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Season review: North Melbourne

Roo forward needs to stop teasing us What went right and what went wrong for North Melbourne in The Wash-Up

In a nutshell

Started poorly with a loss to Gold Coast in Cairns, but six wins in eight matches – including over Hawthorn, Sydney and GWS – placed the Roos in the finals mix at the midway point. A costly third-quarter fadeout against the Bulldogs then a narrow loss to Adelaide were the nails in their season's coffin.

What we said in the pre-season 

Many AFL.com.au journalists predicted the Kangaroos to finish last on the ladder, or at least be nestled in the bottom four. It was crunch time for Jed Anderson and the question was posed whether Majak Daw could rejuvenate his career as a defender after spending time there in the pre-season. A pass mark was considered if North's young guns continued to develop and it posted between six and eight wins – both of which were comfortably ticked off.


Have your say: Give your season verdict on the Kangaroos using the form at the bottom of this article.


What worked

The bold Anderson call
Some eyebrows were raised when the Roos selected Jed Anderson to play in round one off just one pre-season VFL hit-out, after pre-Christmas thumb surgery. Anderson repaid the faith in a breakout campaign that saved his AFL career.

Daw the defender
Not even Brad Scott could have imagined this move paying off so handsomely. Daw was naturally shaky early, but his intercept marking made him a weapon by season's end.

Ziebell going forward
Jack Ziebell always loomed as a damaging forward, but North needed him in the midfield until now. The re-emergence of Jed Anderson and Ben Jacobs, Jy Simpkin's steady improvement, and the addition of Paul Ahern changed that. Ziebell responded with a career-best 35 goals – almost double his previous best.

What failed

The handling of Preuss
Todd Goldstein returned to somewhere near his best form and didn't miss a game, meaning his ruck understudy Braydon Preuss was left to dominate the VFL. Preuss played eight matches last year, but now seems set to walk out of Arden St despite being under contract.

Not getting games into Durdin and McKay
Two of North's emerging key-position prospects, Sam Durdin and Ben McKay, played a combined one senior game between them in 2018. They are best suited in defence but are stuck behind veterans Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson. Majak Daw's successful switch into the backline hurt Durdin's and McKay's prospects.

McDonald's positioning
Luke McDonald's impressive 2017 campaign at half-back – where he averaged 21 disposals, laid 4.3 tackles and ranked in the top 20 for metres gained (452.5) – had him earmarked for the midfield this year. He spent time on the wing, but mostly stayed in defence and regressed in almost all key statistics.

Ben McKay and Sam Durdin have found senior opportunities hard to come by. Picture: AFL Photos

Overall rating

B.

Made a mockery of the pre-season doom, but they still missed finals and have decisions to make with their list.

The coach

Brad Scott, who is contracted until 2020, would have been a coach of the year contender if he guided North Melbourne into the finals after his side was a popular pre-season wooden spoon pick. It was still a strong achievement to steer the Roos into ninth place, and his big challenge is to make them bona fide flag contenders.

The leaders 

Captain Jack Ziebell's courage and leadership were never in question and his ability to play a new, predominantly forward role showed his willingness to sacrifice for the team's good. Vice-captain Robbie Tarrant was excellent again, while fellow leadership group members Shaun Higgins and Jamie Macmillan led from the front with their actions.

MVP

Shaun Higgins: The midfield maestro set career highs in kicks (14.1), handballs (13.3), disposals (27.4), contested possessions (10.6), inside 50s (5.9) and clearances (5.1) on his way to a deserved first Virgin Australian AFL All Australian selection.

Surprise packet

Majak Daw: This could easily have been Jed Anderson, but Daw's ability to transform into a defender after spending his previous eight seasons as a forward-ruck was remarkable. He improved the longer the season went and ranked 10th in intercept marks among those who played double-digit games.

Get excited

Paul Ahern: Had to wait until his fourth season to make his AFL debut after overcoming two knee reconstructions, but was an instant hit with 29 disposals and five clearances. Ahern made 11 senior appearances in total, including a 37-possession explosion against West Coast in round 19.

Disappointment

Taylor Garner: Garner's injury torment reared its ugly head again this year after his breakout 2017 campaign. The high-flying forward suffered repeat hamstring setbacks – a long-time problem of his – and failed to add to his 34 games, which stretch across six seasons.

Best win

Round 19: North Melbourne 12.9 (81) d West Coast 6.5 (41)

The Roos were fresh from a 66-point hiding from Collingwood and were written off as a finals contender in its wake. But they responded with a 40-point triumph of their own over West Coast at their Hobart haven.

Best individual performance

Ben Cunnington. Round 8 v Richmond

North's midfield bulldozer is known for being a beast in the clinches, but enhanced his reputation with a record-obliterating 32 contested possessions against the Tigers. Patrick Dangerfield and Josh Kennedy co-owned the previous mark of 29.

Low point

The "horror 30 minutes", as coach Brad Scott described them, in the costly third quarter against the Western Bulldogs in round 21. North held a 28-point half-time lead, but gave up eight goals to two in the third term and eventually lost by seven points.

The big questions

Can the Roos secure a major trade and free agency haul, including any combination of Jared Polec, Andrew Gaff and Aaron Hall?

How can North find a way to get first-round picks Ben McKay and Sam Durdin more involved at senior level in 2019?

Will Mason Wood finally get his body right and live up to his potential as Ben Brown's forward sidekick, now that Jarrad Waite has retired?

Season in a song

Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar

Who's done?

Jarrad Waite called time on his 17-season career, which started at Carlton before a quality chapter at the Roos. He booted 125 goals from 60 games for North, giving him 377 from 244 in total.

Delistings: Billy Hartung, Mitch Hibberd, Dan Nielson, Josh Williams, Tom Jeffries, Oscar Junker and Gordon Narrier.

Unsigned free agents: Scott Thompson and Sam Wright

How should they approach trade and draft period?

Aggressively. The Roos have cash to splash and seem certain to lure speedster Jared Polec from Port Adelaide, although St Kilda is making a late play. They appear the biggest threat to West Coast retaining Andrew Gaff and are also linked to Gold Coast's Aaron Hall. Ruckman Braydon Preuss is exploring his options, too, including a potential move to Melbourne.

Early call for 2019

So much depends on how this year's player movement period goes for North, but either way making finals should be the goal after exceeding expectations in 2018.

North fans: what's your season verdict?

Share your views via the form below and we'll publish the best responses on Sunday, September 16. 

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