Ahead of Sunday’s Rd 1 clash with Melbourne, here’s a look at what’s to come for North Melbourne Footy Club in season 2009.
The Game Plan
The Junkyard Dog (Dean Laidley) took last season’s finals bomb to heart. He’s been soul searching over summer, and along with his assistants Crocker, Bewick and newbie Rock, is looking to change things up in ’09. I’d keep an eye out for key changes in the midfield – mainly in the form of pace. Defence will also be reshaped in search of a key position player.
Look for plenty of experimentation early – will take a while for the structure to settle.
- In – Pace (and hopefully better disposal). More time in the centre for the likes of Firrito, ‘Flash’ Campbell, Urquhart and Harding and newbies Anthony and Ziebel. Look out for more support (blocking) for Wells too, who’s year is actually going to be ’09.
- Out – Sadly, troopers Harris and Swallow could be in trouble. It looks like the modern game could pass them by.
- Bank On – Simpson, Harvey and Rawlings to do the job every week.
- Dark Horse – Jesse Smith. Would love to see him play 20+ games, but will his body hold up? Will rip shit apart if it does.
Stocks up forward look surprisingly solid, despite what the pundits will tell you.
- In – A centre half forward. The real question is who? Young ‘uns Hanson, Josh Smith and even Wundke are all possibilities. Edwards has a great leap. But look for club stallwart Drew Petrie to nail this one. Edwards and Smith are my tips for the flanks.
- Out – Corey Jones looks in all sorts.
- Bank On – Hale at full forward and either Campbell, Thomas or Harvey at his feet.
- Dark Horse – Warren Benjamin. Quick, tall and Indigenous. If he cracks a game he could set the world on fire. Or he could spend the year in the Werribee reserves.
Gorilla forwards (read: Fev, Brown, Mooney, etc.) have killed North for a couple of seasons, and while I have heaps of time for both Gibson and Firrito, they’re not key position players. On pre-season form, it looks like the coaches agree.
- In – ‘Hunter’ S. Thompson, Grima and Petrie have all been talked about as possible key backmen. Thompson is too small, Grima is untried and Petrie too valuable. My tip is Hansen will take the gorillas – he needs to make a position his own, and full back/centre half back seems like the right one to me. Has the tank, the height and the ability – but does he have the nous? Look for Scotty McMahon to be the big improver down back too.
- Out – Firrito, and possibly even Gibson, to spend more time in the middle. And it looks like the supporters will finally get what they want: Shannon Watt to miss out.
- Bank On – Daniel Pratt ordering around the troops while doing some gorilla work of his own.
- Dark Horse – Blake Grima. Injured all last season. If he gets a crack at full back and makes a fist of it, the team just got a whole lot better.
The problem at the selection table will be whether four big men can fit in the one team?
- In – Goldstein could become the No. 1 ruck at North. He’s possibly the best tap at the club already but needs to improve around the ground.
- Out – If McIntosh drops his guard he could lose his spot. But I reckon he’s in for a season like ’07 – near All-Australian.
- Bank On – Petrie to spend a bit of time here if he’s not seeing enough Sherrin.
- Dark Horse – Lachie Hansen. Laidley’s been known to change things up to see how the kids react – don’t be surprised if Hansen gets thrown to the wolves if he’s well beaten for three quarters.
Once again the media, punters and AFL captains have all written off North as also rans this season. The truth is season 2009 could be anything. Top 4 or bottom 4. We’ll be in a better position to know by Rd 6 or 7, after some of the structures start to sort themselves out. But I remain optomistic for a few reasons:
- Leadership – It’s near impossible to fault the likes of Harvey, Petrie, Pratty and Simmo.
- Youth – There’s too much enthusiasm among the ranks for mediocre performances to go unpunished.
- Laidley – Has the nous to achieve anything tactically. Has been let down by a lack of resourcing and support from the administration. But finally he’s got it. And now appears to be more self-aware than ever. He’s never let me down to-date, and I reckon he’ll ensure ’09 is a cracker for NMFC.
My tip: Preliminary Finalists.