At Vendetta Sports Media, we’re covering Aussie Rules football in 2021. Out AFL team previews continue today with an assessment of the struggling North Melbourne Kangaroos.

After a promising 2019 campaign, the 2020 season couldn’t have gone much worse for the Roos. Can they recover somewhat, or are they still to hit rock bottom?

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North Melbourne’s home guernsey

Season 2020

17th: 3 wins, 14 losses, 71.2%

The Kangaroos won their opening two games in 2020. Fair to say it went downhill from there, with only a solitary win – against eventual wooden spooners in Adelaide – to show for their efforts.

An indirect positive for North Melbourne is that 2020 uncovered some deep rooted structural issues within the club, which they’ve started to address.

At the end of 2020, the Roos watched as no less than 13 players departed the club, as well as highly rated young coach Rhyce Shaw.

Key Ins: Jaidyn Stephenson (Magpies), Atu Bosenavulagi (Magpies), Aiden Corr (Giants), Lachie Young (Bulldogs), Connor Menadue (Free Agent), Will Phillips, Tom Powell, Phoenix Spicer, Charlie Lazzaro, Patrick Walker (all draft)

Key Outs: Ben Brown (Demons) Majak Daw (Demons), Shaun Higgins (Cats), Mason Wood (Saints), Jamie McMillan (retired), Ben Jacobs (retired), Jasper Pittard, Paul Ahern, Sam Durdin, Marley Williams, Joel Crocker, Lachie Hosie (all released)

Despite losing star forward Ben Brown to the Demons – although given his continuing knee concerns, perhaps the Kangaroos have dodged a bullet – the Roos have pivoted well as far as playing personnel is concerned. Expensive flop Pittard has been cast aside, as well as high priced veteran Higgins. Coming in are an array of talented younger players mostly champing at the bit for the opportunities playing for a rebuilding side should supply. One man who is already established is former Magpie Jaidyn Stephenson. It’s perplexing as to why Collingwood didn’t fight to keep exciting 22 year old forward. He’s not a traditional key forward, by any means, but he could be the linchpin of the next great North Melbourne side. He’s the real deal.

It’s tough to find a true area of strength in this Kangaroos side, but their forward line does have potential. As well as Stephenson, there is established talent in Aaron Hall and the imposing though maddeningly inconsistent Cam Zurhaar. Nick Larkey’s development is vital to the Roos. The big forward has all the tools to be a leading key forward in the AFL. He’s yet to show his best on a week-by-week basis – you get the feeling that he needs supply from a better midfield for him to maintain his development.

Unfortunately for Larkey and his fellow forwards, that midfield is pop-gun at best. Jack Zeibell and Ben Cunnington are warriors, but have clocked up plenty of miles. The veterans – both will turn 30 this year – are becoming increasingly injury prone. Dom Tyson is another hard nosed ball winner, but like Cunnington and Zeibell, has limited foot speed. That is the biggest issue in the Roos midfield. Champion ruck Todd Goldstein sets up his inside midfielders as well as anyone, but as soon as the ball gets to the outside, the Roos don’t have the speed – or, to be frank, the skill – to deliver sharp passes into the forwards.

Defensively, Robbie Tarrant is a fantastic old fashioned full back. He doesn’t care if he doesn’t get a kick, as long as his opponent doesn’t, either. Aidan Corr is a solid pick up from the Giants. Along with Ben McKay and Luke McDonald, they form a reasonable defensive core. Unfortunately, the inability of the Kangaroos midfield to apply defensive pressure – that foot speed issue, again – means that the defense is always playing from a position of weakness.

The Kangaroos best hope of victories in 2021 will be to slow the game down and turn every match into trench warfare. It’s not going to be pretty.

Prediction: 17th

Hopefully for North Melbourne fans, the club’s 2020 campaign was it’s nadir. Unfortunately, whilst things may be improving off the park, on field the club will continue to struggle mightily in 2021.

With a solid group of youngsters coming through, development will be the name of the game on 2021. How their proud veterans will respond to that will be intriguing. If they embrace the mentorship role and ignore the magnitude of the losses, then North Melbourne will be starting on the right path. If they pout, then it demonstrates that the cultural issues at Arden Street haven’t been eradicated just yet.

The Kangaroos play fellow wooden spoon contenders in Adelaide in the final round, in what could be the most tankiest of tanking efforts seen in a long time.