Coming off a tough second half of the season in 2016, it was widely tipped that North Melbourne was going to have a similar 2017 after losing the likes of club greats Brent Harvey, Nick Dal Santo, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito.
Putting their major focus on youth in 2017, North Melbourne started the year competitively with honorable losses to West Coast and Geelong.
Close losses by under a kick to Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs started a trend for the Roos as they continued to lose from winnable positions.
There first win of the season came in round six with a win over the Suns, where they endured a good month, beating Melbourne and Carlton and only losing to eventual grand finalists Adelaide.
To the disappointment of North Melbourne fans, this winning form never continued, going on a seven-game losing streak which included two more losses by under a goal.
After a win at their spiritual home, Tasmania, against the finals bound Melbourne, another three game losing streak meant they went into the last round against fellow cellar-dwellers Brisbane in a playoff game for bottom spot.
In a match they won convincingly by 51 points, the Roos sensationally jumped up to 15th position to end the season.
Off Season Grade
In a trade period that saw more youth welcomed to a previous aging North Melbourne list, sensationally North Melbourne continued to cull their senior players by showing the door to experienced midfielder Sam Gibson, who had played 130 consecutive games for the club.
Gibson was traded to the Crows while former captain Andrew Swallow also saw his aspired move to the Gold Coast to play with his younger brother never eventuate that saw him retire. Half back flanker Aaron Mullet was also delisted by the club.
In an uneventful trade period in terms of players coming in, North picked up un-trialed Essendon speedster Alex Morgan, whilst also drafting quick ex-hawk Billy Hartung. North also drafted Luke Davies-Uniacke with their first selection in the draft at pick four, a player many experts believed was the first or second best player in the draft.
After heavily being linked to Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly in the free agency period and in the end having signed no one, with the amount of cap space they had, it was an off-season to forget for the Roos.
Off-season Grade: C-
In a very friendly draw for the Kangaroos, they will face double up games against Brisbane, Gold Coast, St Kilda, the Western Bulldogs and Sydney. They only have to travel to Perth, Adelaide and Sydney once and travel to Queensland twice, which includes their first ever game in Cairns.
In Rounds 11-18, North won’t leave Victoria once. Having not to board a plane once in eight weeks which includes a bye round, means that this set of fixtures is defining for North Melbourne’s season.
They’ll have plenty of rest in-between games, as they’ll play five matches at Etihad Stadium against Brisbane, Western Bulldogs, Essendon, Gold Coast and Sydney, including a patch of four games in a row against the latter four teams. They’ll play the Pies at the ‘G and one down in Geelong against the Cats.
Champion Data Suggests
Champion Data has indicated that North Melbourne has struggled with their midfield quality and depth. They only have one midfielder in the top 35%, clearance bull Ben Cunnington, highlighting their need for midfielders to stand up in games. North Melbourne last year struggled in the midfield, ranking 18th in total clearances and 16th in centre bounce clearances. After the failed attempt to lure Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly, the Roos are hopefully recruits Davies-Uniacke and Hartung can improve this quality.
Interestingly, Champion Data highlights that North Melbourne last year ranked first in the competition for scores off centre clearances, which further highlights the need for improvement in midfield quality and depth.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strengths: As mentioned above, North Melbourne’s ability to generate attacking entries from clearances is one of the best in the leagues.
North Melbourne last year ranked third for this, where they were ranked second for scores off center clearances. Their ability to move the ball forward of centre from midfield to forward line was also impressive last season, considering the presence of Ben Brown in the forward line. In terms of overall scoring, North Melbourne was the second highest scorer in the league for the teams that fell outside the top eight, and in wins, North ranked fourth highest for points scored.
Weaknesses: On the flip side, North Melbourne’s defensive side of their game needs massive improvements.
Only Gold Coast and Brisbane leaked more points than North Melbourne last season, where they were the third easiest team to score against once entering into their defensive half. Opposition teams found it way to easy to move the ball across the ground in order to make space for there forward to lead into.
Opposition players racked up chains of 30+ possessions 46 times last season which is the most by any team. Additionally to this, with Ben Jacobs not being fit for most of last season, North’s lack of a lock down midfielders ensured that week in and week out the opposition’s main midfielders are able to run free and set up these chains of play. Jacobs’ ability to nullify the opposition was key in previous years that saw North play in consecutive preliminary finals.
Another year in their rebuild phase will see North Melbourne struggle this year. The run of eight rounds in a row without travelling, which includes a bye round, is crucial for their season.
The ability of North’s list to change their defensive habits and game play will be critical if they wish to rise up the ladder. If they manage to do this, finishing above 17th is very much achievable.