WHO PLAYS on star forward Tom Hawkins when North Melbourne and Geelong clash in Friday night's semi-final?

It's a question that required little thought last Friday night, when Hawthorn's Brian Lake did a masterful job in taming the big Cat.

One week on, it's a little more uncertain.

Scott Thompson twice tangled with Hawkins this season, conceding a total of seven goals.

But Thompson has been given more freedom over the past month, the incumbent All Australian full-back often playing on smaller forwards and offering more rebounding run and intercept marks.

Nathan Grima, who missed both of the regular-season clashes with Geelong due to injury, and Michael Firrito are other candidates to take the hulking Hawkins.

That suits Thompson just fine.

"There'll be a few of us going through vision of him and a few other Geelong forwards as well," Thompson said.

"Sometimes Nathan's better suited to a certain tall and I might take a small. The next week it might be reversed.

"It's good that we've got a bit of versatility there. If something's not working during a game, we can swap it around easily."

North's backline coach Josh Drummond wasn't ready to reveal Hawkins' minder in the sudden-death semi-final, but suggested it would be foolish to put too much time into the 26-year-old.

"He's a terrific player. One of the premier key forwards in the game," Drummond said.

"We'll look at what Lake did, look at how he played against us earlier in the year. Everyone will have to contribute.

"But we won't be too preoccupied with just Tom Hawkins. Jimmy Bartel, (Steven) Motlop and (Steve) Johnson are threats. (Allen) Christensen really hurt us last time.

"Mitch Duncan. I can keep going on."

Drummond, in his first year as the club's defence coach, has helped bring about serious change.

The Kangaroos' defensive lapses and capacity to leak quick goals were a recurring theme in tight losses last year, costing the side a place in the finals.

They have diminished in 2014, with North now ranked fourth in goals conceded.

"It definitely hurts when you get attacked about your defence," Thompson reflected of 2013.

"This year we've really worked on it.

"Teams haven't scored as much against us and those runs of quick goals, we've cut them back a lot as well."

Drummond was unwilling to take any of the credit, but noted much of the defensive improvement had come further up the field.

"We definitely needed to tighten up a few things that cost us a lot last year. The emphasis has been on how we defend as a team," Drummond said.

"Your back six are heavily reliant on how your midfield and forwards defend."

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