What went right?
The common expectation was that the 2018 season would be a struggle for North Melbourne. Given they were in the race for the eight right up to the bitter end, it is safe to say that the answer to this question is a lot!
A team that on paper certainly isn’t one of the most talented, played like one that wouldn’t seem out of place in this year’s finals series. Some might even suggest they would have provided sterner opposition than Geelong or the Swans did in the first week. So what turned this team that looked like going down the rebuild track into one that was great for the much of the season? For me, coaching.
Brad Scott coached them as well as he could have this year, with his decision making strong throughout the season. In particular, Majak Daw’s push back into the defence and back into North’s 22 has saved Daw’s career. Yes, Scott has had a while to find his best position, but Daw’s form in the latter part of 2018 provided the Roos with a point of difference later on in the year.
Jack Ziebell’s permanent move into the forward line worked just as well, with the captain of the club kicking 35 goals for the season. He provided a solid foil for Ben Brown and to Jarrad Waite, in the form of a smaller, yet strong, warrior.
Ultimately, they were more competitive than we could have expected them to be. Their fans had no complaints all season long, as they were just a few better performances away from a spot in the eight. They were dangerous and apart from one bad performance in round one and a few mishaps in the past few rounds of the season. All of which means they look well placed for an attack at September when 2019 comes around.
What went wrong?
After so many great performances in 2018, its their inability to secure a berth in September that is the simple answer to what went wrong for the Kangaroos. Losses to the Crows and more importantly, the Western Bulldogs in games that would have seen North play September footy, that would make fans wonder what might have been. They have been known in the past to lose the close games, and these games in particular put them somewhat back in that category.
One issue that meant North Melbourne fell just short of September footy was some of their players that have promised a lot, going backwards. More specifically, Luke McDonald, Mason Wood and Kayne Turner with all three having seasons that were quite underwhelming. It is important for every side that has success to ensure that the middle to lower level of players consistently perform and play their role, but it wasn’t to be for this trio. There will be pressure on these guys now, as Scott looks to bolster in the trade period.
Standout player: Shaun Higgins
Shaun Higgins has officially become elite. A brilliant year, that may even see him poll well in the Brownlow Medal, saw him earn his first All-Australian jacket. Elevating his game in every stat, Higgins was the focal point and the reason North’s season got off to such a flyer.
In line for a shot at the Syd Barker Medal in 2018, if North Melbourne are going to be a serious top eight contender, he will lead the midfield as he continues into the prime of his career. Accompanied by Ben Cunnington and hopefully one more midfielder such as Jared Polec or even Andrew Gaff as the 2019 season comes around, a bit of extra help may see Higgins elevate his game even more.
Ben Brown was brilliant and was very unlucky to not win the Coleman Medal, unfortunate that Jack Riewoldt decided to kick ten against the Suns in the last month of the year – a notable shout for their standout player.
There were a few contenders for this one, including their mauling of the West Coast Eagles in Hobart. But one of their most important wins was their victory in Sydney over the Swans, as Mason Wood kicked the sealer with all the composure in the world to see his side come out two point winners. Wood was instrumental, kicking four goals. No surprises though, Shaun Higgins was brilliant, but Ben Jacobs and Jed Anderson were not far behind.
North led for the majority of the contest, but it was the Swans that got the lead back in the fourth term, who looked as if they would do what they do best and that is snatch it when they look like losing. But the Kangas’ were able to hold out and win the game for themselves, backing up some big wins and taking their record to 5-3. They were unable in the long run to capitalise on a big win such as this, but at the time, this was massive.
Goals for 2019:
The goal for the Roos is finals, simple as that. A season that looked as if it would end with a gallant effort in the finals was unfortunately a ninth placed finish, so the next step in progression is to make the eight. However, do they have the list for it?
With many key players on the wrong side of 30 and going towards the end of their careers, are they going to be able to be better than ten others next season? There are more that certainly have upside, but a few good moves at the trade table including a star signing must be on the cards. All in all though, their expectation at Arden St and the expectations from their fans must be finals footy.
In terms of what we all thought at the start of the season, their season was a massive pass. They were bottom four for mine, and I didn’t think they were going to be a contender at all. But they were, and they were in it up to their teeth. They were also a side that if they made it, would have looked dangerous come finals time. I think they once again could be in strife next season, but I look forward to Brad Scott proving me wrong once again.