Opening the North Melbourne mailbag

After a promising three-week spell, it feels like the best time to open the mailbag for 2023.

Last year the plan was to do this semi regularly. Pretty quickly, well, everything hit the fan and the concept was shelved quick smart. Hopefully the second half of 2023 is much smoother.

The only part left to explain before getting into questions is if there were similar asks from multiple people, they’ve been bunched up into one answer.


This post falls into the ‘extra North Melbourne’ category – as do all North pieces which aren’t direct match review/analyses – which means those on the $5 and $10 tiers enjoy early access.

If you’ve missed the Patreon features for subscribers, you can find them all here.

There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some favourites, and simplified tiers. Here’s the link to the Patreon page.


What do you think is the final piece(s) is to the defensive puzzle if McKay and Logue are the pillars for the next 5+ years? – Twitter/tyrone_thomas6

What does the ultimate backline look like if JZ & Hall are done at year’s end? – Twitter/mattg1975

This is something I’ve been tracking each week over on the Rolling Notes page. A peek for those who aren’t on the $10 Tier:

Despite Harry Sheezel’s season so far, long-term I still think his most damaging position is that mid-forward or forward-mid split, opening up a spot in the back seven.

I have high hopes for Miller Bergman and believe he’s keeping a spot into the future; likewise with Josh Goater despite his injury interrupted season.

Apart from that it looks wide open for the future. Looking at what’s underneath with this year’s out of contract players, Kallan Dawson and Lachie Young are the longest of long ways back, Aiden Bonar’s body keeps betraying him, and Flynn Perez must be right on the borderline at this stage.

Along with a small forward – more on that down the page – it should be the area of focus in this year’s draft and trade period.

Succession planning – what does that look like for NM post the career of Goldstein? – Twitter/rickjamesking

Sunday against Essendon made me realise how much most people externally – myself included – is taking Todd Goldstein for granted this year.

At 34, nearly 35 years of age, with more than 300 games under his belt, Goldstein still sits in the top half of rucks across the league. It took an uncharacteristic first quarter against Sam Draper and Andrew Phillips to remember how much he’s relied on, and for good reason too.

Assuming his body holds up this year, succession planning should start with another season for Goldstein – especially given Jacob Edwards hasn’t improved this year as hoped, Hamish Free is a stock, mature-age ruck, and Callum Coleman-Jones looks to be viewed as a forward-ruck rather than the other way round.

It means much of the internal focus turns to whether Tristan Xerri can continue the improvement that was evident in pre-season.

If not, then ‘succession planning’ turns into ‘complete reset’ and an assessment on what type of ruck is best suited for this group in the second half of the decade.

Are you concerned about how we fit Tom Powell into the side, and if he might request a trade for more opportunity? I’d hate to lose him personally. – Twitter/rubbish_bin_man

What’s happened to Tom Powell, seems to have dropped off the pack of midfielders. – Twitter/mattg1975

I love Tom Powell, but where does he fit? – Twitter/rustysnake

Although I’m the self-proclaimed leader of the Tom Powell fan club, his last 5-6 weeks have admittedly been off the pace.

Powell is contracted until 2024, which gives enough time to figure out his best spot in the 22. There is too much talent to let go to waste and the coaches clearly know that as well, given his week as a defender against Sydney and how he’s been shuffled around in general.

His creativity in possession and ability to read play meant I’d always viewed him as a long-term on-baller.

Some players get to turn out in their best position week in, week out. A perfect example is earlier in the piece when I mentioned Sheezel’s eventual best position as a mid-forward or forward-mid. You make that work even if someone else suffers because the reward is sky high.

On the flip side, if Powell is to be an on-baller long term, he has to be better than Luke Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin, George Wardlaw, and Will Phillips if they’re all fit. It looms as a tough ask and he’s too good to sit behind them waiting for a break. It’d be a waste of talent.

The more I try to problem solve, and this might be talking myself into a neat conclusion for the sake of it, Powell could be suited to a spot in the back seven if the ultimate decision is he can’t be a first-choice on-baller. The creativity and reading of play are two skills that can translate from on-ball to behind the ball with time invested in the role.


If you’ve missed any recent North match analyses, you can catch up on the last five here:

Round 12 v Essendon: Closer again
Round 11 v Collingwood: Phases of play
Round 10 v Sydney: 76th Interchange
Round 9 v Port Adelaide: Unblocked exits
Round 8 v St Kilda: Small steps


The Ben, Jack, Todd, Greenwood, and Hall question. How many do we keep? I’m a Todd, Jack and Greenwood man but Cunners is contracted. – Twitter/MrAlewood

Of the five, Cunnington and Greenwood are contracted for 2024, leaving Goldstein, Ziebell, and Hall out of contract.

Clubs normally aren’t in the business of jettisoning contracted players, so I’d be surprised if Cunnington and Greenwood are forced out.

For Goldstein and Ziebell the query is probably whether their bodies hold up. It’s near-impossible to forecast three months out from the end of the season but assuming they finish well enough I’d like both to stick around for another year with an understanding if there’s a line-ball call between them and younger players, the latter will win out.

Hall’s position – even allowing for a solid last three weeks on return to the team – looks to be under the most threat with a couple half-backs needing time and reps. Bergman continues to grow by the week and Goater has looked promising in his glimpses.

On face value keeping four and having to farewell one seems a little imbalanced but there’s hardly a critical mass of 30+ players to leave the list lopsided.

