North Melbourne’s 2022 season was as bleak as they come, with fans struggling to see the positives coming out of the year.
Off the back of suffering back-to-back campaigns at the bottom of the ladder, the Kangaroos have been awarded their 15th wooden spoon.
However, with a strong pre-season under their belt which saw the club unveil number one draft pick Jason Horne-Francis, there was optimism in the air.
Beginning the season relatively strong, North Melbourne were 1-1 after the first two rounds but came up against Brisbane in round three, which saw an 108-point loss.
From then on, the Kangaroos didn’t look like winning a match for the rest of the year and were faced with plenty of big losses, including 112 points (to Geelong), 78 (Fremantle), 69 (Port Adelaide) and 68 (Western Bulldogs).
In May, three recruiting staff departed the club (Glenn Luff, Mark Finnigan and Ben Birthisel).
On July 12, senior coach David Noble was sacked, despite beginning his career 18 months earlier with interim leader Leigh Adams taking over.
However, the week after Noble was shown the door, the Kangaroos registered their second win for the year against Richmond by four points in round 18.
With speculation over who would be appointed the coach in 2023, there was plenty of movement for Alastair Clarkson as president Dr Sonja Hood was adamant on getting their man.
On August 19, Clarkson reunited with his footballing roots, returning to the club he played at during 1987-1995.
North Melbourne fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Arguably the greatest leader in the modern era, the four-time premiership coach at Hawthorn has come across as a messiah.
With his uncanny ability to get the best out of his list, North Melbourne are hoping that they’ll see considerable improvement from their players but are realistic about their chances of a rapid rise.
The former North Melbourne player started from scratch with Hawthorn and was able to draft players like Lance Franklin, Jordan Roughead, Jordan Lewis early in the piece whilst also having a young Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge on the list.
Having turned the Hawks around in 2004 to a premiership glory in 2008, Kangaroo fans are optimistic about the journey they’re about to embark on with Clarkson.
What followed not long after the 2008 premiership for Hawthorn was a dynasty, consisting of a three-peat (2013-2015) as well as a lost Grand Final (2012).
Although it’s difficult to see how the current Kangaroos list can mimic what Clarkson did with the Hawks nearly two decades ago, it is possible that the journey to success starts in 2023.
The Kangaroos boast a list of young talent, led by Luke Davies-Uniacke (23) and Jy Simpkin (24), that the club can build their future around.
Davies-Uniacke was snubbed as an inclusion to the All-Australian squad after having a career best year averaging 25 possessions, five clearances, four tackles and four marks.
Horne-Francis (19) is another name that Clarkson would like to keep around while Cam Zurhaar (24) is key to their prospects.
Then add Ben McKay, Paul Curtis, Tristan Xerri, Phoenix Spicer, Will Phillips, Tom Powell, Tarryn Thomas, Nick Larkey and Callum Coleman-Jones to the mix and there’s bones that can uphold a structure.
A club to which Clarkson can build on, their key players are all under the age of 25.
North Melbourne’s playing list is currently 17th in the AFL, listed at an average of 23.7 years old, hinting at a lot of experience and learning to come.
North Melbourne were kept to two wins in 2022, suffering 20 losses in a disappointing year.
With a percentage of 55.8, their average losing margin was 48 points.
The Kangaroos found it much harder to kick a winning score, hitting an average across the year of 61 points compared to their opposition’s 109.
This is much worse than there 2021 season, which resulted in four wins and a draw, as well as a percentage of 70.3.
Last year they were able to score 66 points in response to their opponents’ 94 points.
The Kangaroos also suffered two 100-plus point losses in 2022 (112 and 108 points).
Is Zurhaar’s attention elsewhere?
Zurhaar has been linked to a move to Essendon as the star forward is out of contract.
Losing the 24-year-old would add to the turmoil at Arden Street, however, the Kangaroos faithful is hoping Clarkson could swivel his head and keep him at North Melbourne.
Zurhaar has been a proven match winner despite being in a side that’s won 22 games in his 83 match career.
Horne-Francis’ potential return to SA
The prized number one draft pick Horne-Francis was caught liking a mock trade that saw him return to his home state, South Australia.
Do North and Port make the trade? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/3PBperlMM7
— 7AFL (@7AFL) June 3, 2022
The South Adelaide product has been visibly upset at times throughout the season, having been used to success within a football environment.
Horne-Francis was caught more than once being in verbal disagreements with senior players at the Kangaroos and showing signs of frustration, which has led to constant speculation over his future at North Melbourne.
Treatment of David Noble
Although North Melbourne got their man in Clarkson, Noble’s treatment was simply unfair and unjust.
Appointed at the beginning of 2021, former GM of Brisbane was sacked after 38 games at the helm, despite inheriting a struggling list.
Unfortunately, Noble managed to win five games for the Kangaroos which equates to a 14 per cent success rate.
Noble was given 18 months to turn a club around that 17th (2020) and 12th (2019) in previous years.
In a time of turmoil, three recruiting staff departed the club (Glenn Luff, Mark Finnigan and Ben Birthisel) prior to Noble’s sacking, displaying a sinking ship happening at Arden Street.
What does North Melbourne need?
Throughout 2022, North Melbourne were scored on extremely heavily, conceding 2397 points in 22 rounds.
Averaging 109 points against per game, the Kangaroos are in dire need of some defenders, preferably some key position players.
Looking at Ben McKay, he is improving the way the club is expecting him too but has little help, as Josh Walker and Aidan Corr are unable to hold down opposition forwards.
Acknowledging that Clarkson has a long way to rebuild this club, it wouldn’t hurt drafting some key defenders in the next few drafts, opposed to trading some in on large-money deals.
Building the spine is something the former Hawthorn coach should look at doing immediately.
Another area of improvement the Kangaroos could glance at is another key forward.
Nick Larkey and Zurhaar are providing strong targets but alike McKay down back, they need help.
Players linked to the club
Although not officially, but the signing of Alastair Clarkson as senior coach has now raised Brad Hill as a potential target for North Melbourne.
Still contracted at St Kilda, it appears that Hill is open to a trade to a fourth AFL club, as reuniting with a former coach appearing to be on the cards.
2022 Out-of-contract players
|Todd Goldstein||Unrestricted Free Agent|
|Kyron Hayden||Unrestricted Free Agent|
|Kayne Turner||Unrestricted Free Agent|
|Josh Walker||Unrestricted Free Agent|
Retirees and Delistings