WHEN push has come to shove in both of North Melbourne's inspired victories to start this season, Jy Simpkin has been the defining factor on each occasion.
Whether it's been through his class and composure in round one's comeback win over the Saints, or through his sheer force of will in last Sunday's thrilling upset over premiership contenders the Giants, Simpkin is finding ways of dragging the Kangaroos over the line.
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At just 22 years of age, Simpkin's reliability is something North Melbourne's coaching staff have come to depend on. Even against quality opposition like they faced against Greater Western Sydney on Sunday, it's often the diminutive midfielder who rises a level above.
Simpkin had 10 disposals, eight contested possessions and five clearances in the pivotal final quarter of Sunday's plucky 20-point boilover. In each of those statistical categories, Champion Data notes he was the No.1 ranked player on the entire ground.
It's a fair effort, considering he was up against a midfield that consisted of Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly, Callan Ward, Lachie Whitfield and Jacob Hopper.
For any player, those numbers are significant. But for North Melbourne, the fact they belonged to Simpkin – who is relied upon to make the most of every touch through his smarts and sense of assuredness with the footy – they had an added importance.
Simpkin adds the outside leg speed, running power and lateral movement that provides the Kangaroos with an incredibly valuable point of difference within their midfield group.
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His sharpness without the ball – and his speed in order to close space when the opposition is in possession – has also given the side's onball division a sturdier defensive edge, making Simpkin a genuine two-way midfielder.
Now, he's adding the consistency that could catapult him towards joining the game's elite.
"A couple of years ago he took it on and decided he really wanted to invest and spend plenty of time at the footy club," North Melbourne midfield coach Jarred Moore told AFL.com.au.
"He's the first one there, going through the most amount of vision and doing the most amount of touch.
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"He wants to get everything out of himself and be one of the best players in the competition. That's without any arrogance at all, he's a really respectful kid. But he's certainly made it known that he wants to be one of the best players in the competition."
A similar tale had unfolded for Simpkin in the second half of the club's round one victory over St Kilda, where North Melbourne found itself 31 points down early in the third quarter before finishing with a flourish to steal victory.
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According to Champion Data, Simpkin had 12 disposals in that half of footy at Marvel Stadium (ranked No.3 on the field), 10 uncontested possessions (No.2 on the field), 268m gained (No.1 on the field) and seven score involvements (No.2 on the field).
But while those numbers are again telling, one rather overlooked moment in the final 30 seconds perhaps does more justice to the influence his growing maturity had in the comeback win.
Following a frantic passage of play deep in St Kilda's forward line, with North Melbourne leading by just two points, Simpkin received the ball under pressure.
While any player of his age – and even those far more experienced – are quite often forgiven for blazing away in such circumstances, Simpkin instead lowered his eyes and coolly found teammate Nick Larkey with a left-footed pass to release the pressure valve.
"That's not easy to do," Moore said of Simpkin's composure in that moment.
"Most people early in their careers, the pressure of the game comes really quickly. To be able to be composed with the footy … the more he plays, the more we're seeing that.
"He's a competitive bloke as well. He wants to win, he wants to try and get better and he wants everyone else to try and get better. He's trying to drag those guys along with him."
Indeed, Simpkin provided the inspiration for his young teammates on Sunday, as the club's core of inexperienced but highly rated talent showed their class in crunch moments after three-quarter time to help steer the visitors to victory.
In a defining run where the Kangaroos kicked four of the last quarter's opening six goals to seize control of the match, it was 20-year-old Curtis Taylor, 19-year-old Bailey Scott, 20-year-old Tarryn Thomas and 22-year-old Cameron Zurhaar who held their nerve in front of goal.
All while the 22-year-old Simpkin stood head and shoulders above the pack in midfield.
Taylor's X-factor and willingness to take on the big moments, Scott's hardness at the footy and Zurhaar's physicality and nous around goal have been important in the club's unbeaten start to the year.
Meanwhile Thomas, like Simpkin, is seen as a key piece in the team's fortunes over the next decade, highlighted by the influence he was able to exert on Sunday's contest despite finding the footy only six times.
Add the potential of sidelined midfielder Luke Davies-Uniacke to that midfield mix – as well as an upcoming NAB AFL Draft where the club currently holds two more first-round draft picks – and the future is suddenly bright at Arden Street.