We seem to have a bottle neck in the midfield. 1- how many mids can we feasibly play in any game (incl. mid/fwds etc) and 2- who are they and what’s the best set up? – Twitter/bobtronson

Most teams set up their 22 with seven defenders, eight midfielders (including one ruck and at least two wings), and seven forwards (with the second ruck usually coming from here).

The first part of the equation – figuring out how many midfielders squeeze into a team – depends on two things:

a) How many midfielders can spend time forward
b) How many forwards can spend time in the midfield

Recently North have run double-figure players through their midfield. Take the Essendon game as an example. Even after in-game injuries, there weren’t drastic positional changes:

Wings: Scott, Shiels, Tucker, Ford
On-ball: Simpkin, Phillips, Wardlaw, Thomas, Greenwood, Powell (sub), also Shiels, spot minutes for Sheezel and Zurhaar

That’s half the team.

The second part of the equation – the best setup – depends on your confidence on how many forwards can contribute to the midfield.

Pretending everyone’s fit (stop laughing), I’d be looking at something like the following for Round 1 next year based on the current list:

Wings: Scott, ??? (Ford as #3)
On-ball: Davies-Uniacke, Simpkin, Wardlaw, Phillips
Forward/on-ball, second string: Thomas, Sheezel, Zurhaar
I really hope I haven’t forgot an obvious player

The fun part is 10 different people answering that question can realistically give 10 different answers; all well within reason too.


Now the mid-season draft is in the books, all the relevant list demographics, contracts, and depth chart pages have been updated to play around with.

The depth chart pages are available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers. Hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.

Here is where to find the page.


What’s the optimum small forward arrangement? Stephenson locking one spot. with 2 talls and a tweener in Zurhaar, who get the other three slots? – Twitter/cambeggars

Charlie Comben’s injury put paid to my hopes of seeing an extended look at three talls (Comben + Nick Larkey + Coleman-Jones) any time this year, just to see if it’s feasible in reality.

To start the season it was a 2-2-2 format: talls, half forwards, small forwards, with the normal seventh forward selection in the 22 going to the midfield rotation. That’s gone out the window in recent weeks with things like Eddie Ford’s introduction, Thomas’ return, Wardlaw’s introduction into the midfield, and the injuries forcing a reshuffle.

Overall, much of the mix depends on how deep the midfield rotation is and the pressure those players can put on without the ball in their forward stints.

If Thomas can continue with a game like his return against Essendon – four tackles inside forward 50 – you can probably get away with one pure small forward and everyone else chipping in.

I’d be fascinated to know whether Ford is viewed as a potential full-time winger long-term, or whether he continues in his current role as a half forward and back-up winger. He’s not a high-pressure player at this stage, so maybe his forward time coincides with Zurhaar’s midfield stints and vice versa.

Otherwise you’re leaving a lot of responsibility to the remaining two on-field forwards if Zurhaar, Ford, and the two talls are spending heavy minutes in forward rotations together.

This is all an extremely long-winded way of saying I can’t see an optimum small forward arrangement at the moment. If I had to predict where it’ll end up, I’ll say it’ll continually fluctuate between one or two smalls depending on form.

I was wondering what your thoughts are with the list profile and our current draft hand being where they are, whether we should be looking to trade for pick 1 and Harley Reid, or bank the small forward in Nick Watson with our first pick and use our later first rounder on another list need. – BigFooty/Warlord2Cheezels

With the midfield looking pretty much set what players should we target for the club to take the next step. – Twitter/jackphillips417

Specific draft knowledge isn’t my strong point, so I’ll stay away from the relative merits of Nick Watson and Harley Reid.

In general though, I don’t want to trade a handful of assets from this year’s hand for a single player. Reason being is I think this’ll be North’s last year with multiple bites at the top end of the draft before moving up the ladder.

With probably three picks within the first 22-23* or so, it’s a chance to stockpile as much talent as possible. There’s even the possibility of trading a future first rounder for something this year, much like Melbourne in 2019, 2020, and 2021 to create a continual loop of extra picks.

(*Note: I completely spaced on the trade North Melbourne made last year giving Adelaide their second round pick, so this isn’t right)

As for immediate needs, in order my three areas are small forward, half-back/small defender, and a flexible tweener-sized defender who can play tall and small.

What/who is our best option for kick ins going forward? – BigFooty/muttley45

Thankfully we have the data to answer this question. Five players have taken more than one kick-in this year:

73: Jack Ziebell
21: Harry Sheezel
18: Luke McDonald
16: Aaron Hall
8: Aidan Corr

Break it down to the five games Hall has played, and the numbers look a little different:

23: Ziebell
16: Hall
4: McDonald
2: Sheezel

That is all courtesy of the excellent, an incredibly valuable resource.

For the next part of the equation, in my opinion it comes down to what you want from your kick-ins. There’s the safety v aggression debate – is a preference to retain possession, or risk a little more to get more reward?

Over Ziebell’s whole season – yes, even including Sunday when he was uncharacteristically off – he has split the balance nicely.

He’s taken more kick-ins than anyone else in the league and of those in the top 20:

– Only three players turn it over less than him
– No-one’s kick-ins get to their team’s forward 50 more often than Ziebell’s

That’s not a typo. No-one. Naturally a bit of the latter stat comes down to what happens with the second and third kick in a chain, but a chain can’t evolve if the first kick is subpar.

From my end, all the above means Ziebell is the man to continue taking most kick-ins this year.


Patreon has, not before time either, introduced the ability to offer free trials.

The trials last for seven days, at which point the first charge will go through.

Here’s what the posting schedule looks like for June. Follow the prompts from there to sign up if interested.


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