NORTH Melbourne has backed mid-season draftee Kallan Dawson to make an immediate impact in the senior side, with the club hopeful its rookie recruit can bolster a heavily depleted backline group.
The Kangaroos selected Dawson with pick No.2 in last week's NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft having made a considered attempt to target mature-aged talent, with the 23-year-old viewed as one of the best defensive options in the state league competitions.
The 194cm rebounding half-back had shot onto the radar of AFL clubs after taking 12 marks against a high-flying Casey Demons side in the VFL back in April, before finishing with 19 disposals and nine marks against Werribee the following week.
A minor foot injury will keep the Williamstown product sidelined for at least his first fortnight at Arden Street, ensuring he won't play before the senior team's bye next week, but the club is confident in his ability to eventually play AFL football.
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Speaking from the team's hotel in Darwin prior to last weekend's defeat to Gold Coast, North Melbourne footy boss Dan McPherson even suggested that could come at some stage in the back-half of this season.
"We would've thought so," McPherson told AFL.com.au.
"He's obviously been in really good form with Williamstown. He's got a bit of a foot problem at the moment, so he won't play for a couple of weeks, but we expect – based on our medical guys having a look at him over the last few days – that he'll be pretty close.
"We reckon he'll play straight after the bye. Then he'll be the same as everyone else. If he plays well in the VFL, he'll put his name up and he'll be in contention."
North Melbourne opened two list vacancies for the mid-season draft, moving injured youngster Miller Bergman to its inactive list before veteran recruit Tom Lynch announced his playing retirement on the eve of the list lodgement deadline.
It meant that star midfielder Ben Cunnington remains eligible to potentially return to football this season, as he continues his recovery from a secondary testicular cancer diagnosis last July.
But the club will give Cunnington all the time he needs to progress from the diagnosis and resulting surgery, saying there remains no timeline on when the two-time best and fairest may return.
"No update," McPherson said.
"Nothing has really changed. He's just progressing along. If he gets to a stage where he's feeling able and ready to play, we'll absolutely go for it. But there is absolutely no pressure on him."
Cunnington has long been one of North Melbourne's most important players, particularly in a young and developing midfield group, with his absence keenly felt throughout the side's disappointing 1-11 start to the year.
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But the Kangaroos aren't reflecting on just how big his loss to the team has been, saying they're focused on progressing with a promising crop of youngsters that includes Jy Simpkin, Jason Horne-Francis and Tarryn Thomas.
"It's probably better coming from other people saying that than us, because we don't want to sound like we're making excuses. But the reality is he's a jet of the competition," McPherson said.
"Obviously, he's been missing since the late part of last year and then the whole way through this season. He's exactly what we need in the middle of the ground. We've seen the impact that Jed (Anderson) has had since he came back into the team, just with his hardness around the ball and his maturity and his leadership.
"If you can chuck Ben back in there, he absolutely helps us."