A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:
After a poor 2009 showing, the Kangaroos asserted themselves as a genuine up-and-coming side in 2010. They finished ninth, just outside the top eight on percentage, behind Carlton. With new coach Brad Scott at the helm, the Roos played with tenacity, reflecting Scott’s playing characteristics, but were inconsistent both between games and from quarter to quarter during games.
As the year progressed, younger players, including forwards Ben Warren and Leigh Adams, defender Scott Thompson and ruckman Todd Goldstein, started to shine. Possibly the biggest standout though was tough midfield rookie Ryan Bastinac, who played all 22 games in 2010 and was nominated for the NAB Rising Star award in round three.
However, injuries affected the team mid-season. Jack Ziebell broke his leg in round nine, vice-captain Drew Petrie sustained multiple foot fractures and midfielder Liam Anthony suffered a severe shoulder injury. As a result, all spent the better part of the season on the sidelines preparing for 2011.
The loss of Petrie provided the team with very few consistent forward targets. Both Aaron Edwards and the now traded David Hale failed to deliver and the match committee acted accordingly, showing little faith in the pair.
Towards the end of 2010, the Kangaroos had a shot at a surprise finals berth, sitting two games behind eighth-placed Carlton with three rounds left. But inexperience showed when it counted most, culminating in a 52-point defeat at the hands of the Saints that decided their fate.
Runner-up in the 2011 Syd Barker Medal for North Melbourne’s best and fairest player, Andrew Swallow will have a big influence over the success of the Kangaroos’ midfield this season. Ranked first in the AFL for tackling last season – 8.3 per game – the 23-year-old’s trademark pressure on the ball carrier will be a key to the midfield clicking and his ability to get clearances will be pivotal in setting up forward 50 entries. Averaging 21 disposals per game in 2010, Swallow needs to find the footy more often to be considered a star of the competition. But his disposal effectiveness of 72% is high and his ability to gather contested possessions is first-class.
THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES FOR 2011:
Round 8 – v Melbourne, Saturday 14 May at Etihad Stadium
This game against the Demons will show exactly where the Kangaroos’ young players are at compared to the star power being touted at Melbourne. It will give the young midfielders a chance to match up with Dee’s young guns Jack Trengove and Tom Scully, as well as give fans a chance to view what could be the emergence of a rivalry between, potentially, the next generation of champion teams.
Round 12 – v Gold Coast, Saturday 11 June at Gold Coast Stadium
Gold Coast – the team everyone wants to see and the team every AFL club wants to play. Fans will get their first chance to make the Swallow comparison by judging how talented younger brother and 2010 number one draft pick David is as opposed to the older Andrew.
Round 19 – v Carlton, Friday 29 July at Etihad Stadium
This match could well have a major bearing on the last spots in the finals. Melbourne, Carlton and North Melbourne will most likely be battling it out for eighth position, so a win here would give the Kangaroos momentum before their round 21 bye.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:
The key to 2011, again for North Melbourne, will be development. With an eye on the future, coach Scott will look to blood young rookies. Highly regarded pair Shaun Atley and Kieran Harper should see some game time in the early part of the season and, if successful in proving their worth, may cement a spot in the side for the season’s duration.
In compensating for the loss of Josh Gibson, the continued improvement of serial pest defenders Scott McMahon and Thompson proved important in 2010. Nathan Grima is also emerging as a player who is capable of playing a key defensive role. However, the most important element to the Kangaroos’ backline this season is Daniel Wells, who has had his strongest preseason in a number of years and will look to improve on last year’s form.
In 2010, the lack of a consistent target up forward stuck out like Ronald McDonald at a KFC convention. Only when Lachie Hansen moved into the forward 50 late in the season did there look to be any semblance of a forward structure. However the return of Petrie as a deep target and signing of former West Coast Eagle Ben McKinley will allow Hansen to play in both attack and defense. It will also provide Lindsay Thomas and Matt Campbell with ample opportunities to crumb off contests.
All up, the Roos should improve this year. They won’t be grand final contenders, because they have a lot of players who need to improve their consistency in order to contribute to the team’s success. But as a young side, the focus will instead be on preparing for future grand final success.
The team will definitely believe they have a legitimate finals chance battling against the likes of the Demons and Carlton.