North Melbourne. A once proud and great club. Their last flag came in 1999, with a decorated list seeing out the 20th century in style.

Since then, it's been mostly mediocrity, with a total of eight finals finishes between 2000 and 2023.

In the 2010s, the Roos had their moments. Famous 2014 and 2015 finals runs ensued where the club would ultimately fall short of a grand final appearance, losing both years in the preliminary final.

Since 2020, it's been a disaster.

In a shortened 2020 season due to pandemic restrictions, the Roos finished 17th. In 2021 and 2022 the club finished bottom of the ladder before a slight improvement in 2023, finishing 17th. Although technically an improvement, finishing higher than the horrific West Coast Eagles in 2023 isn't anything to write home about, especially when it was only due to percentage.

Everything seems to be looking up from here, however, the reality is that the Kangaroos may be stuck toward the bottom for a few more years before any significant change happens. With that being said, what would be the pass mark for the Roos heading into 2024?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07: Cameron Zurhaar of the Kangaroos is congratulated by Will Phillips after kicking a goal during the round four AFL match between North Melbourne Kangaroos and Carlton Blues at Marvel Stadium, on April 07, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The main thing for North Melbourne is to remain competitive. Realistically, they won't win many games, and there's nothing wrong with that. Their list isn't as good as most (yet), so, understandably, they won't be a consistently winning side. Winning isn't the most important thing for this club, at least it shouldn't be.

Remaining a competitive side should be the main goal for Alastair Clarkson. A leading example is Hawthorn of 2024 - whilst finishing 16th, they were competitive.

Despite the public crucifixion of coach Sam Mitchell with unsubstantiated claims of tanking, the Hawks did manage to knock off a few big-name teams. Who were these teams? No one big, just the two teams who faced off in the 2023 Grand Final...

Whilst North Melbourne doesn't need to beat the eventual grand finalists, if they remain competitive for long enough the wins will come.

The perfect example to look at a successfully rebuilding club is the Adelaide Crows. Between the 2017 Grand Final loss to the Tigers and 2020, the Crows drastically declined, embarrassingly so. After some notable off-field incidents, genuinely disturbing pre-season 'camps' and a decline in on-field performance, the club needed to turn around.

Signing Matthew Nicks was perhaps the best decision the club could have made at the time. Although he had a shocking start to his tenure in 2020 (not winning a game until Round 15), the improvement as of the 2023 season is drastic. In 2020, the Crows finished at the bottom of the table. The following year, jumped to 15th, followed by 14th in 2022 and 10th in 2023.

The signings the club made player-wise were also crucial, most notably, Jordan Dawson. The now Crows skipper (along with a handful of other players) has helped turn the ship around. Signing the right talent at the right position is of the utmost importance for the Kangaroos, rather than just talent for the sake of it.

North Melbourne's downfall is their lack of key position players. Up forward, it's Nick Larkey and Nick Larkey only. There's no real support for the one-time All-Australian, but despite that, the club drafted no key forward help once again.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Nick Larkey of the Kangaroos celebrates kicking a goal during the round 12 AFL match between Essendon Bombers and North Melbourne Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium, on June 04, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Additionally, losing key defender Ben McKay to the Bombers did them no favours. Regarding that problem, there's no real genuine solution ahead of season 2024.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Simpkin remarked that the club has a few options defensively to hopefully make up for the loss of McKay.

Charlie Comben has shown some really good signs through the pre-season this year of being a key back for us," said Simpkin.

"We've had 'Biggie' Nyuon come across from the Tiges, who's been exceptional. I've been really pleased with how he's gone about it.

"Kallan Dawson is not the tallest bloke out there but he gives 100 per cent every week no matter what."

Not the names most think of when discussing formidable AFL backlines. But it's a start.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 15: Charlie Comben of the Kangaroos kicks the ball during the 2023 AFL Round 05 match between the Brisbane Lions and the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Adelaide Hills on April 15, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

So with all that considered, what is the pass mark for the Kangaroos in 2023? Well, finals can be ruled out completely. The club would know that too. A big focus point of the season should be just developing the youth at the club. Get plenty of games into the young core and build from there.

To show improvement, ideally, the Roos would double their wins tally from last year. That would mean six wins in 2024. A big jump for sure, but even with six wins, they'll most likely remain in the bottom two. There's a big difference between the bottom two and the teams above. Unfortunately for North Melbourne, they're likely to finish bottom two with the Eagles for the next year at least.

The team that finished 16th on the ladder in 2023 was Hawthorn. They had seven wins.

Even with six wins, they'll likely remain in the bottom two purely based on the talented squads across the competition. Once again, it's not all about winning, simply improving and developing what they already have - something the skipper is adamant about.

“As long as we keep improving, I know it's a cliché saying, but I think we've already seen lots of improvement," said Simpkin.

"I've got no doubt we'll win a lot more games than we did last year."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Jy Simpkin of the Kangaroos in action during the 2022 AFL Round 20 match between the Essendon Bombers at the North Melbourne Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium on July 31, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

If the Roos do indeed manage to hit the six-win mark, who are these wins going to come against? It's a question that is rather hard to answer.

Wins against the Eagles in Rounds 13 and 22 are their best bet. They've got a solid chance against the Dockers in Round 2 as it takes place at Marvel Stadium. The Hawks in Round 6 at Marvel sparks potential winning chances whilst beating the Bombers in Round 10 at the same stadium is also on the cards.

That brings the tally up to five wins. Now if looking at the Hawks from last year, they managed to scalp not one, but two big teams. If the Roos are to take a big win in 2024, could it be the Demons? Plenty is going on at Melbourne that wouldn't be having the best impact on the playing group. Who knows what sort of Demon side will turn up this season?

Overall, the Roos will ideally improve in season 2024. Larkey up forward can handle the brunt of the goalkicking, he's already proven that. The midfield is stacked with young talent with plenty to like from the selection of players. The only really damaging question mark is that of the backline.

From an outside perspective, North's mentality should be that of 'we can score more than you'. Their backline being in the state it is isn't going to stop many of the big-name forwards. Rather, North's own attacking power can win them games.

It's the old adage of 'if you score 100, we can score 101'.

Of course, this is all simply speculation, but if North does show any significant signs of improvement, whether that's in player development or wins on the board, it'll be a successful year.

Another three-win or less season, and it could be a disaster.