IT WOULD be hard to think of a tougher coaching initiation than the one David Noble is currently enduring.
North Melbourne's rough 0-6 start has been compounded by an injury-ravaged squad that could leave the first-year coach with a threadbare pool of players to pick from ahead of a clash with the red-hot Melbourne this weekend.
Given the match is due to be played in Tasmania – the club's third straight road trip after games at GMHBA Stadium and Optus Stadium over the last fortnight – an expanded travelling squad with standby options will likely be needed.
But the Kangaroos currently have 13 players on their injury list, the most of any side within the competition. There could be some relief this week, though, with Trent Dumont (calf), Aaron Hall (concussion) and Charlie Lazzaro (hamstring) on the cusp of a return.
However, Dumont will build his minutes through the VFL having been sidelined since last Christmas with multiple calf strains, while Hall is training with the VFL team in order to pass concussion protocols so he's available this Sunday.
In the absence of several key players, a rebuilding North Melbourne has been forced to expose young talent without the buffer of senior bodies around them. This week, four of its top-six from last year's best and fairest will be unavailable.
Luke McDonald, the reigning Syd Barker Medallist, has a pectoral injury, third-placed Jed Anderson is out for a significant period with an ankle problem, fifth-placed Dumont has a calf injury and sixth-placed Robbie Tarrant is still recovering from a kidney issue.
Its high-profile free agency acquisition from last November, Aidan Corr, is also set to be sidelined for an extended period after his return from a toe infection was delayed even further this week.
Corr has missed the last four games and the club won't gain clarity on his timeline for another fortnight.
North Melbourne says the infection is not related to a toe injury that saw him substituted out of its round one loss to Port Adelaide – an injury that he then played through the following week – and is instead a separate issue.
MEDICAL ROOM The full AFL injury list
But the in-out nature of Corr's round two inclusion and subsequent toe infection still echoes of costly setbacks for experienced duo Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell last season.
Cunnington lasted just a half upon returning from a back problem in round five last year and then missed the rest of the campaign, while Ziebell played just 17 per cent game time returning from a hamstring injury and then missed the next eight weeks.
Regardless, the injury is still frustrating for Corr – who arrived on a five-year deal last November – with the defender playing fewer than eight games in three of his last seven seasons with Greater Western Sydney.
Not included on this week's injury list are Curtis Taylor (concussion), Taylor Garner (calf), Luke Davies-Uniacke (calf), Ben Cunnington (concussion), Aiden Bonar (adductor), Josh Walker (hamstring) and Cameron Zurhaar (concussion).
All of the aforementioned players have already missed games this year due to the injuries listed, while rookie Patrick Walker has also been sidelined recently with an undisclosed injury of his own.
That has further decimated the numbers for Leigh Adams and the club's VFL team, which had just six AFL-listed players available for last week's defeat to Frankston before losing Phoenix Spicer (hamstring) and Matt McGuinness (foot) mid-game.
In all, by Sunday, only 21 of the 42 players on North Melbourne's list would have been fit and available for all seven games this year. There's a chance the Kangaroos could have only 27 senior-listed players, and three rookie-listed players, to pick from this weekend.
By no means is it an excuse for the club's winless start – Noble himself wouldn't want it to be used as one – but it's undoubtedly made what was already expected to be a tough period for the club all the more difficult.