease, and his physical fragility is well known. Just you wait for the “shoulda kept Levi” calls the first time he’s half-hearted at a contest or misses a week with some minor niggle. But he seems happy and settled in pretty quickly at Arden St, and a return to his best could make a huge difference. At least Wellsy won’t be lining him up this year.

The rest

There are of course at least as many more whose days might be numbered for various reasons: Firrito and Grima are surely close to retirement, Sam Wright needs to back up his excellent second half of 2014, and Dan Currie might find himself behind Majak Daw and even rookie listed Brayden Preuss before too long. Max Warren and Robbie Nahas are biding their time at the bottom of the list hoping for a chance. And Waite? Low cost, low risk, high reward. But I don’t feel as much uncertainty about how their output might affect North’s fortunes. It’s so nice after 15 years of blah to be this bullish on the club’s chances.



  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Rob I wish the full story re Trent Dumont and the taxi comes out soon , he can really play and is a vital part of Norths future . The Waite and Higgins recruitment will be a master stroke if it works just hope , Brown is not held back and given every opportunity love his footy smarts from a independent crows supporter

  2. Gee, I’m loving all this North-love on the Knackery at the minute!

    The critics forget that North gave away no draft picks for Dal Santo, Higgins and Waite.

  3. Philip Mendes says

    I think taking Higgins even at the expense of Levi was worth the risk. Levi had a very good season last year, but remember he was not quick, an average kick, and very one-sided. I doubt North would have improved significantly with him in the team. Too similar to other players on the list. In comparison, Higgins at his best can be a match winner. He was very good in some of those Bulldogs Top 4 years. Might break down, but so can anybody. He does give us something we don’t already have.

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