Close but not close enough: a review of North Melbourne’s season

by Lucas Lewit-Mendes and Philip Mendes


What went Right?

A) North Melbourne won seven games in a row to make the finals, and then completed two outstanding finals victories to reach the Preliminary Final.

B) With some exceptions, there was less inconsistency between and within games. North were not quite as flaky as in previous years.

C) The coach also seemed to lift his game. Brad Scott returned from his back operation with new ideas, and a more flexible game strategies.

D) Ruckman Todd Goldstein was a tower of strength not only in ruck duels, but all round the ground. Not surprisingly, he earned all-Australian selection, and finished Top ten in the Brownlow.

E) Ben Cunnington may still be underrated outside the club. But he is an outstanding contested ball winner, arguably second only to Sam Mitchell amongst his contemporaries in handball skills, and ultra-consistent in performance.

F) Mature age recruits Shaun Higgins and Jarrad Waite easily met expectations. Higgins provided classy finishing all season, and made the all-Australian squad. Waite started the season slowly and frustrated supporters with some bizarre errors near goal. But by the second half of the year, he was holding the big marks and kicking the crunch goals. He was crucial to North’s final victories against Richmond and Sydney.

G) Long-time under-achiever Robbie Tarrant improved out of sight. He became stronger and quicker, and effectively countered a number of big forwards. It was easily his best season.

H) Sam Wright has struggled with consistency in the past as either a small back or forward. But this year, he continued his good form from the 2014 finals, and provided precise disposal from the backline.

I) Dasher Shaun Atley had a poor start to the season, and rightly got dropped after the Collingwood game. But he returned to provide solid run and dash reminiscent of his break-out year in 2012.

J) Jamie Macmillan also started the season slowly and was hampered by injury, but enjoyed a very solid second half of the year. Could be a future Club captain.

K) Former first round draft pick Taylor Garner finally got on the park regularly and showed lots of potential in the second half of the year. He was particularly good in the first final against Richmond and showed he can hurt the opposition with a small number of disposals.

L) Boomer Harvey, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito continued to prove they were ‘golden oldies’, while Scott Thompson was tight as always in the backline.

M) Ben Jacobs finally found an effective role as a tagger


What went Wrong?

A) The game plan and team structure was not as consistent as the top sides. North were still prone to lose matches to weaker teams such as Collingwood and Gold Coast. They also went missing for a quarter or even two quarters against poor sides such as St Kilda, Carlton and Melbourne.

B) Some mature players stagnated. Ryan Bastinac is neither quick nor able to win contested ball, so he needs to find some new tricks to continue his AFL career. Lindsay Thomas seemed to lose his way after the change in the rule regarding head-high tackles. The foot injury obviously didn’t help but he needs to regain his mojo.

C) Our younger players did not play enough games. They need to gain experience so that they’re ready when the likes of Boomer, Firrito and Petrie retire. This includes Kayne Turner, who continued to show potential in patches. Unfortunately, Luke McDonald had the second year blues after an outstanding first season. Trent Dumont is a contested ball machine, but needs a bit more composure, which will come with more games. Mason Wood has the capacity to kick goals if he gains regular senior selection. The three 2014 draft picks: Sam Durdin, Daniel Neilson and Ed Vickers-Willis did not play at all due to season-ending injuries. They need more luck in 2016.

D) North had too many list cloggers who are not up to AFL standard. But Nathan Grima and Leigh Adams have retired, and Scott McMahon, Max Warren and Eric Wallace have been delisted. Kieran Harper will probably be delisted, and ditto Daniel Currie and Joel Tippett. Brad McKenzie is a first round pick who has played only 23 games in four years including one game in 2015. Majak Daw has played only 16 games in three years, but may stay as insurance for Goldstein. Aaron Black has been a flop for the past two years on a big salary. Veteran skilled midfielder Daniel Wells has hardly played for the last two years and his career is arguably at the crossroads.


What needs to change to progress further?

A) North still need greater leg speed in the midfield. We lack a skilled user of the ball who can transform a game with a few bounces and a long goal, such as Dangerfield, Shuey, Motlop… or Harley Bennell…

B) Our strong contested ball winners such as Jack Ziebell and Andrew Swallow need to improve their disposal, which means kicking less and handballing more, based on the Priddis/Mitchell model.

C) We would benefit from the addition of a precise kicker running the ball out of the back line such as Heath Shaw or Matt Suckling.


Our Starting 22 for 2016:

B: Hansen Tarrant MacMillan
HB: Atley Thompson Wright
C: Bennell Swallow Dal Santo
HF: Boomer Waite Higgins
F: Brown Petrie Thomas
R: Goldy Cunnington Ziebell
INT: Jacobs Dumont Wells* Garner


*Wells if fit, otherwise Turner or McDonald depending on injuries/form.


About Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes is an academic who follows AFL, soccer, tennis and cricket. He supported Fitzroy Football Club from 1970-1996, and on their death he adopted the North Melbourne Kangaroos as his new team. In his spare time, he occasionally writes about his current and past football teams.


  1. G’day Phil, I notice your earlier comments re Lindsay Thomas, though he’s picked in your 2016 side. One more year?


  2. We think it’s worth giving Thomas another go Glen.

    He should’ve been All-Australian in 2013, so his best is very good.

    He was hampered by injuries this year, so we’d give him one more chance, with Turner waiting in the wings.

  3. Must make decisions to either play daw, Mckenzie and black or trade them. I think they made a selection blunder in leaving nahas out of the second and third finals. His first game warranted further selection.
    Poor kicking for goal against west coast and some players went missing against the eagles. Coaching staff have to examine why that happened fairly closely. Must make top four if they want a genuine crack at the flag next year. Leaders of the team must be really strong and direct the team success. Need all leaders to step up further and be switched on from day one next year. This includes all coaching staff. We need to be very professional in all aspects from day one and challenge each other to improve. All players and staff have to be committed to improve or there will be no place for them. At North Melbourne. The coaching direction must be clear and all should embrace it and the rewards can be the ultimate. This team has the capacity, it just needs to have the commitment to reach greatness. They are close enough, just a five to ten percent improvement across the whole club and it can be done

  4. I’m with Paubai: the non-selection of Nahas for the second and third finals was mystifying. Especially given that it was subsequently announced that L Thomas had been playing with an injury. I cannot understand why there wasn’t more made of this: pick an injured player over another player who has been going ok? Thomas had a shocker of a season…cracked the shits over Higgins’ recruitment, maybe?
    The regression of McDonald after his stellar debut season was really disappointing, and a definite black mark against the development coach(es).
    I cannot see how Majak can be kept on the list. How many years does a player need?
    If they can get something for Black then trade him.
    Despite his ok form, I thought that Firitto might be moved on, but I was wrong. However, I fear that this (with Harvey, Petrie, Waite, Wells) leaves the list looking a little too old.
    However, the players who have moved on (Grima, Adams) and been moved on open up plenty of spots on the list.
    We have the best ruck man in the game, and some gun inside mids. desperately in need of outside RUN

  5. Thanks for the comments,

    I think we have to keep Daw or Currie as back up, perhaps Daw as he can sort of play forward at times.
    Black has been useless, hopefully we can get something for him in a trade.
    It’s probably time for Mckenzie to be delisted, although he might stay if Harper goes.
    I agree that Nahas should’ve played, especially considering Thomas’ injury. I think we’re better off with the youngsters in Turner and Garner in the future though.
    I also agree that we need outside run, I reckon it’s worth trying Atley on the wing next season.

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