FOR THE past nine months, the third quarter of North Melbourne's preliminary final loss has been front of mind.

It's the 15 minutes that has taught the Kangaroos how to close the gap on the 'big three' clubs: Adelaide; Brisbane; and Melbourne.  

Travelling the long way through the finals series after finishing eighth on the ladder, the Roos were pushing eventual premiers Melbourne in the preliminary final. They sent the ball inside 50 a whopping 18 times for the quarter, applying serious pressure to the best defence in the competition, but were able to score just two points.

The Demons would go on to kick two goals in the final quarter to proceed to the Grand Final, ending North Melbourne's run. 


It’s a position of which head coach Darren Crocker is well aware, encouraged at what last year showed and knowing what needs to change to get to that next level.  

"I felt like last season we actually started to narrow that gap," Crocker said.

"We made a prelim. I know those three teams beat us in the home and away, but Melbourne beat us by two points at the MCG. We were well in the game against Adelaide until three-quarter-time and then Brisbane, all the numbers would have suggested that we win that game.  

"(Brisbane coach) Craig Starcevich said to me afterwards, he said, 'I don't know how we got that one off you.'" 


That quarter also burns in the mind of inaugural Roo Emma King who, after the first two AFLW seasons with Collingwood, moved to North Melbourne during the first expansion phase.

"We were only one game off last year and I think arguably we'd say that we lost that in the third quarter," King said.

"We didn't take our opportunities when we had them, so I think we weren't far off and I think we've gone in the right direction to make sure that we are going to get to that last game."

No 'backwards to go forwards': How Roos harnessed momentum 

Across the two seasons last year, North Melbourne debuted 12 players – including former Bulldog Kim Rennie – eight of whom are active for the Roos this year. 

New faces in 2022 

Player (debut season) 

Where are they this season? 

Tess Craven (S6) 

North Melbourne, active 

Jasmine Ferguson (S6) 

North Melbourne, active 

Alexia Hamilton (S6) 

Sydney, active 

Kim Rennie (North Melbourne debut S6) 

North Melbourne, active 

Hannah Bowey (S7) 

North Melbourne, active 

Taylah Gatt (S7) 

North Melbourne, active 

Charli Granville (S7) 

North Melbourne, active 

Sophia McCarthy (S7) 

North Melbourne, active 

Erika O'Shea (S7) 

North Melbourne, active 

Zoe Savarirayan (S7) 

North Melbourne, inactive 

Vikki Wall (S7) 

North Melbourne, inactive 

Ella Maurer (S7) 

Gold Coast, active 


Despite turning over almost half the list, the club has retained seven "staple" players according to King. 

"The players that have stayed, they're staple players. I think there's only seven of us from the first year of North Melbourne, but over the years, maybe it's a cultural shift but the girls that have come in, it's just been a seamless change," King said. 

"We haven't really found that we've had to go backwards to go forwards." 

Inaugural Roos remaining in 2023 

Nicole Bresnehan 

Jenna Bruton 

Jasmine Garner 

Emma Kearney 

Emma King 

Tahlia Randall 

Ashleigh Riddell 


Crocker, who took the reins at the Kangaroos in 2021, has made a concerted effort to add depth to the club's list, something he believed was missing when he arrived. 

"When I first took over, everyone spoke about what a talented list North Melbourne had. And I think people got caught up in the fact that we had some really good top end talent… But I felt like we fell away pretty quickly after that in regards to our depth, and just having players who are real genuine role players," Crocker said. 

"I looked at those other teams like Adelaide and Brisbane at the time, who were probably the two benchmarks when I first came in, and now you throw Melbourne into that mix as well and Melbourne have probably transitioned their list over the last few years by bringing in girls like Maddi Gay and Eliza West, and a few others that have been able to come in and play really important roles for them. So, I felt that we needed to do that." 


With that depth a focus of the last year, somewhat fast-tracked by two seasons in 2022, this off season has more been about recruiting specific players to fill certain roles. 

Key forward and reigning St Kilda best-and-fairest Kate Shierlaw comes into the forward line, while Lucinda Pullar and Eliza Shannon have also been added on other lines. 

North Melbourne's off-season changes 



Kate Shierlaw (traded from St Kilda) 

Sophie Abbatangelo (delisted) 

Eliza Shannon (traded from Hawthorn) 

Grace Matser (delisted) 

Lucinda Pullar (traded from Brisbane) 

Brooke Brown (PSP to Essendon) 

Liz McGrath (delisted free agent) 

Grace Campbell (traded to Collingwood) 

Ruby Tripodi (draft) 

Ella Maurer (traded to Gold Coast) 

Lucy Burke (inactive replacement) 

Perri King (delisted) 

Ailish Considine (inactive replacement) 

Danielle Hardiman (retired) 


A tall order: How will the Roos use height?

Already armed with key forward Tahlia Randall, former All-Australian ruck/forward King, and ruck Kim Rennie, the Roos have added both Shierlaw and developing ruck Liz McGrath this year. 

How they all fit together is arguably the biggest question looming over the Roos as round one approaches, but each player's capabilities are complementary of one-another. 

Shierlaw's ability to start inside 50 and roam high up the ground to provide an outlet mark is enticing, while Randall looks more at home deep in the forward line. King offers another marking target inside 50 and Rennie is more than capable of taking on the bulk of the ruck duties. 

"Especially now with the capping of rotations… I think there were times last year when we actually played Tahlia for too long as a forward, and Tahlia's great asset is that power and speed," Crocker said.  

"She loses a lot of that if she's out there for too long and we start tapping into too much of her endurance. So, to be able to play her in shorter bursts where you can maintain her power and speed and strength, I think will be beneficial, and I think Kate coming to the club will allow us to do that more." 


Healthy competition for spots will also work in the Roos' favour, with teammates always pushing others to be better. 

For King, who was named the All-Australian ruck in 2017 and 2019, the forward line has now become her home. 

"If you asked me a couple of years ago, it would have been the ruck," King said.  

"But I think we've built such a strong bond in the forward line, and just towards the end of last year, I think you could see that we were really linking up with our mids well, and we just had a nice structure going. And we've built on that again this year. So, I have to say, probably forward now, but that's probably because I spend most of my time there." 

And if the side's practice match against the Western Bulldogs is anything to go by, the combination has the potential to do some real damage, with the forward trio combining for five goals. 

Also set to benefit from such strong aerial targets are North Melbourne's small forwards working at ground level. Alice O'Loughlin, who kicked a career-best eight goals last season, is particularly looking forward to working at their feet. 

"Having so many talls down forward, like Emma King and Tahlia Randall and now Kate Shierlaw, it will be incredible for a small forward like me and the rest of us," O'Loughlin said. 

With all the assets at their disposal, the only thing left for the Kangaroos is to make it count on the scoreboard consistently throughout this season. They are primed for a strong start, too, with home games against St Kilda and Carlton to open the season. 

If they can harness that momentum, then it really will be the year of the Roo.