Expectations for the rest of North Melbourne’s 2023

Resuming after a well-earned week off, there are nine games left for North Melbourne to collect valuable data while setting up for a crucial trade and draft period before a vital 2024 pre-season.

The purpose of today’s post is to reset and refocus. I’ve highlighted the five areas I’ll be keeping a close eye on over the next nine weeks:

– The out of contract players
– The changing back seven
– Figuring out midfield rotations
– Alastair Clarkson’s coaching future
– The results


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.


The out of contract players

With the recent re-signing of Charlie Comben, it leaves 16 players still without a deal for 2024 and beyond:

For links to all the contracts, head to this page (available only to $10 Patrons)

There are plenty of question marks among those 16 players and figuring out who stays and who’s on the edge almost throws up more questions than answers.

Bonar: It all comes down to whether his body will cooperate long enough to stay on the park.
Dawson/McKay/Perez/Young: I’ll expand on these four further down the page.
Drury: From rookie list to debut in eight rounds suggests it’s only a matter of time until another deal.
Edwards: Even allowing for key position players taking longer to develop, he’s struggled mightily and arguably regressed this year.
Free: As a backup ruck, he turned in some useful VFL performances before a shoulder injury struck. Unless the list management team has identified other rucks elsewhere, there seems no harm in bringing Free back to continue his role.
Goldstein/Ziebell/Shiels: The playing future for these three probably depends on two things: whether their body can hold up for another year – with a couple warning signals on the first two in recent weeks – and whether they’re willing to spend time in the VFL. They’ve earned the right to make that decision.
Hall: He’s steadily slid down the depth chart, and I have a hunch – completely speculative, based on no info at all – his body is starting to struggle a little. It feels unlikely he’ll get another year at this stage.
Howe: Brought in as an experienced fringe/depth player, he’s fulfilled the brief. Whether he sticks around on the rookie draft is a low-stakes decision, and probably hinges on how much experience is cut elsewhere.
Mahony: The shoulder injury has cruelled his chance to impress, and he’s likely on the fringe.
Spicer: Nothing has changed since my assessment post-Essendon game. Given the relative scarcity of small forward options on the list, I imagine it’ll lead to another year unless there are unexpected developments.
Turner: After a promising start to the year, it looks all but certain there’s a line through his name.

There are so many variables in amongst those assessments, but the most important should be ensuring there are no unknowns when it comes to the first batch of list moves.

Which leads me into the next section…

Movement in the back seven

Until anything is reported otherwise, I’m working under the assumption – with no inside information, it must be stressed – that Ben McKay will be playing for a different club next year based on everything I’ve seen on-field recently.

Hopefully I’m wrong, but continuing along that line of thought leaves even more upheaval for an area of the field which needs the most attention.

Across the year a regular theme has been the back seven, tracking who’s filled it out week by week on the Rolling Notes page.

If McKay is to go, figuring out what’s left on this year’s list takes an extra sense of urgency:

– Is Kallan Dawson an AFL player? Can he be a second option or purely a third?
– Is there a line through Flynn Perez’s name? If not, is he capable of being a half back, or potentially even a lockdown small? (Personal answer: I still think there could be something there with some work)
– Although his papers are all but stamped, are there any remaining ways for Lachie Young to get back in the team? (Personal answer: I can’t see many)
– Last year seemed to answer the question of whether Aidan Corr could play as a second defender (answer: no). But now there’s a competent style being taught, is it an option for 2024 with McDonald as the third in certain matchups, leaving room for more run in the rest of the back seven? (Personal answer: again, probably not but you never know)

If Ziebell stays for another year, the only way he’d play 16+ games is because of injuries elsewhere or a late-career renaissance. I’m not overly concerned about the rhetoric of ‘taking a spot’ because if the likes of Bergman, Goater, and co haven’t improved enough to comfortably earn one over the former captain, there are far bigger problems.

To be fair, there’s every chance these decisions have already been made internally. But if not, there are only nine games left to collect more data.

The structure and personnel of the back seven is the single biggest on-field issue for North as it stands.


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

Round 14 v Western Bulldogs: Half backs and higher forwards
Round 13 v GWS: Consistent themes
Round 12 v Essendon: Closer again
Round 11 v Collingwood: Phases of play
Round 10 v Sydney: 76th Interchange


Figuring out midfield rotations

With Luke Davies-Uniacke ready to resume, it means North have a full complement of midfielders available for the first time in 2023.

