MAJAK Daw has taken another big step towards a triumphant senior return with a promising performance down back in North Melbourne's intraclub game on Friday.
In a contest missing the likes of Ben Brown (calf), captain Jack Ziebell (calf), Robbie Tarrant (foot), Jared Polec (foot) and Luke Davies-Uniacke (groin), it was Daw who improved his stocks more than any other.
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Ziebell has had some setbacks in the pre-season but remains in round one contention, while Brown's injury isn't considered serious and Davies-Uniacke should play in the next practice match.
Mason Wood's transition from attack to defence continued but he sat out the second half because of a lower back issue that isn't likely to set him back too much.
Ben Jacobs (concussion-related symptoms), Ed Vickers-Willis (knee), Kyron Hayden (Achilles) and Flynn Perez (knee) also sat the match out, while Curtis Taylor, Joel Crocker and Tom Campbell were rested.
However, Daw – who was last sighted at AFL level in round 23, 2018 before his horrific hip and pelvic injuries – was the story, with his physicality, movement and sturdy hands in defence.
Fellow defender Jasper Pittard was suitably impressed with Daw's performance, as well as how the backline functioned in general.
"Probably the improvement we've seen in Maj comes off the back of him playing on our best forwards throughout most of this summer," Pittard told reporters.
"We know when we give him a job on good players like 'Browny' and 'Larks' (Nick Larkey), who's just coming along so well as well, that's great practice for him – and that's what he's going to have to do.
"We have to be pretty cautious and over his career he's had a lot of injuries as well, so he's pretty much training Monday and Friday and keeping pretty quiet in the middle, to make sure come round one he's ready to go."
Daw grasped a strong intercept mark in the opening minutes to set the tone and had three telling spoils by quarter-time, including one where he chased down Larkey from a position of disadvantage.
Larkey kicked just one goal to half-time but added three more after Daw switched to his team.
Daw remained an imposing presence – instead opposed to first-year draftee Charlie Comben – and set up a Jy Simpkin goal with another intercept mark in the second half.
Whether Daw is being prepared for a lockdown defensive post or more of a free-roaming, intercept role alongside Tarrant will be one of the interesting elements of the Roos' pre-season.
He looks a certain round one starter based on his form in match simulation and Friday's intraclub hit-out, where he outshone other defensive contenders Josh Walker, Ben McKay and Sam Durdin.
Ex-Cat and Lion Walker also had some good moments as he pushes for a round one berth.
Josh Walker with the intercept but watch for Todd Goldstein’s athleticism and skill pic.twitter.com/iOXYNnns31— Marc McGowan (@ByMarcMcGowan) February 14, 2020
Jed Anderson was another standout from the get-go in an important performance for him, given North's vast midfield depth.
His physicality, as always, could not be missed, particularly one moment in the second quarter, when he crunched a VFL-listed opponent during a marking contest.
Jed Anderson capitalises on a deliberate out of bounds after some good defensive pressure pic.twitter.com/9g9WZfyzGX— Marc McGowan (@ByMarcMcGowan) February 14, 2020
Midfield stars Ben Cunnington and Shaun Higgins were typically prominent on opposite sides, with Cunnington again demonstrating how effective he can also be when resting up forward.
Tarryn Thomas also turned in an eye-catching display and looks ready to be a serious contributor after an impressive rookie campaign.
"The sky's the limit for Tarryn, and what I've loved about him as a first, now second-year player is how well he's picked up the little things we value in terms of the defensive stuff," Pittard said.
"I haven't seen too many kids – Bailey Scott is similar – at that age who've just been able to pick up all the tough decision-making stuff we learn.
"But he's just picked up that stuff and he knows what we value as a club and that's what gets him games.
Someone who elevated himself was ruck-forward Tristan Xerri, who played the first half against Todd Goldstein before they joined forces, while draftee Jack Mahony had some nice glimpses.
Xerri competed admirably against Goldstein but it was his marking prowess inside 50 that will have given Kangaroos coaches something to think about.
Recruit Aiden Bonar was given all the midfield minutes he could handle and improved as the contest wore on.
Dom Tyson (groin) and Luke McDonald (ankle) sat out the fourth quarter as a precautionary measure.
Bonar connects inside 50 with Taylor Garner, who misses his set shot pic.twitter.com/wspmySKB5M— Marc McGowan (@ByMarcMcGowan) February 14, 2020