North Melbourne’s 2023 season checklist

A new season means a fresh start; particularly so in North Melbourne’s case.

Last year I wrote a checklist for things I wanted to see throughout 2022. As the season went south at an alarming rate, I occasionally thought about how pointless that post ended up being…

But! We’re back for another attempt in 2023. Thanks to all who responded to the call out, giving a useful insight to where everyone’s head is at.

Here are my five things I’m looking for, with the usual disclaimer this goes beyond wins and losses. For the record though, I’d be happy with six wins and over the moon with eight – injury permitting.


Those on the $5 and $10 Patreon tiers enjoy first access to this post. If you’ve missed how the Patreon will work in 2023, you can find all the details here.

There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some favourites, and simplified tiers. Of course, the old faithful North Melbourne match reviews will stay the same, the morning after each game.

Here’s the link to the Patreon page.


Filling out the back seven

The eagle eyed will notice this is exactly the same sub-heading I used in the Western Bulldogs match review, and with good reason.

This basically functions as part two on that topic, taking a longer-term view. For all intents and purposes, the plan will be for Ben McKay (age 26 year in 2023), Griffin Logue (age 25 year), Aidan Corr (age 29 year) and Luke McDonald (age 28 year) to be mainstays for at least the next 3+ years.

After that there are plenty of questions. Jack Ziebell will start the year in the back seven, and I’d expect Aaron Hall to return immediately once match fit. But those two, at their advanced age and out of contract this year, can’t be relied on past 2023 with any degree of certainty.

Then there are a number of inexperienced – either in age, games played, or both – contenders to fill out the defensive unit. The ‘most’ experienced is Lachie Young with 43 games played, followed by Aiden Bonar at 32, then Flynn Perez at 19, tailed by a string of first and second-year players.

There are so many moving parts it’s tricky to prioritise what should come first. Here are a few things to consider, in no particular order:

– How much will these final three players be relied on for offensive drive? Will it be for nearly everything? How much does Alastair Clarkson want McDonald to focus on (presumably) taking the best mid-sized or small forward, compared to driving off half back?

– Given Corr can – and will – play on tweeners, while McDonald can also play relatively tall for his size, does that mean the final three players will all trend smaller?

– Will there be give in Clarkson and the coaches’ initial plans as they gather data on who can and can’t carry out the game style?

– And perhaps most importantly, what are the likes of Perez, Goater, Dawson, Bergman, Archer and Drury capable of out of the gate? With so much to discover, someone will come from the clouds and impress.

So there are just a few things to discuss, and this is just for one area of the ground. While it may not be touched on every week in match reviews and extra posts, there will be periodic check-ins on the Rolling Notes”>Rolling Notes page, exclusive to those on the $10 Patreon tier.

The second key forward

Much like the back seven, this is a multi-part equation as well. It appears the initial plan* is to have two tall forwards, with the second doubling as the back-up ruck. The likely absence of Cam Zurhaar in Round 1 may change things temporarily, but big-picture I’m assuming it’s a two-tall setup and working off that.

(*That being said, last pre-season it also appeared the plan was for two talls. Then we saw whatever Round 1 was supposed to be)

My first priority: Charlie Comben playing 12+ games, with no major injuries and not looking out of place – anything extra is gravy. Whether that means 10 goals or 30 goals, to me that’s secondary. On the surface it may appear like excessively low expectations for a player the fans have such high expectations for.

But from my point of view, I’m confident Comben has all the tools to consistently impact games in time. It’s just to get there he just needs precious game time. Without it you’re asking a two-gamer to move from 0 to 100 with the click of a finger.

If that doesn’t happen, the second priority is Callum Coleman-Jones playing 10+ games as the second forward and figuring out whether he’s capable of holding down that role.

If Coleman-Jones wasn’t third in line for both the forward role (behind Larkey and Comben) and ruck position (behind Goldstein and Xerri), he definitely is now while recovering from a foot injury.

My read is that Coleman-Jones will eventually settle as a ruck-forward, using his mobility to provide a different look to Xerri once Goldstein finishes up towards the end of the decade. But for the moment, Coleman-Jones’ quickest path into the team (when fit again) appears to be as a forward-ruck.

Between him or Comben, either way there should be plenty of valuable insight by the end of the season; if not halfway through it.


One of the new features on here in 2023 is the ability to create your own positional depth chart for every club.

It’s available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers, and hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.

Here is where to find the page.