Assuming the majority remain fit for the rest of the season – stop laughing – it means our first proper look at what the pecking order will be for the long term.

In no particular order, there are Davies-Uniacke, Jy Simpkin, Will Phillips, George Wardlaw, Tom Powell and Tarryn Thomas as players who deserve substantial on-ball minutes, along with the likes of Cam Zurhaar and potentially Harry Sheezel with spot minutes if the latter doesn’t stay across half-back.

Of course there’s also Hugh Greenwood and Liam Shiels more than deserving of a place in the short-term, along with Bailey Scott permanently locking down a wing over the last six weeks.

I’ve just listed 11 players, which as far as I’m aware makes up half a team. It doesn’t all fit. Players will be repurposed – i.e. Thomas’ half-back experiment which could still continue – roles will likely be shifted, and the sheer number of moving parts will make for plenty of discussion.

Along with tracking centre bounce attendances, what I’ll also be doing for each game the rest of the year is monitoring centre bounce patterns. I can’t imagine there’s a huge crossover between people reading this post and my Port Adelaide deep dive a fortnight ago, but in the Power piece I was able to find some useful info by manually tracking who was at each centre bounce like so:

Ideally by doing this for every North game the rest of the year we get a sense of the priority list, along with who can – and can’t/don’t – work together. Hopefully things become relatively clear by Round 24, pending fitness.

For the games that start at 1:10 and 1:45 EST, it’s likely the sequence data will be included in the next morning’s match analysis post. For the 4:40 starts, they’ll be during the week. However, they’ll all be housed on the Rolling Notes page for $10 Patrons to access at any time.

Alastair Clarkson’s coaching future

Along the lines of what I wrote about Tarryn Thomas, I’ll be staying away from the particulars of Clarkson’s situation with ex-Hawks for the same reason.

As it pertains to North, if all is well with Clarkson’s mental health and there’s enough of an improvement to return to coaching, it’s hard to overstate how much of a boost it’d provide to every aspect of the club.

While these next few lines are hopefully not viewed as downplaying Brett Ratten’s excellent job since standing in on no notice, the narrative in some corners that things have ‘changed’ under him is off base. Improvement has largely come from two areas:

1) Players settling into roles and responsibilities handed to them months ago
2) Certain players taking a significant step forward – i.e. Bailey Scott, Will Phillips – and/or being introduced with immediate results – i.e. George Wardlaw

If/when Clarkson returns, there won’t be any dramatic changes to individual roles and responsibilities. It’ll be steady as she goes, continuing with work that’s already been done.

After everything that’s happened at North over the last couple of years, having Clarkson back and the coaching staff running as intended at the start of the year will provide an enormous sense of stability.

Not only will it help the current list, but also paint a rosy picture for any future trade and free agent targets, along with potential draftees – especially with the number two spot looking near certain at this stage. Heads are starting to turn for the on-field talent and if the coaching box can enjoy some continuity it’ll only help.

If things continue to progress, Clarkson returning the week after the Hawthorn game makes the most sense. It removes any requirement to front up for the highest profile game remaining on North’s calendar and allows a relatively stress free six weeks to close the season and plan for 2024.


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.


The results

After all the above, it seems fair to finish by looking at actual results. From here on out, North’s fixture looks like this:

Adelaide @ Adelaide Oval
Geelong @ GMHBA Stadium
Hawthorn @ Marvel Stadium
St Kilda @ Marvel Stadium
West Coast @ Optus Stadium
Melbourne @ Blundstone Arena
Essendon @ Marvel Stadium
Richmond @ MCG
Gold Coast @ Blundstone Arena

The wildcard in predicting results lies in how younger players run out the season, along with those experiencing heavier workloads for the first time.

Nevertheless, there are a few winnable games in the list with Hawthorn and West Coast the two obvious standouts.

After that, Essendon and Gold Coast are the next level, with St Kilda and Richmond probably another step up again depending on where their seasons are at by the time North play them.

Adelaide in Adelaide, Geelong in Geelong, and Melbourne anywhere seem a bridge too far at this stage.

However, *if* the squad doesn’t collectively run out of legs and limp to the finish line, my guarantee is there’ll be at least one game which makes people sit up and take notice.

Hopefully there’ll be two to three wins in the block, providing plenty of tangible results to back up promising signs over the last five matches.

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