RHYCE Shaw's first full season in charge began with finals as the goal, but unravelled in stunning fashion. Injuries were a major issue but exacerbated what was happening, rather than being the source of the problem.
The campaign dissolved into far too many defeats, commentary about the impending list overhaul and trade speculation – but with a sprinkling of promising youth who hinted at a brighter future.
With a list that quickly became obvious needed serious reshaping, the Kangaroos had ample opportunity to look at their group. Injuries and mounting losses demanded that. They figured out who wasn't going to help them, but also discovered some who would. Curtis Taylor, Ben McKay and Bailey Scott were examples after none was a can't-miss prospect before the season. Whether moving Shaun Higgins out of the centre worked for his football is debatable, but that move benefited Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jed Anderson and, to a lesser degree, Jy Simpkin.
There must be an investigation into the Roos' high performance program. They copped a competition-worst injury toll that undoubtedly played a role in why the season was such a disaster. North ranked last for score and goal per inside 50 percentage, a product of its at-times ordinary ball movement and a malfunctioning forward structure. Ben Brown's struggles were a significant factor in this. The Kangaroos' physicality and intensity were a trademark of Rhyce Shaw's initiation last year, but where did those intangibles go in 2020?
Luke McDonald's emergence as a leading Syd Barker Medal contender was one of North Melbourne's biggest positives. His only rival was probably Todd Goldstein, who started the year strongly. McDonald remained mostly in defence but also slipped into the midfield to perform tagging roles on the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Dustin Martin and Dylan Shiel, while Toby Greene was another victim.
Top-10 pick Tarryn Thomas took a step forward in his second season, but that was expected. It's Curtis Taylor who belongs here. North snapped up Taylor almost 40 selections after Thomas and he played only two games last year. Some stern Rhyce Shaw words pre-Christmas inspired Taylor to get fitter, and he stamped himself as one of the club's brightest prospects.
Ben Brown was the only player to kick at least 60 goals in each of the previous three seasons, yet shockingly ended this one with only eight from nine games. His form reached such a trough that the Roos dropped him after round eight, then he suffered what proved a season-ending knee injury early in his return game. Jasper Pittard and Jared Polec were other letdowns.
North Melbourne's upset victory over Greater Western Sydney in round two, when the season resumed from the COVID-19-enforced suspension, left the Roos 2-0 and dreaming big. Majak Daw's return to AFL level in round nine – after recovering from career-threatening hip and pelvic injuries – also warrants a special mention.
Rhyce Shaw's glum post-match reaction to the 10-goal-plus hidings from Gold Coast and Fremantle probably earn those matches equal billing for this dubious honour. Another was the call to play a clearly ailing Ben Cunnington in round five. The dual club champion didn't appear again in 2020.
How should they approach list management?
The Roos needed an overhaul of their middling, injury-prone talent and made a major statement on Friday, delisting 11 players. Another eight are without deals: Jed Anderson, Ben Brown, Taylor Garner, Kyron Hayden, Kayne Turner, Ed Vickers-Willis, Will Walker and Category B rookie Matt McGuinness. Brown is a potential trade chip, but it will be interesting to see how Nick Larkey fares as the club's No.1 forward. North hopes to sign restricted free agent Aidan Corr, who's already told GWS he is leaving, and the club has two first-round draft picks this year.
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Early call for 2021
Next year projects as another tough one for North Melbourne. The Roos could make a splash in the exchange period and might snare two AFL-ready players in the first round of the draft, but they likely face another season in the bottom four.
D. Coach Rhyce Shaw set finals as the pass mark and they fell apart after a 2-0 start – figuratively and literally, with a League-worst injury rate – to lose 14 of their last 15 games.