North Melbourne (4-1-17) 
Ladder position - 18th 
Off-season agenda - Stick to the course and acquire talent wisely

Although many saw it as a foregone conclusion that North Melbourne would finish 2021 at the foot of the table, the Roos managed to do so in a fashion that provided spirit rather than sorrow for the majority of their supporters.

The task ahead of David Noble and his newly assembled mob of Joeys may have appeared grim as the sun set on what was supposed to have been a Good Friday, but across their remaining 18 starts, the previously 0-3 side managed to round out the year with four-wins and a gritty draw against a finals calibre side.

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)

In spite of views that a wooden spoon season should never be seen as anything other than an unmitigated disaster, the Roos’ 2021 campaign that saw the unwanted utensil enter the kitchen draw at Arden Street for the first time in almost half a century was in fact the fourth most successful of any side to be foisted with the title in the last 25 years.

Irrespective of the solace drawn from this statistic being offset by the fact they became the first side to spend every round Tarzan gripped to the ladder’s bottom rung since Band Aid were ruining ear drums, the contemporary Kangaroos should be drawing comparisons with the deeds of those that last claimed the spoon whilst clad in blue and white stripes.

After completing the 1972 season with just singular win over South Melbourne in the bank, the Shinboners were at rock bottom and desperate to end Ron Barassi’s coaching hiatus by luring him from behind the desk of his office furniture business.

Having eventually done so after agreeing to terms on the back of a napkin, North began their journey in the same direction by adding seasoned talent to a roster that already contained the budding talents of Keith Greig, David Dench and Sam Kekovich – a champion spine that remains calcified north-west of the Queen Victoria Markets to this day

Although the names that were brought into the fold were those of high-priced and conspicuous veterans in Doug Wade, John Rantell and Barry Davis, they were the right selections for a list that lacked hardened men to help their youth grow.

As the current occupants of the changing rooms on the corner of Arden and Fogarty have a befitting leader in their coaching box, a similar targeted recruitment strategy could, and should, be implemented this summer, with one noted difference.

AFL Rd 5 - Geelong v North Melbourne
GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Senior coach David Noble of the Kangaroos addresses his players during the 2021 AFL Round 05 match between the Geelong Cats and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at GMHBA Stadium on April 18, 2021 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

I am not for one-minute suggesting that a raft of tenured players should be purchased with the riches of the club’s ‘warchest’, but rather hold the belief that with a list that contains plenty of young talent across each line, the right grout should be located to sit between the bricks that already act as the path to premiership success.

Precocious midfielder Jason Horne is almost certain to call the club home next season, with North being afforded an unimpeded run to secure the South Australian’s services with the first pick of the draft.

Should everything run to plan, the South Adelaide product will become the latest piece to fall into place in Noble’s next-generation engine room plans alongside Davies-Uniacke, Simpkin, Powell, Phillips and Thomas.

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 26: Tarryn Thomas of the Kangaroos looks on during the 2021 AFL Round 15 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Gold Coast Suns at Blundstone Arena on June 26, 2021 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

With midfielding major Ben Cunnington set to return next season after an alarming health battle, this fleet of youngsters will once again have solid leadership beside and above them on game day.

As many key spinal slots are now being fulfilled by those that required toilet training the last time a premiership flag flew over Errol Street, the future is almost now for North. However, with the role of several other limbs still being performed by those that were popping pimples when many of their teammates were motoring about living rooms on all fours, the overhaul is not entirely complete.

Earlier in the season, Noble suggested that a small-forward to compliment the roles of Larkey, Zurhaar and Comben remained high on their off-season shopping list.

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - JULY 07: Nick Larkey of the Kangaroos celebrates a goal during the 2019 AFL round 16 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the St Kilda at Blundstone Arena ground on July 07, 2019 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Whether this is a position they look to fill on the cheap via the draft or whether they are willing to open the chequebook to fulfil, I am not yet certain, but with Gold Coast’s Ben Ainsworth and St Kilda’s Jack Billings remaining off-contract, the club is not without options in the bazaar.

The converse reaction to this recruitment notion is that the injury hampered list of this season will be given another year to prove their wares before the club feels tempted to cut and run in another direction once again.

Having moved on a near dozen names at the cessation of 2020, the collective view from North Melbourne prior to this season was that they would take their lumps and turn their view entirely to the future – a move that paid evident dividends 12 months later.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 02: The Kangaroos look dejected after a loss during the 2021 AFL Round 03 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on April 02, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The only way this tortoise like shuffle towards a re-injection to the September action is unlikely to payoff is if the wrong names are brought in on a pretty penny thus recommencing the entire cycle of jamming their list.

Even though many are likely to state that comparing 2021 to 1972 is a flagrant false equivalency as the development of the pioneering premiership team was based upon a desire to cut corners.

But with the right man for the job calling the shots, a smattering of kids that logically look as though they could contend for ‘Charlie’ across the next decade, and a bumper bottom line to lure big fish, those that joined in the chorus from their living rooms this season must once again trust that Brady Rawlings and his recruitment team know what to bait their hooks with at the trade table in October.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 17: Brady Rawlings, List Manager of the Eagles speaks with the media during the AFL Trade period final day at Marvel Stadium on October 17, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

It may be prosaic for these same supporters that have not seen the ultimate success since Limp Bizkit records were getting a run, but North just need to stick the course to uncover whether the cards under their nose are good enough to one day collect the pot.

As tempting as it may be to wait for pocket aces or to bluff ones way back into steel capping their window open again, the tortoise always beats the hare in Aesop’s allegorical narrative, no matter how many times you re-read it.

1973 saw the North Melbourne Football Club add a further 10 wins to their tally from the previous season, earn a place on the finals periphery and the then woefully underpaid Greig win the first of his back-to-back Brownlow medals.

Now, it would read like something from the quill of Spielberg if a bound into the eight is made and a tuxedoed Jy Simpkin ended next season as the league’s best and fairest player.

But as daydreaming is all that can really be afforded to those that are forced to live in the code’s cellar, North fans should know that if their back office maintains a steady hand and a stingy purse, their fantasies are looking more likely to become reality than they were a year ago.