Simpkin, Phillips and Powell

I can’t remember if I’ve said this publicly yet, but here goes…

I’m unsure how many minutes this trio can play in the same on-ball rotation (note: wings don’t count for this point). It’s not a commentary on their individual skills at all – far from it – but more a query on whether they’re too small as a collective, in turn placing a natural ceiling on what they can achieve.  

To be ultra clear, it wouldn’t be a bad combination by any means, or even in the bottom third of the competition once all three are up and running – but there’d be a clear path to counter it by matching up with size.

These are two deliberately extreme examples coming up to emphasise a point, but imagine if Brisbane put Dunkley, Berry and McCluggage head to head, or Melbourne similar with Oliver, Petracca and Brayshaw – they’d aim to bully the North trio in tight.

It’s extremely harsh on Phillips to even think of a negative. He’s got through a mountain of work just to be ready for Round 1 after a hellish 2022. In an individual sense he’s a little like Comben in that he just needs AFL minutes, plain and simple.

But from a team point of view, particularly in a midfield rotation, it’s all about how a group works in tandem. Look over at Essendon and it’s why the trio of Merrett, Parish and Shiel hasn’t consistently worked to date – they have a clear weakness you can game plan against.

For the Simpkin, Phillips and Powell trio, there hasn’t been a game where all three have enjoyed centre bounce time since Round 7, 2021. I’d love to see my theory disproven spectacularly, which is why I’m actually hoping for games where they all spend substantial time together.

Because if the trio works well, it unlocks so many more possibilities for rotations and matchups. But if it doesn’t, then there needs to be a discussion on who plays where. Perhaps Powell spends more time on the wing (where he already looks promising). Maybe it’s Simpkin who has extra minutes as the sixth forward. You never know, Phillips may become the prime extractor.

Either way, there needs to be data collected. The quicker a conclusion can be arrived at, the quicker North’s list can develop.

The ‘staying in the game’ intangible

Of the responses I received when asking what North’s checklist should be in 2023, the most common was ‘no blowouts’.

As much as it would be nice, the reality is every bottom six side gets handed a belting or three. What I want to do is take that mindset and shift it slightly.

This may sound a little odd given the scoreboard, but in the face of everything the players were asked to do on-field last year, I thought their ability to keep playing and pushing was extraordinarily good. The issue, as we’ve covered frequently, was having to try and play wildly dated football until Leigh Adams took over.

In 2023 I’d like to see that effort harnessed into playing ‘their way’ for four quarters. That phrase is dangerously close to wishy-washy, lazy analysis because some can twist it to suit whatever narrative they want to build, but ultimately what it’s supposed to mean is a clear idea of how to move with and without the ball.

That is something which can be achieved every week regardless of the scoreboard, and what I mean by staying in the game. While there’ll be games where it looks like said ‘clear idea’ keeps running into a brick wall, in turn that’ll unlock the next chapter for this North side.


Before the season officially begins, here is everything from the pre-season on The Shinboner:

Predicting every team’s over/under win total
From The Notebook: Practice Matches
North Melbourne’s match review v Western Bulldogs
The 2023 Continuity Rankings
From The Notebook: Match Simulation
Depth Chart page
Rolling Notes page


The priority levels across style and individuals

Even the best laid plans change once they’re exposed to opponents.

Without any inside knowledge, I’ll guarantee the base plan for Round 1 will have changed – both subtly and openly – by the time Round 8 rolls around. It’s just how it works, especially for a team at North’s stage.

What I’m most intrigued about is how much rope Clarkson and the coaching staff give to certain areas. That will indicate where their biggest focus is, compared to where they’re more willing to tinker and experiment.

Let’s use the first four points as examples:

1. How much room will the likes of Perez and Goater get to develop at AFL level, or will the back seven be brought along much slower both with and without ball in hand? Could ball use be scaled back depending on the season’s start – or even scaled up?

2. Will the two-tall setup stick all season, or will there be a willingness to experiment with three? How about having another mid-sized player along Zurhaar?

3. What will the midfield rotations look like by the bye? How similar will it be to the practice match against the Bulldogs?

4. How will the playing group respond to the first sign of adversity? Like, perhaps Round 2 in Perth? What will that teach Clarkson about his players?

And the list goes on and on. But the areas and players that are persisted with will tell everyone plenty about the priority list at North Melbourne in 2023 and beyond.

2 thoughts on “North Melbourne’s 2023 season checklist

  1. “You never know, Phillips may become the prime extractor” by 2024 he absolutely will. Cunners will hand over the duties

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