Sport AFL AFL season preview: North Melbourne

AFL season preview: North Melbourne

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Big-name recruit Nick Dal Santo is flying.

So is No.8 draft pick and father-son recruit Luke McDonald.

The experienced brigade including Drew Petrie and Daniel Wells are still in the prime of their careers and the next tier are coming along well.

Nick Dal Santo. Photo: Getty

There are plenty of compelling reasons why big things are expected of North Melbourne in 2014.

Ten losses by 16 points or less – an AFL record – were the key reason why the Kangaroos missed the finals last year despite showing in glimpses of dazzling run-on football that they could match it with the top teams.

McDonald’s push for a spot in North’s defence and triple All-Australian Dal Santo’s inclusion in the midfield mix will give North a more polished look.

Skipper Andrew Swallow is making a solid recovery from an Achilles injury, although he is still some distance away from a return to playing action.

Despite a couple of underwhelming pre-season efforts, most of the signs are good for coach Brad Scott, entering his fifth year at the helm.

“A lot of people have said to me over the last couple of years `do we need to get new guys into the side?'” Scott told AAP.

“The new guys are in the side. Our core group of players who are getting above 50 games now.

“Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington, Ryan Bastinac, Jamie Macmillan, Shaun Atley, Kieran Harper, Levi Greenwood, Liam Anthony, those guys have played around 50 games.”

With the loss of Luke Delaney to St Kilda, Scott wants to give younger brother Cameron Delaney more game time in defence.

Big forwards Aaron Black and Majak Daw are also earmarked for more opportunities, while Harper faces a delayed start to the season because of ankle surgery.

“Those are the guys who are going to keep on improving,” Scott said.

Scott says 35-year-old small forward Brent Harvey was the club’s No.1 performer in the pre-Christmas block of training, which included a three-week camp in Utah.

Jack Ziebell. Photo: Getty

“He certainly makes us a better side,” Scott said.

Ball use has been a critical factor in narrow losses and Scott says learning to handle momentum shifts in a game has been a painful experience for the club.

Former St Kilda prime mover Dal Santo will help with that, alongside Wells, who claimed his second best-and-fairest award last year in a tie with fullback Scott Thompson.

“With all the players we have in there, even with Andrew Swallow out of it, I still think the midfield stands up against most,” Scott said.

Whether the Kangaroos can match the top teams in leg speed is one thing, but their ability to defend leads late in games will be put to the test after the heartbreak of 2013.

“There’s a point where we’ve got to say we’ve said all we want to say about last year and we look forward to 2014,” Scott said.

“We took confidence out of the fact we could attack the best teams in the competition last year.

“If you think back to the really good sides, you have some tough experiences and you learn from them.

“We can take confidence out of it.”


Coach: Brad Scott

Captain: Andrew Swallow

Last five years: 13-9-9-8-10

Premierships: 4 (1975, 1977, 1996, 1999)

Key Five: Daniel Wells, Todd Goldstein, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo, Scott Thompson.

One to watch: Luke McDonald. The father-son selection and No.8 draft pick comes to the club with a big reputation as an on-field leader and is expected to provide a cool head in defence.

Ins: Ben Brown (Werribee VFL), Nick Dal Santo (St Kilda), Trent Dumont (Norwood SANFL), Luke McDonald (Werribee VFL), Robin Nahas (Richmond).

Outs: Luke Delaney (St Kilda), Jordan Gysberts (delisted), Ayden Kennedy (delisted), Ben Mabon (delisted), Will Sierakowski (delisted), Ben Speight (delisted).

Best 22: B: Aaron Mullett, Scott Thompson, Lachie Hansen
HB: Jamie Macmillan, Nathan Grima, Luke McDonald
C: Daniel Wells, Nick Dal Santo, Shaun Atley
HF: Leigh Adams, Robbie Tarrant, Aaron Black
F: Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Lindsay Thomas
R: Todd Goldstein, Andrew Swallow, Jack Ziebell
I: Ben Cunnington, Ryan Bastinac, Sam Gibson, Sam Wright

Predicted finish: 8th

Betting (Sportingbet)

To win the flag: $12

To make the top eight: $1.50