AFL Rd 2 - Gold Coast v North Melbourne
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27: Jack Ziebell and the Kangaroos leave the field after losing the round 2 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Metricon Stadium on March 27, 2021 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

A last place finish left a sour taste in the mouth of many North supporters in 2021, while an impressive second half of the season left others cautiously optimistic heading into the new year.

With a new number 1 draft pick at the club and some new recruits exciting fans, the Kangaroos will be a side to watch in 2022, but the club still has plenty of unanswered questions as we inch towards Round 1.

Here are the burning questions for North Melbourne heading into the 2022 season.

Will Jason Horne-Francis debut in Round 1?

Horne-Francis enters his first AFL season with the prestigious title of the number 1 pick. An undisputed star during his junior seasons, Horne-Francis was a must watch for recruiters throughout 2021, with some crediting the 18-year-old as being one of the best number 1 picks in years.

The South Australian had a stellar season with Glenelg in 2021, playing 20 games including the preliminary final which saw him dominate with 18 contested possessions, 11 clearances, 10 score involvements and three goals.

A seemingly ready-made star, the one question surrounding Horne-Francis now is when he will run out as a Kangaroo for the first time. Facing Hawthorn first up in a winnable match at the MCG, it seems likely that North fans won't have to wait long to see their coveted number 1 pick in action.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 24: Number one draft pick Jason Horne-Francis goes to North Melbourne
during the NAB AFL Draft at the Cathedral Hotel on November 24, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos)

Who comes after Todd Goldstein?

The North Melbourne veteran has proved himself time and time again as one of the premier rucks in the competition. Heading into season number 15, the 33-year-old is yet to make a decision on his future but will leave a gap in the North Melbourne side once he chooses to retire.

The North stalwart played 22 games in 2021, including the Round 17 match against West Coast in which he broke the VFL/AFL record for the most hit-outs ever, a statistic previously held by Aaron Sandilands. While Goldstein still looks to be a dominant figure in 2022, his age does raise the question of the ruck succession plan at Arden Street.

Tristan Xerri (12 games) and Jacob Edwards (yet to debut) look seem to form part of North's long-term plan, with mid season acquisition Edwards signing a new deal last season that will see him through until the end of 2023. Callum Coleman-Jones, the former Tiger, looks most likely to take the mantle from Goldstein once he hangs up the boots. The 22-year-old has played just nine senior games since his debut in 2019 and mostly spent time in the forward line at Richmond.

A versatile ruck and forward, Coleman-Jones will have big shoes to fill should he claim the number one ruck spot, but will hopefully have a season under the tutelage of Goldstein.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 25: Marc Pittonet of Carlton and Todd Goldstein of North Melbourne challenge for the ball during the round 8 AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Carlton Blues at The Gabba on July 25, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Is the season defined by climbing the ladder?

After a last place finish in 2021, the only way is up for North in 2022. Bringing in recruits like Coleman-Jones and Hugh Greenwood has injected the club with a glimmer of hope that their days dwelling at the bottom could be coming to an end.

While coach David Noble is backed by the club and his vision for the future seemingly embraced by supporters, it's hard to know what North Melbourne would classify as a success at the end of 2022. With ageing veterans and exciting, but undeveloped, young talent, no one realistically has the Kangaroos making an upwards leap, but their win-loss record may not define their season.

Players like Horne-Francis, Nick Larkey and Cam Zurhaar have repeatedly been marketed as the future of the club, and for good reason. Rebuilding a club is often a long and sometimes painful journey, and while North will be hoping to see some tangible improvement on the ladder throughout 2022, it may not be the basis for their definition of success.

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)

Can Jaidyn Stephenson become a star?

Former Pie Stephenson has had his fair share of headlines in his relatively short career. The 23-year-old made the move to the Kangaroos for the 2021 season after falling out of favour at the Holden Centre and immediately made an impact at his new club, playing 19 games for the year. A stand out performance came against the Eagles in Round 17, a game which saw him collect 38 disposals and a goal.

Off-field indiscretions aside, Stephenson has always had the talent to be an outright star of the competition. His time spent in the midfield in 2021 saw him selected for the 22 under 22 team for the second time, while his debut year at the Pies in 2018 saw him awarded the Rising Star award.

Stephenson's hip fracture, suffered in late August after drinking with friends, hasn't seemed to impact his pre-season program greatly with the 23-year-old on track to be right for Round 1. Heading into 2022 eager to repay the faith shown by the Kangaroos, this could be the year Stephenson steps up and becomes a bonafide star of the game.

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)

Can the Kangaroos prove themselves on Good Friday?

A disappointing few seasons down at Arden Street has seen the Kangaroos afforded few prime time games in each fixture. A constant however, has been the Good Friday match that North have participated in since its inception in 2016. The Kangaroos have faced the Bulldogs, St Kilda and Essendon throughout the years, with last years match ending in an embarrassing 128-point loss at the hands of the Bulldogs.

Granted the standalone game against the Dogs once again in 2022, North will be hoping to redeem themselves on the prime time stage and fill the stands at Marvel Stadium after two Covid disrupted seasons left some seats empty.

The AFL seem to have granted North Melbourne the license to make this fixture their own, but another heavy loss won't be good for anyone but their opponents.

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)