Leigh Harding Tribute

As a North Melbourne supporter, I’m disgusted at the weight of publicity regarding Max Rooke’s retirement. No disrespect to Rooke intended, but on the same day, another player called it a day. And nothing has been made of it. Nothing at all. Once again, the journalists and news reporters around Australia think that reporting on something to do with the North Melbourne Football Club is not newsworthy, so they ignore it. Disgusting.

Recruited from Teesdale in Victoria, Leigh Harding moved to Geelong to play for the Cats’ VFL side, before he was picked up with pick 13 in the 2000 Rookie Draft by North Melbourne. A small forward pocket type, ‘Turtle’, as he was affectionately known by all of the Kangaroos’ faithful, made his debut late in the unsuccessful 2001 season against the Brisbane Lions. He managed another game before the end of the season, and showed enough for the Roos to promote him to the Senior List.

Harding exploded onto the AFL scene in the 2002 season, surprising many with 33.32, featuring in every game for the Roos and earning a career-high five Brownlow votes during a season. He kicked a career-high six goals against his former home club Geelong late in the season, but his accuracy was the main problem in his game, and he soon rectified that, booting 33.14 in the 2003 season from just 18 games, winning the leading goalkicker award for the club. Harding was starting to attract some of the AFL’s best small defenders, and provided a great foil for Saverio Rocca.

One of Harding’s most famous moments during his AFL career was during Round 11 of the ’03 season, when the Roos played Richmond at Etihad Stadium. With Jason McCartney making his much-publicised return to football after his horrific burns suffered in the Bali Bombings, Harding stepped up in the final moment of the game, gathering the ball in the goalsquare after McCartney dribbled it towards the goalmouth. Harding showed his poise under pressure, gathering it and throwing it onto the boot, giving North the lead, and the win, and the Kangaroos were able to celebrate the heroic victory for their mate McCartney thanks to Harding’s quick thinking in the heat of the moment.

Turtle went backwards in the 2004 season, playing just 12 games and kicking 16.13, while his defensive pressure had almost disappeared in his game, laying just six tackles in those dozen games, and he was keen to atone in the new year. Harding was given more of a role in the midfield, as well as up forward, and it resulted in an increase in his possession rate, while still maintaining success in front of the big sticks, but the year was unfortunately remembered by his consecutive blunders in the Round 15 match against West Coast. With the Eagles making their claim as the best team in the league, the Roos put up a good fight at Etihad Stadium, and had the chance to take the lead in the dying moments, with Harding gathering the ball just outside the goalsquare and about to shoot for an open goal. He missed the unmissable though, but found himself in the exact same position just moments later, but once again he sprayed his shot, costing the Roos victory as they went down by four points. This caused even more debate about his shakiness in front of goal, but he still finished the year on a creditable 18.16.

With the arrival of Nathan Thompson from Hawthorn, Harding started to lose the tag he would regularly get, and he was able to get off his leash in the forward line and win some of the footy around half forward. He eclipsed his best possession total in a season in 2006 with 218 while returning to some of his best form in the forward line, booting 22.18 in a terrible year for the Roos. Harding was a shining light though, but that light was about to be covered with a big dark cloud. A week before Round 22, Harding suffered a training mishap and tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament, and was forced to endure rehabilitation and the entire 2007 season was wiped out. Such a painful blow for an eager player approaching the peak of his career, and it was a major headache for the Roos as Nathan Thompson also suffered the same injury prior the start of the ’07 season, so the two main goalkickers for the Roos weren’t going to feature in what was going to be a make or break year for the North Melbourne Football Club with the mounting Gold Coast speculation.

As it turned out, Harding missed out on the Roos most successful season in his time, but was upbeat in his rehabilitation and was groomed for a new position running off of half back. Some thought it would be tough for Harding to regain his spot in the young side, but Dean Laidley kept the faith in him, and he missed just one game while averaging 15 disposals a game and kicking 14.4. Harding had well and truly cemented his position in the side, and he was becoming a fan favourite again. 2009 was his career-best season. He didn’t miss a beat in the pre-season, and impressed many with his increased vigour at the ball and at the man, averaging 17.3 possessions and three tackles a game. He also kicked 17.5, and his accuracy problems were well-forgotten. His season was cut short in Round 18 against Carlton, a game in which he was threatening to tear apart with three goals before half time.

With a new batch of youngsters in the side and a new coach, Harding found himself on the outer in 2010, with his spot taken by the likes of Sam Wright and Cruize Garlett. He managed just a handful of games in the first half of the season, but still showed he can bust a game wide open with his goalkicking ability mixed with his pace and possession rate, with 16 touches and a couple of goals against Adelaide in Round 8. He was cut from the Round 10 team that got thrashed by the Fremantle Dockers, and didn’t appear again until Round 17 against Essendon after the Roos were hit by injuries to many of the senior players. He showed enough to keep his spot, and played a ripper against Fremantle in Round 19 with 25 possessions, nine marks and three tackles, and he featured in the last game of the season against Melbourne at the MCG, celebrating close mate Brent Harvey’s 301st game. Sadly, it ended badly for Turtle, suffering broken ribs in a marking contest where his courage was for all to see. He celebrated the win from the hospital, and pulled the pin on his illustrious but sometimes-maligned career on the 13th of October after accepting his life membership award at the Syd Barker Medal event. He played 141 games and kicked 157 goals. He said he didn’t want to get in the way of the younger Roos coming through, “I feel like it’s time to step aside and give the younger guys at the club some more opportunities.” Full of class, right to the end.

We’ll miss you Turtle.

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.


  1. Hey Josh,
    Great stuff as always. And I fully understand the sentiment.
    However, I must admit that Harding was not one of my favorite players at North. But I do admit that he re-invented himself as a running half-back in the latter stages of his career.
    Darren D

  2. Thanks Darren,
    I understand, Harding was never one of my favourites, I just enjoyed what he offered to the club, after all, he’s one of the few remaining players we have left from the early noughties.

    Sam Wright definitely took his spot this year, someone I was quite pleased in. Wright offers a lot more.

Leave a Comment