MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 06: (L-R) Andrew Swallow, Drew Petrie and Brent Harvey of the Kangaroos look dejected after a loss during the 2016 AFL Round 20 match between the Western Bulldogs and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium on August 06, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The Roobuild: Analysing North Melbourne’s decision to axe four veteran stars

Professional athletes of any team sport love stability.

They love an open and honest dialogue with their coach, their club and it’s power brokers. But sometimes these relationships result in extremely tough judgment calls.

Last week, the North Melbourne Kangaroos made one of the toughest decisions in the clubs’ history, culling Nick Dal Santo, Michael Firrito, Drew Petrie and 431 game club legend Brent Harvey.

The decision comes as a surprise, mainly for the manner in which it took place rather than the fact itself. Firrito was a likely candidate to call it quits this year, and you would not have backed against Petrie to do the same.

However, Dal Santo has indicated on several occasions this season that he wants to continue his career in 2017 and he could certainly serve a purpose for a young, inexperienced side.

But Harvey is the most peculiar case. Having just broken the AFL games record, it’s not a massive shock that he is now a good chance to retire, but all indications were that he was keen to have at least one more year with his beloved North Melbourne.

However, despite all four players hardly being in poor form, the difference from last year to this year has been noticeable for each of the quartet.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 16:  Nick Dal Santo of the Kangaroos, Andrew Swallow of the Kangaroos and Daniel Wells of the Kangaroos leave the filed after losing the round 17 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Port Adelaide Power at Etihad Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 16: Nick Dal Santo of the Kangaroos, Andrew Swallow of the Kangaroos and Daniel Wells of the Kangaroos leave the filed after losing the round 17 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Port Adelaide Power at Etihad Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Despite still being a good user of the ball, Dal Santo is physically falling off the pace of AFL football. Petrie is not nearly kicking as many goals as he should for a key forward. Firrito was playing off the back of multiple one-year contracts and was well aware of his impending mortality.

Again, Boomer is still playing quality footy. He may be seeing less of the ball than he is accustomed to, but has kicked a career high 34 goals this season.

So, this then begs major questions. Why cull four veterans and club legends? Why one week out from the finals?

Is the salary cap the answer? Will the club make a play for a big name players this trade period?

One answer to these questions that is immediately obvious is one head coach Brad Scott answered for us  in the club’s press conference following the announcement.

“We really feel that while we hope it’s not, there’s a possibility this is our last game in Melbourne, we were determined to give the players and their friends, their family, their loved ones but also the fans, the members [the opportunity] to see the boys play in Melbourne,” Scott said.

It is no less than the quartet of champions deserves. The right they have earned to depart the ground on their teammates shoulders after what may be their final home game against the Greater Western Sydney Giants this weekend.

Obviously, the cynical side of things also suggests that the Kangaroos wanted as many people flying through the gates this weekend as possible. However, that unfortunately did not eventuate last night against the Giants.

The mental side of proceedings is also an interesting thing to note. Hopefully, North will be professional enough to be able to deal with the media circus that is the victory lap of the four, and the emotion will spur them on to a positive finals campaign.

But still, questions remain unanswered. Why did the club feel so strongly the need to move the players on, especially given they could expect a retirement or two. Is forcing through this ‘Roobuild’ the right thing to do?

This decision, despite being described as “not taken lightly” by Scott, seems every bit to be just that.

After two preliminary finals in a row in 2014 and 2015, it is clear the Kangas can be relatively disappointed with their 2016, especially considering the strides they had apparently made before the bye.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 29:  Drew Petrie of the Kangaroos celebrates after the kangaroos defeated the Bulldogs during the round six AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on April 29, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 29: Drew Petrie of the Kangaroos celebrates after the kangaroos defeated the Bulldogs during the round six AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on April 29, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

As many have pointed out, and as Scott himself has inadvertently confirmed, this swift delistings stands to say that the Roos do not believe they are a genuine chance to contend in 2017, and see youth development as more important to the club.

But hang on. Youth development and veteran presence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s a successful model followed closely, most notably by Geelong, Hawthorn and Sydney.

If you have been living under a rock this century, they’re all pretty successful teams.

This makes it look more likely that the board has hastily ousted 1,337 games of AFL experience, when an open dialogue about a reduced playing role and increased mentoring role in 2017 would be what’s best for the club in the long term, which they admittedly was at the forefront of the decision.

It also says that the club believes it can replace the stable and consistent production of the four and is bullish that they do it from within their current crop of talent.

Dal Santo and Harvey still rank among the better ball users at the club. or a club that is outside the top eight in the competition for disposal efficiency, it seems a bizarre choice.

With Jarrad Waite missing through the middle part of the season, the Shinboners struggled to hit the scoreboard. Axing both Harvey and Petrie further dilutes their goal kicking talent, an area in which they sit outside the top eight in the competition.

Assuming North Melbourne actually had the cap space to re-sign any of the four, if not all of them, a one-year contract does not indicate they must play every game of 2017. Not at all.

As competitive as the AFL is, the four could provide valuable squad depth when the inevitability of injuries hits next year. They could now fill a similar role for another club willing to recruit them for 2017.

Without knowing what lies ahead in the off-season for the Kangaroos, this move neither indicates a knockdown-rebuild, nor a necessary moving on of talent that is past it.

Depending on how they finish this season, this decision could look either slightly smarter, or a lot sillier, than it already is.

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