NORTH Melbourne coach David Noble has batted away critics of the club's rebuild, telling them the Kangaroos are better placed than this time last year.
Last year's wooden spooners have come under-fire for an underwhelming performance on Good Friday when they were blown away by the Western Bulldogs in the marquee timeslot for the second-straight year.
The 68-point blowout resulted in questions around if the holiday match should be taken away from the Kangaroos.
Noble is not satisfied with the 1-4 start to this season but is confident North is heading in the right direction.
The Kangaroos lost eight straight games to open 2021, showed improvement in the middle of the season, before ending the campaign with four consecutive defeats.
"Have a bit of a deeper look at some of the figures," he said when asked about North's critics.
"I think there's some metrics where we've moved ourselves forward.
"I understand the discussion, but I think have a little bit of deeper look at the broader view of the five games.
"We've made some progression and I think it's too easy to say we haven't progressed further than where we were last year.
"Progression and improvement is not linear, it doesn't go in a straight line."
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North should be boosted by the return of Tarryn Thomas and Cam Zurhaar for Sunday's clash with a rebounding Geelong in Hobart.
Jed Anderson pulled up sore after his return via the VFL last week and will be managed carefully after missing most of the pre-season.
Veteran midfielder Ben Cunnington has been back training for more than a month after his battle with testicular cancer.
The popular 30-year-old is looking fitter and healthier than he has for some time but Noble admits it continues to be a slow build for Cunnington.
"The main thing is still just his health and making sure he's OK," Noble said.
"When he's ready, he's ready - if it's this year, great, if it's next then that's fine, too.
"We're not in a mad hurry for him.
"He looks great, which is great, and he's back here helping us with leadership meetings and other areas of contribution.
"He still loves the game and misses it, I'm sure, it's great to have his input back around."