Jy Simpkin celebrates during the round 12 match between West Coast and North Melbourne at Optus Stadium on June 8, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

NORTH Melbourne has won its first game of the season in thrilling circumstances, with co-captain Jy Simpkin wrenching back the lead late to help seal a nine-point win in an Optus Stadium ambush that was laced with controversy. 

The Kangaroos looked destined for heartbreak after letting a 33-point lead slip in the fourth quarter and falling three points behind late, but Simpkin was paid a free kick when he tackled Elliot Yeo inside 50 and converted his set shot with less than two minutes left. 

EAGLES v KANGAROOS Full match coverage and stats

Forward Paul Curtis made certain of the result one minute later when he snapped the match-sealing goal, giving Alastair Clarkson's team its first win of a difficult season, 11.8 (74) to 8.17 (65). 

The free kick to Simpkin will be debated after Yeo laid a crunching tackle that spilled the ball free before taking possession himself. The midfielder was tackled immediately by Simpkin and penalised, resulting in the crucial goal. 

West Coast had all the momentum up to that point after a run of six unanswered final-quarter goals that had brought the home crowd to life and given them a wave of energy that looked destined to deliver victory. 


The Kangaroos' ability to turn the game back in their favour late, despite the controversial circumstances, was a credit to the young team, which outplayed the Eagles for the majority of the game and deserved its first win since the final round last year.

Simpkin was excellent all day but particularly late, also kicking a 50m goal to open the final quarter and finishing with 28 disposals and five clearances. 


Luke Davies-Uniacke (25) led a dominant midfield and was influential in big moments, while half-back Zac Fisher (36 and 11 rebounds), midfielder Harry Sheezel (30 and a goal) and ruckman Tristan Xerri (32 hitouts and nine clearances) were on top of their game. 

Key forward Nick Larkey was central to the result, kicking three of his game-high five goals as the Kangaroos built their lead in the third quarter.  

North Melbourne had only won a single first quarter this season, but the team started brightly on Saturday with its pressure and midfield work, winning the first 10 clearances of the game and out-tackling the Eagles 25-11. 

It still resulted in a frustrating first-quarter deficit, however, when Eagles forward Jack Darling won a free kick in the ruck with one minute left and kicked the first goal of the game, breaking the drought after a defensive armwrestle. 


The Kangaroos had set a clear platform to compete, however, as Davies-Uniacke and George Wardlaw made an early impact at stoppages and Fisher gave them bounce from the back half. 

Reward on the scoreboard finally came in the second term as the Kangaroos' stoppage dominance went to a new level, winning the clearances for the quarter 15-4 and getting on a three-goal run after Harry Edwards made a goalline error that set up Larkey's first. 


Cam Zurhaar used his strength inside 50 to convert and capitalise on the Kangaroos' best period of ball movement before Larkey marked unopposed inside 50 to give the visitors an eight-point lead at the halfway mark and their seventh quarter won of the season. 

The Kangaroos' dominance went to a new level in the third as Larkey stamped himself on the game with three goals, including two from snaps in general play and then an excellent set shot from the boundary.  


Davies-Uniacke made a brilliant start to the quarter and was involved in everything as he danced around the Eagles and delivered the ball inside 50, while Sheezel looked more and more natural as a midfielder before pushing forward and kicking his team's seventh consecutive goal. 

The Eagles went goalless and were again outpointed in clearances (9-6), with the 27-point deficit at the last change looking unassailable for a team that had kicked a wayward 2.15 to that point. 

The game flipped as key forward Jake Waterman came to life with three final-quarter goals, but it was ultimately for nothing as the Kangaroos got the points they so desperately wanted and deserved. 

No options for Yeo 
It's hard to know what else Elliot Yeo could have done when he was penalised in the fourth quarter for holding the ball in the decisive moment of the match. Yeo forced the ball free with a crunching tackle on George Wardlaw, took possession and was tackled instantly as he attempted to stand up. It wasn't a case of diving on the ball, and he could not be judged to have had prior opportunity. His only real option would have been to concede taking possession or tap the ball out. It was a brutal end to the game after an outstanding fourth quarter that netted nine disposals, five clearances, three inside 50s and a left-foot goal out of a forward 50 stoppage.


A stoppage rout 
The early stats were damning for West Coast as North Melbourne won the first 10 clearances of the game, and the first six centre clearances up to half-time. The hole left by young star Harley Reid and club champion Tim Kelly was not being filled, and frustration became evident as free kicks were given away at stoppages. Ruck pair Matt Flynn and Bailey Williams were struggling to go with Kangaroos big man Tristan Xerri, and Dom Sheed was the only Eagle to win multiple clearances, compared to eight Kangaroos, led by Xerri and George Wardlaw (five each). 

Flyin' Ryan the solution?
The Eagles lacked a dynamic element to their midfield without Harley Reid and Tim Kelly and moved the magnets at half-time to work on a solution. They emerged after the break with Liam Ryan playing a role at centre bounces and providing a spark after building form against St Kilda last week. The premiership forward burst from a centre bounce at the start of the fourth quarter and looked a natural before ruckman Tristan Xerri mounted the chase of the day to impact his kick forward. It was an interesting look for the Eagles though, and one they should persist with while Reid is suspended. 

WEST COAST                       1.4   2.9   2.15   8.17 (65)
NORTH MELBOURNE       0.1   4.5   8.6   11.8 (74)  

West Coast: Waterman 3, Cripps, Darling, Flynn, Witherden, Yeo
North Melbourne: Larkey 5, Simpkin 2, Curtis, Sheezel, Stephenson, Zurhaar

West Coast: Waterman, McGovern, Yeo, Witherden, Cripps
North Melbourne: Simpkin, Davies-Uniacke, Larkey, Sheezel, Xerri, Wardlaw, Fisher

West Coast: Nil 
North Melbourne: Nil  

West Coast: Ryan Maric (replaced Harry Edwards in the third quarter) 
North Melbourne: Eddie Ford (replaced Wil Dawson in the second quarter)

Crowd: 43,276 at Optus Stadium