Colby McKercher in action during match simulation between Collingwood and North Melbourne at AIA Centre on February 21, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

PRIZED North Melbourne pick Colby McKercher showed why he is one of the leading contenders for this year's Rising Star award, while All-Australian forward Nick Larkey booted five goals in an impressive 34-point win over Collingwood on Wednesday.

After booting 71 goals last year to earn his maiden All-Australian blazer, Larkey feasted on quality supply in the searing February heat, booting three goals by half-time and finishing with five goals in an early reminder that he will challenge for this year's Coleman Medal. 


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McKercher impressed off half-back for the Kangaroos, flaunting his deft left foot and smart decision-making while playing alongside reigning Ron Evans medallist Harry Sheezel and off-season signing Zac Fisher, finishing with a stack of disposals in the 15.12 (102) to 10.8 (68) victory in a match simulation hitout at the AIA Centre.


The Kangaroos haven't won more than four games in a season since 2019 and haven't finished above 17th spot in that time, but Alastair Clarkson's men showed clear signs of growth across four 25-minute quarters in searing heat.

While Zane Duursma didn't feature due to a minor knee injury, North Melbourne's other Rising Star contender – 2022 pick No.4 George Wardlaw – stood out in the first half before being put on ice at half-time, completing a running block with former Blue Fisher during the break. 


Sheezel became the first player to win a best and fairest in a debut season since Darren Mead won Port Adelaide's in 1997 at the age of 26, and looks primed to rise to another level this year after producing a monster performance against the Magpies, clearly amassing more leather than anyone else on Olympic Park.

Former top-five pick Dylan Stephens made an instant impact on the wing and looks set to make the most of a fresh start at Arden Street after moving from Sydney during last October's trade period. 

Tristan Xerri performed strongly against Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox to be the standout ruckman on the ground, overcoming facial surgery last month to show he is finally read to take the No.1 spot at North Melbourne, following the departure of Todd Goldstein last October. 

With Griffin Logue ruled out for most of 2024 and Aidan Corr battling an ankle injury over the summer, the Kangaroos took a decent look at new key defenders Toby Pink and Bigoa Nyuon at Olympic Park. Kallan Dawson also featured and is another option down back. 


Only 12 of the 23 who played in Collingwood's Grand Final win over Brisbane last September featured on Wednesday, with most players on managed minutes. Veterans Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe and Brody Mihocek all didn't play, but are expected to feature against Richmond next week. 

Jordan De Goey and Isaac Quaynor were dominant across the first half before sitting out the second half, alongside Josh Daicos who put a frustrating start to the year behind him by showing no signs of the calf concern that has limited his training load in 2024. The reigning Copeland Trophy winner is expected to play a full game next week ahead of Collingwood's season-opener against Greater Western Sydney on March 9. 

Craig McRae has spent the summer looking at options to replace Dan McStay inside 50 this year after the key forward ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament at the start of December. Reef McInnes kicked a couple of first-quarter goals and had some decent moments, but Ash Johnson was the pick of the forwards fighting for that spot, hitting the scoreboard with a couple of goals and a handful of strong grabs. 

Ash Johnson marks the ball during a match simulation hitout between Collingwood and North Melbourne at AIA Centre on February 21, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Patrick Lipinski also banked a strong block before half-time, kicking two goals to continue his strong pre-season form after his 2023 campaign was impacted by two shoulder reconstructions.

After being signed via the pre-season supplemental selection period last Thursday, former Footscray captain Lachie Sullivan entered the game at the start of the third quarter and picked up the pace straight away. The 26-year-old midfielder is expected to get greater opportunity against Richmond next Tuesday night and if he performs again, will give the match committee plenty to think about early in the season, perhaps even as early as Opening Round. 

With Nathan Murphy sidelined right now and without a return date at this point, untried key defender Charlie Dean played alongside Billy Frampton and will be an option for Collingwood to consider after spending almost all of his first two seasons at the AIA Centre on the sidelines. 


