Bailey Scott celebrates a goal during the R14 match between North Melbourne and Collingwood at Marvel Stadium on June 16, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

ALASTAIR Clarkson wants a greater sample size before declaring North Melbourne has turned a corner as his side prepares for a bruising midfield battle with under-fire Melbourne.

The Kangaroos bounced out of their mid-season bye with a drought-breaking win over West Coast in early June, and led Collingwood by 54 points last week before being overrun by the reigning premier.

Clarkson took a "glass half-full" approach to his review of the Magpies clash and believes his players will take positives from their competitive display into Saturday night's meeting with the Demons.

It has been widely billed as a 'danger game' for Melbourne, with the last-placed Kangaroos showing better form than their 1-12 record suggests.

But Clarkson noted North has plenty of work to do before regularly matching it with the competition's top sides.

"We need a greater sample size than just a couple of games," he told reporters on Friday.


"We had a heavy focus across the bye to put ourselves in the contest more and we've seen evidence of that over the last two games.

"We managed to win one game and nearly win the next, but we've got a pretty ferocious opponent in Melbourne."

Clarkson has warned his players Melbourne will be out to restore its identity as a tough contested-ball side, having lowered its colours with four defeats in its past five games.

The Demons have lost midfield star Christian Petracca to internal injuries, while North has regained co-captain Jy Simpkin from a minor hamstring setback to bolster the midfield.

Luke Davies-Uniacke has also been cleared after midweek scans on a mystery injury and will take his place in the Kangaroos' engine room.

"That's where the game will be won and lost, and they'll be looking at that part of the ground with Petracca out of the side," Clarkson said.


"He's just a superstar, so it's hard to know what they're going to do with their mix.

"All we can control is us being really strong and competitive in that part of the ground, knowing full well that if we lower our colours ... it's going to make it so much more difficult to be in the contest."

Melbourne has slipped out of the top eight this month and returns from its mid-season bye hell-bent on restoring its position as a premiership contender.

The loss of Petracca is a huge blow, with experienced defender Steven May calling for a collaborative approach to fill the hole.

"What we need to do is everyone improve a little bit more," May said.

"Tom Sparrow will get more midfield time, Kozzy Pickett can go through the midfield a little bit more and Alex Neal-Bullen has started to play a bit better as a midfielder.

"And once we get Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney going again - those two are stars of the competition.

Jack Viney and Clayton Oliver look on during the R13 match between Melbourne and Collingwood at the MCG on June 10, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"So there's certainly enough quality players in the midfield, along with a pretty handy ruckman (Max Gawn).

"I'm confident the boys can sort that midfield stuff out."

Melbourne named debutant Kynan Brown, fellow youngster Koltyn Tholstrup and experienced tall Adam Tomlinson to replace Petracca and dropped pair Jack Billings and Bailey Laurie.

Simpkin and Dylan Stephens return for North, with Jaidyn Stephenson left out and Kallan Dawson suspended.