Round 18, 2023 v Hawthorn: Different paths, Part 2

Well. There wasn’t a whole heap to take out of North Melbourne’s performance against Hawthorn on Sunday.

And by ‘whole heap’, I mean anything at all. It was arguably the flattest output of 2023 to date in arguably their most winnable game on paper since March.

With that in mind, today’s piece will focus on two things:

1) The different routes of North and Hawthorn
2) The individual positives North can take out of 2023


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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 eagle eyed will notice today’s title is much the same as a fortnight ago against Adelaide, and for good reason.

On paper, Sunday was a case of two sides in a similar boat before Hawthorn threw North overboard. As a result there’s an apparently easy conclusion of the Hawks being ahead of their opponents despite ‘starting’ their rebuild later.

Then you look back at North’s last few years. At a very quick glance you could say they started transitioning in 2016 with the infamous Harvey-Petrie-Firrito-Dal Santo delistings. But that doesn’t track, because the next couple of years were full of attempts to get experience in, including the Jared Polec trade in 2018.

Maybe 2019, when Brad Scott departed? But that off-season was steady as she goes, with nothing of note when it came to player movement. That made it four consecutive summers essentially treading water, allowing everything to build up.

The end of 2020, with bulk delistings, trades, and Rhyce Shaw stepping down, can potentially be viewed as the first step in North’s rebuild. And in 2021, there were even some positive signs as the season wore on…

Which is where the timeline meets up with Hawthorn.

The Hawks welcomed Sam Mitchell in, and it turned out he was a ready-made, brilliant AFL coach from the outset. (Related: Times I’ve praised Mitchell’s work has just ticked into four figures)

That allowed them an envious stability in their coaching staff. Hawthorn had the luxury of their next long-term coach locked in. Meanwhile, and you can probably guess where I’m going with this…

While Mitchell was enjoying his first pre-season at Hawthorn, everything was falling apart at Arden Street. Whatever happened leading into 2022 will probably never see the light of day, but the fallout from it quickly spiralled into a broken club.

Don’t go through last year’s match analyses unless you have a penchant for pain, but each week the theme was clear: something needed to change before long term damage was done.

So there was change. More change. Out went David Noble, most key positions in the football department, and the CEO; in came Alastair Clarkson and his replacements.

Any gains North made in 2021 and 2022 were now minimised purely to the individual players brought in and the lottery of how they’d developed in the meantime.

Over at Hawthorn, with Mitchell leading the course and a working, modern, game style, they were able to take a step forward by jettisoning Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O’Meara, and Jack Gunston, along with nudging Liam Shiels and Ben McEvoy into retirement (until the former came to North at least).

The Hawks had the luxury of choosing this path because of the stability at the top of their football department along with a very good coach they’d handed the keys to.

At Arden St, North, again, were in the process of starting over. Then the bombshell of Hawthorn’s investigation came out and Clarkson’s starting date was delayed. More valuable time lost. At a time – pre-season – where learning is at its highest.

While North were struggling through that unexpected bomb, Hawthorn kept learning, kept building. The results have been clear to see through 2023. Although they’re obviously still a fair way away from making serious noise, it’s clear to anyone with functioning eyes how they want to play and structure up.

It was perhaps at its clearest on Sunday as Hawthorn ran rings around a North Melbourne side with … Brett Ratten at the helm.

Because that’s been the case for the last eight weeks while Clarkson stepped away to focus on his health.

To be crystal clear, Clarkson did the right thing, and Ratten has done a great job keeping the train on the tracks. I’m not trying to insinuate anything else.

But while Clarkson was gone, that’s all the train has been able to do – stay on the tracks. From a team build point of view, it’s not moving forward; it’s not moving backwards.

In the big picture it’s nearly impossible to move forward at any speed while the head coach recovers – which, again, was the right thing to do – and the combination of young players trying to find themselves while veterans try their best to still contribute in the twilight of their careers.

And all North are left with is a scattered bunch of little wins to hang their hat on without their figurehead to tie it all together. While it’s not the lost year nearly every season has been since 2017, it’s only slightly better, much of it due to factors out of their control.

Compare it to Hawthorn who have enjoyed the benefits of a clear plan with minimal roadblocks. Is it any wonder they look like they’ve jumped ahead of North?


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

Round 17 v Geelong: A midfield step back
Round 16 v Adelaide: Different paths
Round 14 v Western Bulldogs: Half backs and higher forwards
Round 13 v GWS: Consistent themes
Round 12 v Essendon: Closer again


Heading into 2023, if we assume the following players had already proved themselves at AFL level as part of North’s core over the medium to long term:

– Luke Davies-Uniacke
– Luke McDonald
– Jy Simpkin
– Griffin Logue
– Nick Larkey
– Ben McKay (contract dependent)
– Cameron Zurhaar
(as I pray I haven’t forgot any obvious names)

Who has gone and joined those seven names with their performances this year?

For me, looking through it with a relatively strict lens, there are four definites:

Bailey Scott: It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s leading the Syd Barker at this stage. He’s locked down a wing, taken his game to the next level and is consistently performing each week.

Harry Sheezel: If Scott is leading, Sheezel may be in second. There have been enough words said about his year and how he’s slotted into AFL football.

Jaidyn Stephenson: This may surprise some people, but a high half forward on track for 30odd goals while playing his role each week is plenty from the fourth or fifth priority. Especially in a struggling side.

It’s okay if a player tops out as above average instead of great, and that’s what Stephenson has been in his most consistent year since the rookie campaign. As the team grows, I’d expect his influence to rise in line with that.

George Wardlaw: Seven games, one of which ended early, is usually too soon to anoint someone. Wardlaw’s case is different, instantly changing North’s midfield (as I illustrated at the time) and showing a blend of skills that’ll change games in time. If only there was a button to fast forward Wardlaw to 40 injury free games and enjoy the ride from there.

There are a few more you’d expect to join them in time, pending off-field issues (Tarryn Thomas), injury (Tom Powell) and another 12 to 18 months of solid development (Will Phillips).

After that you’d hope players like Charlie Comben, Miller Bergman, Josh Goater, Curtis Taylor, and the like become fixtures in North’s side. At the moment though it’s a mix of glimpses and crossed fingers.

Maybe if there had been stability (and a few less unlucky injuries in Comben’s case) over the recent past, we’d be closer to an answer on a handful of players. Instead, it’s still a case of trying to play catch up.


All the list demographics, contracts, and depth chart pages are freshly updated and ready 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.


6 thoughts on “Round 18, 2023 v Hawthorn: Different paths, Part 2

  1. Luke Mc is heart and soul of the place and i just wonder if he is the standard, then thats an issue. He’s had 2 Top 10 finishes in the Syd Barker in the worst 4 years in the clubs history where i think he should be top 3 or even 5 every year. When he is the standard, there isnt much to aspire to. Thoughts?

    1. Yep, undecided for me at the moment. I’m generally a believer that unless you luck into a generational ruck (i.e. Goldy) there’s no need to invest a heap of resources into the position. But even still, unsure yet whether Xerri will be that man.

      1. It’s hard for a midfield to dominate if they aren’t winning the ruck contests as well. Not impossible but definitely harder.

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