PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 12: Jaidyn Stephenson and Ben Cunnington of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal during the 2021 AFL Round 17 match between the West Coast Eagles and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Optus Stadium on July 12, 2021 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Kangaroos finished last this season, failing to advance beyond a bottom four appearance in 2020. Here's how we review their year.

Season Finish: 18th
Record: Four wins, 17 losses, one draw

2021 Season snapshot

North Melbourne's season was highlighted by their Round 17 trip to Perth, where they defeated the West Coast Eagles by ten points. They also drew with the GWS Giants in Hobart in Round 13.

Veteran midfielders Jack Ziebell and Ben Cunnington, as expected, had strong individual seasons. Young guns Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Tarryn Thomas and Aaron Hall also excelled individually.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 07: Aaron Hall and Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos look dejected after losing the round 21 AFL match between Richmond Tigers and North Melbourne Kangaroos at Melbourne Cricket Ground on August 07, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

However, at no point in the season did they ever threaten the finals race as any hope of September action was shot by losing their first eight games of the season.

No one would've necessarily expected North Melbourne to achieve big things in 2021, but finishing with the wooden spoon was a step backwards from their 2020 campaign.

Star player: Ben Cunnington

Cunnington was again a standout player for the Kangaroos as he firmly cements his place in North Melbourne folklore.

He finished second in the club's best and fairest count and polled 15 Brownlow Medal votes, despite only playing 15 matches this season.

The 30-year-old averaged 26.8 disposals, as well as 4.9 tackles per game.

As a player who leads through hearty and determined on-field grit, Cunnington embodies the heart and soul of the club. His season was disrupted after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July, and his love for the club is evident for all to see.

Breakout player: Jy Simpkin

Jy Simpkin played all 22 games this year in what was a very solid individual season from the 23-year-old midfielder.

His outstanding season earned him his first best and fairest medal, finishing with 143 votes, ahead of Cunnington in second (117 votes) and Jack Ziebell and Aaron Hall in equal-third (114 votes).

With all the qualities of a potential future club champion, North will be keen to secure Simpkins' services for the long term. He collected 26.9 disposals per game (10.7 contested possessions) this season.


A horrific start to the season was somewhat rectified

North's season was looking ominous from the outset, losing their first four matches by an average of 70 points.

That included the 128-point drubbing at the hands of the Western Bulldogs in the Good Friday clash.

But after their first win of the season against Hawthorn in Round 9, North remained competitive in most games for the rest of the season, with an average losing margin of 30 points.

They finished with wins against the Eagles, Blues, Suns and Hawks, as well as a draw against the Giants.

David Noble showing promise in first season behind the wheel

David Noble is still early in his tenure as senior coach, being appointed last year after Rhyce Shaw left the club.

North are in need of a long-term committed coach to garner team spirit and build a foundation of success under the same leader, and North's modest change throughout the season is promising.

North Melbourne Kangaroos Media Opportunity
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 23: New Kangaroos coach David Noble poses during a North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL media opportunity at Arden Street Ground on November 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Brad Scott, who coached North for ten seasons, took the side to consecutive preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015.

Other recent premiership-winning coaches including Damien Hardwick, Simon Goodwin and Adam Simpson have been at their respective clubs for several seasons before any success was achieved.


Failure to advance from 2020 campaign

North did win one more game than their 2020 efforts, but of course, the 2020 season was shortened to 17 home and away games. After finishing second last, there aren't many options when it comes to performing worse, and North managed to do that.

Understandably, that would be looked upon negatively by the Kangaroos fraternity and hopefully, for North's sake, the 2022 season calls forth an advancement in their strive for success.

Looking ahead, the biggest change expected from the off-season is that the Kangaroos will lose one of their high-profile names in Robbie Tarrant, who will find a new home at Richmond. In return, the Kangaroos will receive Coleman-Jones and Picks 42, 47 and the Tigers' future fourth-round selection.

The club has managed to re-sign young stars Nick Larkey (2024) and Luke Davies-Uniacke (2023), as well as vice-captain Luke McDonald (2025) for the future.

Poor off-field moments

North Melbourne forward Jaidyn Stephenson made headlines during the season for all the unwanted reasons.

In July, he described the COVID-19 pandemic as being overplayed, claiming that it had been hyped up by the media unnecessarily.

No less than six weeks later, Stephenson was hospitalised due to an alcohol-fuelled mountain biking incident at his home.

It came from a player who had been thrown a lifeline by North Melbourne after he fell out-of-favour in the Collingwood forward line and engaged in a betting scandal there.

Season Grade: C-

Overall, North Melbourne was probably expected to finish in the bottom four.

It was a forgettable season again for the Kangaroos as the team struggled to gel on-field and string stronger performances together.

Albeit a poor season, it's not necessarily a failure, given realistic expectations of their season. Not many people would be overly shocked they finished last this season.