Scott Pendlebury celebrates a goal during Collingwood's win over Brisbane in the 2023 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

NORTH Melbourne hasn't been able to get near creating a successful culture in the past eight disastrous seasons, and now has no choice but to buy it.

It presents perfectly in the form of Scott Pendlebury. A deal to play for one season, maybe two, effectively as an on-field coach, and a commitment, if requested, beyond that to fast-track coaching credentials under one of the greatest of all time, Alastair Clarkson.

The AFL itself should encourage the plan, maybe even help facilitate it, as it can only offer so many national draft compensation packages.


But without the injection of someone of Pendlebury's calibre into North Melbourne's very broken football operations, the Kangaroos will continue to be not merely an embarrassment but a spectacle drain on the entire competition.

Pendlebury has unfinished business with Collingwood in 2024, his 19th season, hoping to add a second consecutive and third overall Magpies premiership to a CV which is now 10 games short of a magical 400.

He will be 37 in January. So what? Eight matches ago, he played one of the finest final quarters in Grand Final history. In 2024, he's clearly not at peak agility nor impact, but he is still very, very good, and better than most.

Scott Pendlebury in action during the Anzac Day match between Collingwood and Essendon in round seven, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

A role across half-back at North Melbourne, which would be made more appealing if another aged-but-still-very-good veteran came with him, would be of immeasurable benefit to a young playing list getting belted every match.

If Pendlebury said no, Travis Boak and Callan Ward should be considered. If he said yes, they should be considered anyway. Any two of that trio would work better than one operating solo. Standards on the training track and, more importantly, game day would be lifted ten-fold.

Imagine the benefits of having Pendlebury, and/or Boak/Ward playing and teaching alongside North's first and second-year players, including Harry Sheezel, George Wardlaw, Colby McKercher and Zane Duursma. Ponder the positives for the more seasoned but demoralised Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin and Bailey Scott. Consider the effect on Nick Larkey, who somehow kicked 71 goals last year in a three-win season.


There would be zero negatives attached to Pendlebury playing for North in 2025, even if he demanded $1.3 million-plus to do so.

North is paying minimum requirements on total player payments in 2023. It has money to burn. But in its current state, no one of any quality in the prime age zone wants to go near the club, given its deplorable formline, which has seen it win just 12 of 91 matches since the start of 2020.

A commitment from Pendlebury would assist player recruiting drives, as very few players currently on any AFL list boast the respect commanded by the Collingwood champion.

I'd be highly surprised if a pitch hadn't already been made to Pendlebury, at least to people around him, at some stage of the past 18 months. North went for a Pendlebury-lite plan when it added Liam Shiels to its list for 2023, so the club would be clearly open to the idea. Shiels is still rookie-listed this season, and while he has been valuable off-field, not surprisingly he has struggled with form.

Liam Shiels and Alastair Clarkson after the R1 match between North Melbourne and West Coast at Marvel Stadium on March 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Of course, Pendlebury, Boak and Ward may have no initial interest in playing for the Roos in their rabble state. But at one stage, Leigh Matthews had no interest in coaching the Brisbane Lions at the end of 1998. Before him, Ron Barassi had major reservations about going to North at the end of 1972. Some of the most successful and rewarding partnerships have started with resistance.

Those who have read my views on of North Melbourne's self-inflicted demise into mediocrity would be aware I have always traced it back to the dreadfully managed sacking of club games record holder Brent Harvey, along with Nick Dal Santo, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito during 2016. That was a season which for North had followed two consecutive preliminary finals and had begun with a 10-1 scoreline, and one which, out of nowhere, produced the Western Bulldogs as premier.

At the end of 2017, president Ben Buckley and his off-sider Glenn Archer drove a decision to recontract Brad Scott as coach for 2018-20. But they then changed their mind on him, and effectively sacked him halfway through that deal, replaced Scott with Rhyce Shaw, then after one season replaced Shaw with David Noble, who lasted half a season longer than Shaw. Buckley and Archer then disappeared from North operations, eventually leaving Sonja Hood and Jen Watt to clean up an almighty mess.

CEO Jen Watt and president Sonja Hood at a North Melbourne press conference on May 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson has been in charge since the start of 2023 (he missed 10 matches when he took personal leave mid-2023). After two consecutive wins to begin the Clarkson stint, the Roos have lost 27 of 28 matches, including all seven this year. There is nothing to suggest that rock bottom has yet been hit.

Five best-and-fairests at Collingwood (as well as nine placings in that award) and six All-Australian nominations are already part of the Pendlebury story. He has nothing left to prove, and nothing he does from here will adversely alter his legacy. Playing a key role in the fixing of North Melbourne would only enhance it.

X: @barrettdamian