My 2015 bottom six north players revisited

At the beginning of the season I had a look at six fringe players whose performance could shape North’s season. With another preliminary final loss in the books, how did they go?

Ryan Bastinac I accused of being something of a cruiser. My hope was that his relegation to the sub role in the finals might put a rocket up him. In the end his 2015 mirrored his 2014: some good performances sprinkled among the so-so ones, a mid-year stint in the VFL, and ultimately dropped for the finals. As a 100-game player under 25 (121 games), he’s in the company of Dyson Heppell (106), Steele Sidebottom (143), Nat Fyfe (112), Tom Scully (103), Mitch Duncan (111), Jack Gunston (103), Jack Watts, (115), Shaun Atley (109), Ben Cunnington (123), Jack Ziebell (124), Port’s Jackson Trengove (113), Dustin Martin (131), Luke Parker (101), Dan Hannebery (144), Jack Darling (105), and Andrew Gaff (110).

As much as I like to bag Heppell for being overrated thanks to his hairdo, perhaps only Watts and Trent McKenzie (23, 92 games) rival Bastinac for underachievement at a similar stage of their careers.

It was all summed up for me in the Resting Nine game against Richmond. Without Swallow, Cunnington and Dal Santo, the four “senior” midfielders were Ziebell, Basti, Jacobs and Gibson. Time for someone to stand up and play like a senior midfielder, right? Nope. 18 disposals, a couple of tackles, a couple of marks, a goal. Bog average game from a bog average player. Looking for all the world like someone in need of a change of scenery.

Leigh Adams faced ongoing concussion issues and increased competition for his spot. Sadly, a concussion in the pre-season and another in the VFL put an end to his career. Brave to the end, he called time and saw out the season as an assistant forward line coach. Honestly I’m more relieved than anything that he got out while he could, and the combination of Higgins, Turner and (finally!) Garner more than covered his absence. Best of luck with everything Patch.

Ben Jacobs’ season started as the previous one had finished: on the fringes, not quite finding a role that suited him, trying too hard to impress every week. It all turned around when in Brad Scott’s absence, Darren Crocker sent him to tag Dan Hannebery. In his first crack at the job he quelled Hannebery’s influence and went from strength to strength, culminating in a complete blanketing of Trent Cotchin and more than serviceable jobs on Hannebery and Shuey in the finals.

Hopefully Jacobs’ progression will follow the likes of Liam Picken and Cameron Ling, who used their tagging stints as a midfield education, and with the confidence he’s gained from it he’ll become a damaging player in his own right.

Pass. BJ’s development had a positive impact on North’s season.

Brad McKenzie, in his fourth year at the club, knuckled down, worked with the coaches and sports science guys on his running mechanics to add a bit of speed, focused on adding a contested element to round out his overall game, worked hard from arc to arc, continued to be a first-rate user of the ball, and was rewarded in the back half of the season with a 6-8 week stretch of impressive all-round numbers …

… in the VFL, while the seniors were putting together a 7-game winning streak.

He played as one of The Nine in round 23, and had a more than serviceable game, reproducing the inside-outside game he’d developed in the twos. I’d love to see him stay and get a real crack next year. No idea what the club has in mind for him, nor whether he might think better opportunities await elsewhere.

Trent Dumont had quite the debut, setting up one goal and kicking another after coming on as sub at Kardinia Park. He’ll be one player grateful to see the end of the sub rule next year, having had the green vest in 5 of his 8 games.

Without setting the world on fire he looked good when he got the chance and will no doubt progress with more opportunities next year, and along with McKenzie looks like he will make Bastinac dispensable.

Shaun Higgins was a revelation, revelling in his change of scenery to have possibly his best season, and certainly his best since 2009. Career highs in kicks, handballs, goals and tackles, and a spot in the extended All-Australian squad. Classy as we all expected ranging through the midfield and half forward, and harder than we gave him credit for. The gains North saw in class more than offset the loss of grunt when Greenwood moved on (not that it was ever a choice between them, yada yada yada). Love him already.


So all in all a mixed bag for the half dozen guys striving to turn the fringes of North’s best 22 into a strength. Probably only 2 of the 6 outperformed reasonable expectations. Given that they finished with a preliminary final loss again, goes to show how important it is to get improvement from that end of the list if the team wants to improve.

Leave a Comment