Some experts have labelled North’s list the worst in the competition, but there are enough reasons for Shinboners to have reason to believe that 2018 won’t be a complete disaster.
North have batted above their average for all of Brad Scott’s tenure. Even when they were making Preliminary Finals in 2014-5, not many experts rated them as a genuine premiership threat. And even though they were one loss away from the spoon last year, they lost another five games by less than a goal and were competitive against better teams – most notably their destruction of Adelaide in Hobart. Competitiveness is in North’s DNA, so it’s hard to see them having an absolute embarrassment of a season.
Brad Scott’s team also has a number of key posts well-sorted. Ben Brown and Robbie Tarrant are great bookends, Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell are contested ball animals and their elite tagger Ben Jacobs is ready to return after almost two years out of action. No team conceded more individual 30+ disposal games in 2017 than North so his return will be pivotal for a team who preference attack to defence.
They have a number of exciting young players who are yet to have a decent crack at senior footy due to injury. Mason Wood, Taylor Garner, Sam Durdin, Ed Vickers-Willis and Kayne Turner have all shown promise in bursts. If most of this group can have complete seasons, their rebuild may be more further along than many believe.
Ben Cunnington, Jack Ziebell and Shaun Higgins are all very solid midfielders, but this team badly needs some young talent who can push past that trio and become A-graders in their own right. Trent Dumont, Ryan Clarke and Nathan Hrovat were tried through the guts at times last year but all look like middling players at best. Luke McDonald and Jy Simpkin have been slated for midfield minutes in 2018, but neither look like superstars in the short-term. This team badly needs some match-winning quality in the middle.
North’s defence looks rather shaky as well. Tarrant and veteran Scott Thompson will be relied upon heavily, as will Marley Williams who impressed in his first year at the club. Outside of those three, top 25 draft picks Durdin, Daniel Nielson and Ben McKay have all played less than ten games and will take take time to develop. They’ve also jettisoned their best rebound 50 player from last year in Aaron Mullet. They’ll need recycled players like Paul Ahern or Alex Morgan to step up to fill that void or the footy is going to be in their defensive half a lot this year.
Ben Brown is quickly becoming one of the greatest draft steals in AFL history. Overlooked for multiple years, the Roos pounced with pick 47 back in 2013 and the Tasmianian has repaid their faith in spades. Most star power forwards like Buddy Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt cost first round draft picks, the Roos scored an absolute bargain in Brown.
The Next Big Thing
With just four top-five draft picks this century, the Roos have been deprived of elite talent for a long time. Enter Luke Davies-Uniacke. The 4th pick in last year’s draft, the smooth moving midfielder is exactly what they have been crying out for down at Arden St. Hopefully for their sake, he is able to turn his immense talent into a long and successful AFL career.
The Final Word
With a better injury run, North have enough promising young players and enough experienced heads around them to surprise a few in 2018. And by surprise a few, we mean not finish bottom four… but only just.