Young guns

Tew Jiath produced a handful of eye-catching moments in the second half. Fin Macrae was quieter than last Wednesday night's intraclub but still had some good patches as he hunts a spot in Collingwood's best 23. Reef McInnes remains in the hunt for Dan McStay's spot after kicking a couple of goals. Harry Sheezel and Colby McKercher dictated traffic from half-back and look set to have a big say in how North Melbourne performs in 2024. George Wardlaw played the first half and did what he did last year. Riley Hardeman was impressive in the second half. 


Switching positions

Beau McCreery has spent the summer playing in the midfield and spent most of Wednesday in the role, after making his name as a pressure forward across the past two years. The premiership player will provide the Magpies with a spark in the centre square this year if he continues to get opportunities in the middle. 

Injury watch

Jy Simpkin came from the ground in the second quarter with a finger concern but played out the game. Zac Fisher played managed minutes after recovering from pre-season hamstring setbacks. Brayden George didn't feature despite returning to full fitness, with the Kangaroos wanting to build his match fitness after a tough injury run. Charlie Comben was named in the squad but didn't play due to foot soreness. Will Hoskin-Elliott came from the ground after a knock and didn't return as a precautionary. Josh Daicos played the first quarter and first rotation of the second quarter as planned as he builds up his fitness after a calf injury. 

Fantasy tempters

Harry Sheezel (DEF, $878,000) looks set to pick up where he left off last year when he won the best and fairest in his first season. The 2023 Rising Star winner dominated on Wednesday, amassing 30+ disposals across half-back, while linking up with young gun Colby McKercher (MID, $297,000), who looks set to slot straight into North Melbourne’s best 22 and feature prominently. Dylan Stephens (MID, $496,000) found plenty of the ball on the wing and Tom Powell (FWD, $518,000) was impressive, while Tristan Xerri (RUC, $580,000) won the ruck battle.

Tristan Xerri soars over Darcy Cameron during the match simulation between North Melbourne and Collingwood at AIA Centre on February 21, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

COLLINGWOOD  6.4   6.5   8.6   10.8  (68)
NORTH MELBOURNE    4.4   9.6   13.8   15.12  (102)

Collingwood: McInnes 3, Johnson 3, Schultz, Lipinski, Hill, Macrae
North Melbourne: Larkey 5, Curtis 3, Stephenson 2, Drury, Hansen jnr, Harvey, Stephens, Zurhaar


1. Patrick Lipinski, 2. Jordan De Goey, 3. Isaac Quaynor, 7. Josh Daicos, 8. Lachie Schultz, 9. John Noble, 12. Josh Carmichael, 14. Darcy Cameron, 15. Nathan Kreuger, 16. Ed Allan, 17. Billy Frampton, 18. Finlay Macrae, 19. Tew Jiath, 23. Bobby Hill, 24. Jakob Ryan, 26. Reef McInnes, 27. Jack Bytel, 29. Joe Richards, 31. Beau McCreery, 32. Will Hoskin-Elliott, 33. Lachie Sullivan, 35. Nick Daicos, 36. Harvey Harrison, 37. Oleg Markov, 40. Ash Johnson, 43. Charlie Dean, 44. Oscar Steene, 46. Mason Cox

Notable absentees: Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe, Jack Crisp, Tom Mitchell, Brayden Maynard, Jamie Elliott, Dan McStay, Darcy Moore, Brody Mihocek, Nathan Murphy


2. Jaidyn Stephenson, 3. Harry Sheezel, 6. George Wardlaw, 9. Luke Davies-Uniacke, 10. Colby McKercher, 12. Jy Simpkin, 14. Liam Shiels, 15. Dylan Stephens, 16. Zac Fisher, 17. Riley Hardeman, 20. Nick Larkey, 21. Callum Coleman-Jones, 24. Tom Powell, 25. Paul Curtis, 27. Miller Bergman, 28. Bigoa Nyuon, 29. Will Phillips, 31. Josh Goater, 32. Toby Pink, 35. Charlie Lazzaro, 37. Cooper Harvey, 38. Tristan Xerri, 41. Blake Drury, 42. Kallan Dawson, 44. Cam Zurhaar, 46. Robert Hansen jnr

Notable absentees: Luke McDonald, Aidan Corr, Darcy Tucker, Hugh Greenwood, Griffin Logue, Bailey Scott, Tarryn Thomas, Curtis Taylor, Charlie Comben, Zane Duursma