Alastair Clarkson and Luke McDonald after North Melbourne's loss to Melbourne in R7, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Ins and outs


Wil Dawson (No.22 draft pick), Zane Duursma (No.4 draft pick), Zac Fisher (trade, Carlton), Taylor Goad (No.20 draft pick), Riley Hardeman (No.23 draft pick), Finnbar Maley (Rookie Draft), Colby McKercher (No.2 draft pick), Bigoa Nyuon (trade, Richmond), Toby Pink (delisted free agent), Dylan Stephens (trade, Sydney)


Aiden Bonar (delisted), Ben Cunnington (retired), Jacob Edwards (delisted), Todd Goldstein (free agent, Essendon), Aaron Hall (retired), Daniel Howe (retired), Jack Mahony (delisted), Ben McKay (free agent, Essendon), Flynn Perez (delisted), Phoenix Spicer (delisted), Kayne Turner (delisted), Lachie Young (delisted), Jack Ziebell (retired)

Medical room

Co-captain Luke McDonald (hamstring) is back in training after going under the knife at the end of last season, while big man Tristan Xerri has also returned from cheekbone surgery. Zac Fisher (hamstring), Aidan Corr and Eddie Ford (both ankle) are regaining fitness, with Jackson Archer (groin) on light duties. Important wingman Bailey Scott suffered a calf scare, although it shouldn't keep him sidelined for long as scans revealed it was a low-grade strain. Griffin Logue continues his ACL recovery, while the untried but much-hyped Brayden George finally looks set for an injury-free campaign.

Luke McDonald and George Wardlaw at North Melbourne training on January 26, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Three burning questions

How will the defence hold up?
Ben McKay left for Essendon and Griffin Logue (ACL) will miss much of the season, leaving the backline vulnerable. Aidan Corr is the only other key defender with considerable experience but is battling an injury-interrupted pre-season. Luckless forward Charlie Comben is on a mission to convert into an intercepting beast, while Kallan Dawson and recruits Toby Pink and Bigoa Nyoun are stopgap options. However, that quartet is alarmingly unseasoned with a combined games tally of just 15.

Who will stand up to lead League's youngest list?
When Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and Todd Goldstein all departed at the end of 2023, they took 833 games of experience with them and the Roos' average games played is now less than 50. It heaps pressure on co-captains Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin, as well as the likes of Nick Larkey, Cam Zurhaar and Luke Davies-Uniacke, who are now the team's senior figures. Expect triple-premiership player and former Hawk Liam Shiels, 32, to step in and play a role at some stage as the young midfield finds its feet.

Can Will Phillips and Tom Powell deliver breakout seasons?
They've had four different head coaches since they were drafted at the end of 2020, so it is perhaps unfair to compare the development of Phillips and Powell with fellow first-round picks who have enjoyed stability at other clubs. But at some stage, it will be make or break. Both are out of contract at the end of 2024 and will be looking to deliver on their enormous promise this year.

Will Phillips at North Melbourne training on November 17, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Track watch

It's not uncommon for fringe players to stand out in the pre-season as they vie for spots, but Darcy Tucker and Kallan Dawson have both been praised by teammates numerous times. Dawson was dubbed a "rock down back" by Harry Sheezel, and could provide an early-season boost given North's dearth of experienced defenders. Draftees Colby McKercher (pick two) and Zane Duursma (pick four) are providing renewed hope and hype as they push for round one debuts.

Fantasy lock

When it comes to Fantasy, you don't want a ruck sharing the role with others. This was the case for Tristan Xerri (RUC, $580,000) last season, but with Todd Goldstein moving to Essendon, Xerri finally has his opportunity. In 2022, he started the first six games as the No.1 ruckman and during this time he averaged 74, before North Melbourne handed the reins back to Goldstein. Last season in rounds 17 and 18 with Goldstein on the sidelines, Xerri dominated with a season-high 110 and 74 respectively.

Tristan Xerri warms up ahead of the match between St Kilda and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Instant hit

Top draftees Colby McKercher and Zane Duursma will be hoping to emulate the first-year success of dynamite duo Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw, who gave North fans something to cheer about during another grim season. The speedy McKercher appears a lock to dash off half-back and potentially run through the midfield from round one. Duursma has been snagging goals in match simulation and is set to present a dynamic option forward, providing Nick Larkey some much-needed support.

It's a big year for ...

A destructive player at his best, big-fish free agent Cam Zurhaar will attract plenty of rival interest at the end of the year. Fans have long hoped Zurhaar, 25, would turn into a Jordan De Goey/Christian Petracca clone who can provide midfield crash-and-bash in bursts and drift forward to boot goals. He was trialled in that role at times last year and compiled four 20-plus disposal games, a feat he only achieved twice previously. In a press conference last week, he hinted he would be used in that role more often in 2024.

Cam Zurhaar at North Melbourne training on January 26, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Pass mark

North's win-loss tally was again miserable in 2023 at 3-20, albeit a percentage increase of 15.7 on 2022 indicates improved competitiveness. They go into 2024 the least experienced list in the competition but brimming with talent through the midfield, so it's time to target 5-6 wins while limiting blowout losses – there were still five 10-goal-plus drubbings in 2023.

Best 23 for 2024

B: Aidan Corr, Griffin Logue, Luke McDonald
HB: Harry Sheezel, Charlie Comben, Zac Fisher
C: Bailey Scott, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Dylan Stephens
HF: Zane Duursma, Cam Zurhaar, Tarryn Thomas
F: Jaidyn Stephenson, Nick Larkey, Paul Curtis
Foll: Tristan Xerri, Jy Simpkin, George Wardlaw
I/C: Colby McKercher, Will Phillips, Eddie Ford, Callum Coleman-Jones, Josh Goater (sub)

Emerg: Darcy Tucker, Tom Powell, Brayden George