Pre-Season Prediction: 8th
Current Position: 8th
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Top Eight Odds: $34 (via TopSport)
The question going into 2016 for North Melbourne was whether they overachieved the previous year by making a preliminary final. It was a valiant loss to West Cost in that final and it has spurred the club on to have on more crack at making a Grand Final.
The Roos had the oldest list going into this season and there were some question marks over some of their senior players but North were still expected to do well and finish comfortably in the top eight.
What’s Gone Right?
Their start to the season was explosive, winning the first nine games to sit outright first on the ladder leading many to ponder whether North could actually go all the way this year. Winning form is good form, no matter who it’s against. Jarrad Waite started the season brilliantly, operating as a key forward with the ability to pressure the back six and create opportunities for his team.
Having a good ruckman also helps, and in Todd Goldstein, North pretty much have the best big man in the game at the moment. He rates second in the AFL for centre bounce contests and fourth for hit-outs from stoppages. The round six top-of-the-table clash against the Western Bulldogs would be the highlight of the season so far for the club, attracting 47,000 to Etihad on a Friday night to see them win by 16 points. Before the bye, they were ranked no.1 for tackling, second for kicking efficiency and third for effective disposals. Mason Wood has come in leaps and bounds as a mid-sized forward and Brent Harvey hasn’t let age get the better of him as he broke the AFL games played record against the Saints.
What’s Gone Wrong?
Having a favourable start to the season in terms of fixturing, North were always going to be tested towards the middle and end of the season. The loss to Sydney in round 10 was a wake-up call, but it turned into a slump with losses to fellow final contenders Geelong, Hawthorn and Adelaide, undermining their solid start to the year.
Injuries hit and that’s hurt the Roos considering their lack of depth. Waite had to deal with a persistent hip injury and Goldstein went down with a knee. Couple that with the loss of Shaun Higgins in early May and Ben Jacobs with a stress fracture and North are severely hammered by not having their best players on the park.
Just as things appeared to be going well for the Roos, off-field distractions hit. It started with Coach Brad Scott deeming to have challenged the umpires after being misinformed about their attitude to paying free-kicks to forward Lindsay Thomas. It came in the same week where club president James Brayshaw was forced to apologise for his role in the “ice bath” comments about journalist Caroline Wilson.
Daniel Wells is back to his best and ranks No.1 at the club for score involvements per game. His average of 22 disposals per game is his most since 2012 and he’s also averaging career-highs of six tackles and six clearances. He will need to maintain his intensity going forward to ensure the club can make the most of its finals opportunity.
Jed Anderson was the big recruit in the off-season from the Hawks, but has struggled with injury throughout 2016. He has recently returned though and has managed to play four games so far this year.
Pick no. 43 Corey Wagner has played four games and is performing quite well at VFL level in his first year as an AFL player.
Pick 31, Ryan Clarke has impressed with his three games this year, averaging 23 disposals a game which earned him the NAB Rising Star nomination for round 18. Definitely one to watch for the future.
The Run Home
This week you’d think they pull through against the Saints for Harvey’s 427th game but stranger things have happened. Following the Saints game, North have tough matchups with the Bulldogs, Hawthorn, Swans and the Giants. These final games should set the scene for what the Roos will or won’t achieve come the end of the season.