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Opinion: Great pretenders North need to go for it in trade period

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 07: Scott Thompson of the Kangaroos in action during the 2015 AFL round ten match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the West Coast Eagles at Blundstone Arena, Hobart on June 7, 2015. (Photo by Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
Players with currency, such as Scott Thompson, need to be placed on the trade table, writes Nick Bowen

NORTH Melbourne is not going to win a premiership with its existing list and needs to embark on a mini-rebuild at the end of this season.

North has been one of the competition's great pretenders in recent seasons.

At its best, it has looked like it's building towards a genuine flag tilt.

First, there was the scintillating 10-2 run in the second half of 2012 that secured the Roos' maiden finals berth under coach Brad Scott.

A year later, they had a string of agonising close losses but pushed all the top teams and finished with the sixth-best percentage in the competition despite missing the finals.

Last season, the Roos defeated eventual grand finalists Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans (at the SCG), fellow preliminary finalist Port Adelaide and the Fremantle team (at Domain Stadium) that finished the home and away season fourth.

But we've seen enough conflicting evidence now to write these performances off as nothing more than a tease.

Too often in the past three seasons North has produced the type of lacklustre performance it dished up against Gold Coast on Saturday night.

Last season, for instance, the Roos were completely overwhelmed by the defensive pressure of run-of-the-mill Essendon, Collingwood and Adelaide teams.

They were also obliterated on their Etihad Stadium home deck by Gold Coast after conceding the first seven goals of the match.

And, most damningly, they blew any chance of a top-four home-and-away finish by dropping games against the struggling Brisbane Lions and Carlton in the second half of the season.

When North picked up Jarrad Waite and Shaun Higgins in last October's free agency period, some thought it could give the 2015 flag a serious shake.

But, if anything, North has gone backwards this year.

It has not beaten a top team and was demolished by Hawthorn and Fremantle.

Four of its seven losses have been by 55 points or more.

Good teams don't serve up performances like these. Let alone premiership contenders.

So where to now for the Roos?

The worst thing they can do is continue to back this generation of players – with the help of a mature-age recruit or two – to win the club's fifth flag.

This mob of Kangaroos is not going to beat Hawthorn, Fremantle or the Sydney Swans to a flag before star veterans Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Daniel Wells hang up the boots.

And when these powerhouse teams fade, Collingwood, West Coast and Richmond, and emerging young teams such as Greater Western Sydney, Gold Coast, the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda seem better placed to take over at the top of the ladder.

Football history tells North that Richmond set itself back several seasons by overrating its list after a 2001 preliminary final appearance. The Brisbane Lions made the same mistake after they won through to a semi-final in 2009.

Jack Ziebell and Andrew Swallow are two of four 'untouchables', Nick Bowen argues. Picture: AFL Media

North needs to heed these cautionary tales, run a realistic rule over where it sits, then get on the front foot and regenerate.

It could do worse than follow the template provided by Collingwood's mini-rebuild since 2012.

The Magpies secured two extra top-20 picks in 2012 by trading Sharrod Wellingham and Chris Dawes, and subsequently drafted Brodie Grundy and Tim Broomhead.

They gained an extra top-10 pick (Matthew Scharenberg) the following year when Dale Thomas joined Carlton as a free agent, and also secured young Giant Taylor Adams in exchange for experienced defender Heath Shaw.

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The Pies did not want to let Dayne Beams go at the end of last season, but made the best of a bad situation, securing picks No.5 (Jordan De Goey) and 25 (traded for Levi Greenwood) and Jack Crisp from the Lions in exchange for the Queenslander.

Despite having a relatively young list, Collingwood appeared to be on the slide at the end of 2012 after its Grand Final appearances in 2010-11.

But less than three years later, the Pies are on the rise again.

North needs to attempt a similar reboot.

If it does, its 2012-2014 draftees should remain off limits to rival clubs, while veterans Brent Harvey and Drew Petrie deserve to remain one-club players.

But Todd Goldstein, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington and skipper Andrew Swallow aside, every other Roo should be up for grabs in this year's trade period.

This might seem drastic but North drastically needs an injection of elite young talent and will have to give up someone with trade currency – think Scott Thompson, Lachlan Hansen, Lindsay Thomas or Shaun Atley – to get it.

For all this, there are rays of sunshine amid the gloom at North.

Although the Roos' list has the second oldest average age (25.35) and tops the competition for most games played (90.4 a player), it includes 24 players aged 25 and under and just six 30 or older.

This is a strong platform to build on.

But to be successful North has to be bold. If it plays things safe, a generation of mediocrity beckons.

• How well do you remember last year's trade period?

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs