Round 22 v Sydney: A wooden spoon locked in, future pieces come together

So, North Melbourne have a wooden spoon for the first time since 1972. And everyone will react differently, but mine is a world apart from 2017 and 2020 where finishing bottom was a live possibility at the start of the last round.

In those years it was a desperate want not to finish last, but this year I’ve met it with a shrug of the shoulders. Perhaps it’s because of the clear signs of progress from Round 1 to now, something we didn’t see in 2017 when everything came crashing down, or 2020 when the team gradually morphed into something unrecognisable from their early season successes.

Happy with the 2021 finishing position? Of course not. But now there’s a clear sense of purpose and a plan, which had been missing for too long.

Even on Saturday night – when North’s first half performance was met by David Noble looking as angry as I’ve seen him this year – the night still ended with clarity both in positives and what needs to be worked on as a matter of urgency.


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It’s rare a match analysis starts with a quote from the post-match press conference, but it’s equally rare to see one which crystalises an approach on multiple fronts. This from Noble:

“We didn’t want to expose Charlie (Comben) into the ruck just yet. We like Zurhaar, Larkey, Comben in forward line giving us real versatility and good pressure in that group. That look is I think, where we’d be going.”

In a few sentences, we’ve been able to glean:

– Comben is likely to take on second ruck duties down the track
– Comben, Larkey and Zurhaar look to be the three main forwards for the future
– Assuming this remains the case, this’ll mean no primary focus on recruiting a key forward via trade or draft
– Xerri will likely move closer to a ruck-only role, only being selected as a forward first when there are injuries
– The last one possibly an example of 2+2=5 given how green he is, but Jacob Edwards potentially viewed as Goldstein’s successor when he hangs the boots up in 2028

As for Comben’s game itself, it was perfectly acceptable considering how far back he’s come from just to earn a debut this season. He presented strongly, showed his strengths and wasn’t hidden at all. He didn’t look out of his depth and personally that’s all I look for from a key position player.

If you put Comben’s debut on the Nick Larkey scale and then assume the same rate of improvement, he’ll be kicking 100 goals a season soon enough.

83 percent game time was the second most impressive part of Comben’s game – the highest of all North’s AFL debutants this year (when playing their first full game). For reference: Powell (74% in Round 1), Lazzaro (78% in Round 2), Phillips (71% in Round 3), Ford (80% in Round 20).

However, what really took the cake was Comben’s set shot goal after the final siren. It ticked a lot of boxes at a time when it would have been understandable to see a tired attempt.

Hopefully Comben pulls up well and gets one more match to see out 2021, giving him something fresh in the mind as he works through a full pre-season.


Depending on events that take place next week against Adelaide, the morning after post will likely serve as a season review and look forward to what’s next.

That’ll mean full list analysis, state of the team and a couple extra new things which will hopefully prove to be useful for everyone.


Two goals, three goal assists and a total of 10 score involvements from 11 disposals is a pretty impressive ratio from someone in just their third on-field game.

If Larkey, Comben and Zurhaar are to be the three ‘main’ forwards, so to speak, everyone else will have to work to find their own niche.

For Ford that’ll require operating as a lead up player and threatening teams in that way, creating space for the big three while also learning how to impact with his defensive actions.

The latter will take some time and patience but Ford’s already showing a promising understanding of how to work around others, especially given he’s playing quite deep as demonstrated in heat map.

Until Ford builds his endurance over the summer and is able to roam higher this will be his role, but it was noticeable in live action how there were very few instances of forwards leading over the top of each other.

And while my first reaction was to call this the finger guns, on reflection I’d like to rename it the Cactus Jack. Bang bang!

To finish – and not to take too much away from the season ending piece next week – but if I was to be quizzed about the biggest structural gap to be improved on for 2022 it’d be far and away the need to prevent teams from bouncing the ball out of North’s forward half, instead keeping it trapped in there as often as possible.

Obviously it’s easier said than done, and there’s already been progress on it throughout the year. A stabilisation in team selection will help as North move closer to a settled best 25 or so, clarifying roles and responsibilities.

Too often this year opposition half backs have been able to cruise through and kick start possession chains leading to scores, Nick Blakey the latest to do so in a first half where he was seemingly allowed to do as he pleased.

It forced Noble’s hand at half time, moving Kayne Turner forward, seemingly because of his lack of faith in the remaining ground level forwards to carry out their defensive tasks.

Next week we’ll go in depth to this area along with the rest of the team and list, but until then stay safe and find some footage of Jason Horne-Francis.

2 thoughts on “Round 22 v Sydney: A wooden spoon locked in, future pieces come together

  1. Still watched in horror ( again) at the ease that the Swans, after a NM behind, just went through the motions to get the ball from the square to the midfield. Players not minded, leading players having tons of space, link players standing in the open, clear patterns developed to suit the situation. By contrast, we had Hall just looking/hoping/pleading for someone in our back 50 to give him a lead. The usual happened each time…no leads, kick long, turnover. We have lots to work on over summer but this kick-out routine must be a priority.

  2. Very well thought out article on our Kangaroos year, the coaches have made some really good structure changes, and our players young and experienced have worked really well after round 7.
    Looking forward to 2022 already with more progress from our talented list.
    Warren Spence

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