Vendetta Sports Media is once again covering Australian Rules Football in 2022. Today we continue our AFL season preview series with a a look at a club for whom the only way is up Yazz…uh…up. Sorry. Anyway, today we preview the North Melbourne Kangaroos.
In mapping out their rebuild the Kangaroos reportedly tagged 2021 as their year for bottoming out. With what was planned to be the worst season out of the way, can the Roos climb off the bottom of the table in 2022?
For all of our previous season 2022 AFL team previews, click here.
18th position: 4 wins, 1 draw, 17 losses, 80.3%.
If the Kangaroos hierarchy did indeed tag 2021 to be the nadir of their rebuild, then kudos to them. They got it right: 2021 was a terrible year for North Melbourne.
Under rookie coach David Noble, the Kangaroos lost their opening eight games before a narrow win against fellow stragglers in Hawthorn ultimately broke their duck. In the back half of the season, however, North were far more competitive. They won three more games, including a ripper against Carlton in which Nick Larkey kicked seven goals, and their losses were on the whole far more palatable.
As should be expected in a rebuilding process, the Kangaroos were able to develop a series of youngsters in 2021; Jack Mahoney, Curtis Taylor and Bailey Scott impressing.
Ultimately, with just four wins the Roos were anchored to the foot of the AFL ladder. With more new talent injected into the lineup – including first overall draft pick Jason Horne-Francis – and many of the Roos best veterans expected to play more often in 2022, the team should perform to a much higher standard.
Key ins: Callum Coleman-Jones (Richmond), Hugh Greenwood (Gold Coast), Jason Horne-Francis, Jackson Archer, Paul Curtis, Josh Goater, Miller Bergman (all draft)
Key outs: Robbie Tarrant (Richmond), Dom Tyson, Wil Walker, Shaun Atley, Trent Dumont, Tom Campbell, Charlie Ham, Taylor Garner, Conor Menadue (all released)
Like many rebuilding teams, the Kangaroos have shipped out a whole raft of under performing veterans (i.e. the players that got them in this position) for draft picks and young footballers.
The Roos efforts at the negotiating table have landed them the likes of Jared Polec, Jaidyn Stephenson, Jed Anderson, Aaron Hall and this season Callum Coleman-Jones (traded this offseason or the underrated defender Robbie Tarrant) and Hugh Greenwood. All are good, solid AFL players; foot soldiers in a competitive side. Not one of them could be considered a star, however.
With the Kangaroos best players all ageing – Todd Goldstein is 33, Jack Ziebell 31 with Ben Cunnington about to join him – this is a team in desperate need of a genuine superstar, somebody who can be that tent pole talent that the team can build around. Lord knows the Roos have tried to lure a ready made star to Arden Street, failing in their attempts to sign Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly, among others.
So, if the Roos are to play a star it seems as through they’ll have to grow one. The logical questions is ‘who’? Who amongst this current Kangaroos list has the potential to become a genuine A Grade AFL talent? To this writers eye, there are three.
As is usually the case in a struggling side, key forward Nick Larkey often struggles to make an impact given the lack of midfield service he receives. Now aged 23, the 6’6” full forward has all the physical tools to be a dominant forward. He’s big and strong, has good pace augmented by excellent acceleration, is agile when the ball hits the floor, has vice-like hands and is an accurate kick for goal. He broke out in 2021, kicking 42 goals – by far a career high – and drawing around 1.5 free kicks from his opponent. With a better midfield delivering him the ball, there’s no reason that Larkey can’t consistently kick somewhere around 60 goals a year and possibly contend for the Coleman Medal.
If that midfield is to improve, it will come through one (or ideally both) of Horne-Francis or Tarryn Thomas.
Horne-Francis was the consensus #1 pick in the 2021 draft, to the point that North Melbourne reportedly turned down an offer from Adelaide of three 1st round draft picks for the right to claim the South Australian young gun. Horne-Francis profiles as the prototypical inside midfielder, with power, intensity, a nose for finding the ball, discipline and explosiveness. His kicking could do with some work, but he’s young – that can come later. Right now, Horne-Francis has the makings of a Christian Petracca/Marcus Bontompelli type of player. Heady company, indeed.
Thomas, who turns 22 before round two, could turn into a dominant forward or midfielder. So far in his career he’s played as a complimentary forward who drifts into the midfield but, given his size (he still needs to add some strength to his game) speed, silky kicking skills and spectacularly quick hands there is a realistic chance that if he can improve his endurance, become a special midfielder.
Youth aside, North Melbourne will be boosted by stronger and hopefully uninterrupted years from veterans in Goldstein, Cunnington, Luke McDonald, and Ziebell. The exception is Jy Simpkin, who played splendidly in 2021 – a beacon in an otherwise turgid year for the club.
Should this season mirror the last, the Roos hierarchy will be able to console themselves with another 1st overall pick. They surely won’t be pleased, though. With so much young talent on the roster and – with a little luck – more consistency from the veterans, the Roos will hope to replicate their form from the back end of the season, rather than the front.
Ultimately, look for North Melbourne’s young talent to continue to make gradual strides in their development and take some pressure off of that ageing core. The Roos will improve a little but will still fall near the foot of the table.