Despite narrowly missing finals, North Melbourne’s 2018 was a huge success.
Widely tipped to finish dead bottom prior to the year, the season looked daunting after the Kangaroos begun the season with a 55-39 loss to the Suns in round one.
However, Brad Scott did a tremendous job pulling his young side together and had them in contention for the top eight right until the final round of the season, ultimately finishing in ninth.
The Roos’ season featured impressive wins over finalists Hawthorn, Sydney, Greater Western Sydney and eventual premiers West Coast.
Ben Brown finished second in the Coleman Medal with 61 goals, four behind leader Jack Riewoldt, and established himself as one of the most dominant full forwards in the competition.
Meanwhile, speedster Jed Anderson enjoyed a breakout year, and Majak Daw seemingly found a place in the side down back.
Shaun Higgins enjoyed an exceptional year, as he set a career-high in disposals en-route to earning his first All-Australian selection, while hard-nut Jack Ziebell in the forward line proved a revelation as he kicked 35 goals.
In: Jared Polec (Port Adelaide), Aaron Hall (Gold Coast Suns), Dom Tyson (Melbourne), Jasper Pittard (Port Adelaide), Tarryn Thomas (Pick 8, North Launceston/NGA Indigenous), Curtis Taylor (Pick 46, Calder Cannons), Bailey Scott (Pick 49, Broadbeach/Father/Son), Joel Crocker (Pick 69, Sandringham Dragons/Father/Son), Tom McKenzie (Rookie, Northern Knights), Tom Wilkinson (Rookie, Southport), Red Og Murphy (Category B rookie)
Out: Ryan Clarke (Sydney), Braydon Preuss (Melbourne), Jarrad Waite (retired), Billy Hartung (delisted), Tom Jeffries (delisted), Oscar Junker (delisted), Gordon Narrier (delisted), Daniel Nielson (delisted), Josh Williams (delisted), Mitch Hibberd (delisted), Declan Mountford (delisted), Alex Morgan (delisted), Kyron Hayden (delisted)
Offseason grade: B
North fans will be pleased with the acquisitions of Hall, Tyson and Pittard who should all slot straight into the club’s best 22.
Meanwhile, Polec arrives fresh off the best season of his career, backing up his breakout 2017 campaign with a career-high 25.1 disposals per game in 2018.
The Kangaroos also brought in academy sensation Tarryn Thomas, selecting him with Pick 8 at the 2018 NAB AFL Draft.
While most departures came via delistings as the club cut a host of passengers, the loss of promising big man Braydon Preuss to Melbourne and the inevitable retirement of unlucky veteran Waite hurt.
Due to their improved performance in 2018, the North face a much tougher schedule in 2019.
If the club is to break into the top eight like many expect, the Kangaroos will rely on continued success in Tasmania, as they turned Blundstone Arena into a fortress in 2018.
The Roos face some quality opposition across the Bass Strait, hosting Sydney (Round 9), GWS (Round 13), St Kilda (Round 16) and Melbourne (Round 23).
C: Jared Polec, Aaron Hall, Paul Ahern
FF: Mason Wood, Ben Brown, Shaun Atley
I/C: Ben Jacobs, Dom Tyson, Jy Simpkin, Ed Vickers-Willis
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Kangaroos have an exceptional spine.
Thompson and Tarrant have been consistent performers down back, while Ziebell has established himself as a dangerous option as a lead-up half forward in front of Coleman runner-up Ben Brown.
Goldstein was back to his best in 2018 after a dip in 2017 and will be putting it down the throats of hard-nut Ben Cunnington and the classy Higgins, while Hall and Polec both bring huge potential on the wings.
However, questions remain over the Kangaroos young players.
McDonald regressed in 2018 after what looked like a breakout 2017 season, while it is time for the promising Mason Wood to step up heading into his sixth year of AFL footy.
Jed Anderson, also heading into his sixth season, will hope to maintain his 2018 form.
Expectations on the Kangas to make the eight may be a bit much for a team that is still quite young.
The club undoubtedly made a number of improvements over the summer, but with a tougher schedule in 2019 will face an uphill battle to play finals football.
If the club are to feature in September, they will have to navigate a tough stretch of games in the back end of the year, playing West Coast (Away), Hawthorn (Home), Geelong (Away), Port Adelaide (Home) and Melbourne (Home) in rounds 19-23.
We expect to see North around the same mark as 2018, but won’t be surprised if the club regresses from last year’s 12-10 record.