North Melbourne will be playing finals footy this year.
While it is a big statement to go out on a limb on, especially considering I was one of many who had them tipped for the wooden spoon at the start of the year, I am 100% sold on them only half way through this season. And top four isn’t out of the question either.
The Roos are currently sitting pretty in fifth at the conclusion of round nine. Disappointing losses to the Power and Dees have been more than made up for with impressive wins against an ever reliable Sydney outfit and a promising Hawthorn one. A close loss to Richmond where North took the lead on two separate occasions in the last quarter pushed me closer to jumping on the bandwagon, which although looks relatively empty now will be filled come September, but what really overpowered the small lingering doubt still left was their recent win against Fremantle over in the west at Optus stadium.
Many don’t quite understand just how tough it for most to win away from home, let alone in Perth, which is more than a three and a half hour economy slag from the AFL capital of Australia.
In the 11 matches played at Optus stadium this year, only two have been won by interstate teams. The Eagles with their only defeat of the season in Round 1 to the swans, and the last match of the week just gone, with North emerging triumphant by 28 points. The Dockers have beaten a quality Essendon team in round two, back when the bombers were playing good footy, and have dismantled the Bulldogs, Saints and Suns by an average winning margin of more than six goals.
This makes the victory against the Dockers all the more sweet for North Melbourne. And what makes it even sweeter was the fact that it was owed to the lesser known Roos that dragged the team over the line.
Kayne Turner and Jed Anderson had 15 and 13 contested possessions respectively. Jamie Macmillan and Marley Williams rebounded really well all game and both finished with disposal efficiencies over 80%, and Ben Jacobs is fast becoming more than just a tagger, finishing with 18 contested possessions, four clearances, nine tackles and a goal.
On the flip side, reinvigorated captain and now genuine forward Jack Ziebell couldn’t hit a target so save himself, with all six of his kicks being clangers. Ben Cunnington was a bit quite, given the recent increase in his lofty standards, as he finished with only 20 disposals to his name, and Ben Brown kicked just two goals with his 10 disposals.
All of these were below their best in this game, where the team as a whole still managed to produce one of their best efforts of the season. Make of that what you will, but North haven’t yet peaked in a season that has already gone above and beyond all expectations and had plenty of highs.
This showcases the depth that is now inheriting the North Melbourne list, and when combined by the two or three elite players in Jarrad Waite, Ben Brown and Robbie Tarrant, North have a list that well and truly have the potential to take scalps come September. The depth of this list is not the only factor keeping it in contention though.
The resurgence from veterans Todd Goldstein, Scott Thompson and Jarrad Waite has also been clear for all to see this season.
Goldstein managed to win the hit out count against Sandilands at Optus stadium, a man he gives away 10 centimetres to in height.
Thompson was on the scrap heap last year, and many considered him lucky to not either be asked to retire or be delisted. However, he as well has defied expectations this year to form a formidable duo with Robbie Tarrant in defence, leading him to be remembered as more than just the player who Barry Hall had in a headlock.
If no serious injuries present themselves to any key players, and barring no serious forced changes occur to North’s structure, the Roos are genuinely one of the teams to beat this year.
This season is presenting itself as one where any team can beat anyone when on their game, or of course lose to anyone when off their game. If North Melbourne can genuinely turn up to the game more times than opposition teams they are likely to make the eight, given how close the competition is right now, with 5th place all the way through to ninth on the ladder on the same amount of points.
There has only been one genuine occasion where North didn’t ‘turn up’ to the game and play near their best footy. This was in round six where they went down to the Power 33 points while scoring only a miserly. A disappointing outcome for a forward line featuring Brown, Waite and Ziebell, jut to name a few.
Scott even went as far as to single out his own star forward in Ben Brown in his post-match press conference, conceding that he really “wasn’t at his best”. North are yet to put in a poor showing again since that effort, with quality wins over Sydney, GWS and Fremantle all following, and a narrow loss to the premiers of last year the only minor downside.
If they can continue to play their best footy consistently, they will be shaping up well come the pointy end of the season. There are some teams in Richmond and West Coast, who currently seem to be a notch above the others, but for any other team, it looks to be a matter of whether or not they can bring their best footy that will determine who comes out on top.
North are also helped by the fact that they have the easiest run home, based on the ladder as it sits now. Champion data has made this statement, and it’s hard to argue with, considering the Roos play both Brisbane and the Bulldogs twice in the run home, as well as St Kilda, Gold Coast and Essendon who also sit outside the eight.
Of those seven games, it would be expected that north would win at least five or six of these, depending on the major form fluctuations, and the ‘rabbit out of a hat’ games that teams like Brisbane and Essendon can pull out.
The Cats, Swans, Eagles, Pies, Crows are the only teams currently in the eight that the Roos play in the run home, and in current form they are a huge chance in most of them and should walk away with two or three wins from these games.
If this scenario does play out as suggested, North will likely finish up on 13-15 wins, or 52-60 points, which should be enough to see them play finals.
Finals are a big ask, especially in a year where just one win will likely be the difference between elation and heartbreak for some teams at the end of the year. But, expect North to gather more and more momentum throughout the year and be the bandwagon team of the competition, as Roos supporters climb out from rocks they’ve been hiding in since the hiding they copped in the 2016 elimination final against Adelaide.