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Season review: North Melbourne

North Melbourne will take an unchanged lineup into the AFL elimination final against Adelaide.
The Kangaroos went all in again but fell well short
Photo Source: AAP

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North Melbourne decided against pressing the reset button after reaching preliminary finals in 2014 and 2015, hoping they could go one better under Brad Scott and his ageing charges. It all looked so good for the first two months of the season, setting a new club record with a 9-0 start that had them two games clear on top of the ladder.

Soon after that the Kangaroos began to falter, failing to score as well as they had earlier in the season. Many critics pointed to the fact that they began to lose when they started to come up against better teams, and while that case can be made there is no doubt a run of injuries and poor form contributed. Ben Jacobs (seven games), Shaun Higgins (nine games), Mason Wood (eight games) and Jarrad Waite (14 games) were four players limited throughout the year.

The big sticking point, however, was North's treatment of their veterans. Brent Harvey, only weeks after he broke the VFL/AFL games record, was dumped in an unceremonious manner. Drew Petrie looked out of sorts for much of the year and was given his marching orders alongside Harvey, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo. With a rebuild on the way and a number of future list spots up for grabs, Roos fans may be in for some long seasons in the years to come.

Six games that shaped North Melbourne's season
Round 1: North Melbourne 16.11 (107) d Adelaide 14.13 (97) 
It'd been a fair while since the Kangaroos had tasted victory in the opening round of the season that this was, in fact, the club's first under Brad Scott. But that doesn't mean it came easy. In what still holds up as one of the games of the entire AFL season, the Crows jumped out to their largest lead of the game (24 points) early in the third quarter. From there North outscored the away side 10.5 to 4.7, with Harvey's three-goal burst midway through the third quarter reducing the deficit from 19 points to two. It wasn't until Petrie converted a set shot with nine minutes remaining that they managed to lead for good. There was mixed news on the injury front. Veteran midfielder Daniel Wells getting through the game after playing just 12 games in the past two seasons, but new recruit Jed Anderson, who cost a first-round draft pick in a trade with Hawthorn, suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter. He wouldn't return until round 16.

Round 10: Sydney 14.7 (91) d North Melbourne 9.11 (65) 
The Roos travelled to the SCG two games clear of Geelong, GWS and the Swans at the top of the ladder, but by the end of the night the outlook would appear rather less positive. Sydney raced out to a 6.1 to 2.2 quarter-time lead, and though North Melbourne reduced it to a nine-point half-time margin, the home side continued on their merry way in the third quarter. Todd Goldstein ended the game with ice on his knee and it was something he would carry through the rest of the season, severely limiting the 2015 All Australian and therefore his team. Something far more controversial came out of the game, however, as Lindsay Thomas backed into Nick Smith and raised his arm to earn a head-high free kick. John Longmire criticised the tactic without naming Thomas, who spent the year being booed by opposition fans despite being one of many players to force the issue. Scott subsequently defended his forward: "While they continue to get paid, players will keep doing it. And there'll be cowards out there who single out individuals but every player in the competition tries to do it."

Round 13: Hawthorn 14.9 (93) d North Melbourne 11.18 (84) 
A 31-point reverse to Geelong in round 12 was more than just a defeat as the Roos were forced into four changes to face the Hawks on this Friday night. The biggest loss was Waite, who would play just two more games for the year, but without Ben Cunnington (quad) and Andrew Swallow (concussion) the team didn't bat as deep in the midfield. There was a lot of niggle early, as has been the case between these two teams for a couple of years now, but from midway through the second quarter Hawthorn made the most of the play. North shot back and trailed by just one kick for eight minutes late in the fourth quarter. They couldn't sneak a goal, though, and Jamie Macmillan's high shot on Paul Puopolo secured the win for the Hawks. The Kangaroos dropped to third on the ladder.

The Thomas saga reached its peak as the umpires called play on in the second quarter despite what looked like a clear head-high free against the No.12. Scott used the press conference to get on the front foot, but it turns out he had actually put it in his mouth. "I know he is (unfairly treated) because the umpires told our players that 'well he's a ducker so we don't pay high free kicks to Lindsay," he said, reiterating that they said that on the field and that it's "clearly a preconceived idea". The AFL quickly reviewed the match audio and found no umpire had said what Scott alleged they had. Reports said Macmillan questioned an umpire about the issue and then told a staff member of the conversation, which had been changed by the time it reached Scott. The coach and the club apologised the next morning, probably saving Scott a suspension, but they were soon suspended $30,000 and $50,000 respectively.

Round 19: North Melbourne 12.13 (85) d St Kilda 8.14 (62) 
The Roos broke a five-game losing streak with a 40-point win over Collingwood in round 18, which kept their head above the water in the race for eighth spot. That meant the club could come into Harvey's record-breaking game without so much pressure on them, though they never really had much trouble against the Saints in what was actually quite a poor match to watch. Boomer's only goal for the game came when he asked for a feed from Thomas, who had marked at the top of the goal square. This was Waite's last game of the season as he hurt his hip converting a set shot in the third quarter.

Round 23: GWS 14.16 (100) d North Melbourne 9.9 (63) 
In a run not unlike their mid-season patch, the Kangaroos followed the win over St Kilda with losses to the Bulldogs, Hawks and Swans. An early exit on the road in the first week of the finals looming, North Melbourne sent out a written statement confirming they had "made the difficult decision not to re-contract" Harvey, Petrie, Firrito and Dal Santo. Scott then held a press conference on his own, where he confirmed it was announced so family and friends could farewell the quartet at their final Melbourne game of the year. It was a defeatist line of thinking, but the players' absence was also put down to the fact that the players were disappointed with it being forced upon them. Only 22,295 fans showed up to Etihad Stadium, which is about the average crowd for a Kangaroos home fixture against an interstate team like the Giants but perhaps a little lower than might have been expected for a goodbye game. The contest played out as expected: a top-four team tuning up for the finals against a team trying to prove they still had something left in the tank. Petrie was the only player to acknowledge the crowd after the game, walking the centre square and waving to each corner of the ground as Harvey, Firrito and Dal Santo looked for the tunnel.

Elimination final: Adelaide 21.15 (141) d North Melbourne 12.7 (79) 
To nobody's surprise, the Roos were no match for the Crows in the finals. Adelaide had finished as one of the best fifth-placed teams in the competition's history, averaging a league-high 112.9 points per game. None of the four managed a goal in their final outing but Dal Santo and Harvey were first and second among North Melbourne players for disposals, although the quartet did all take part in a passage of play in the final minutes as the Kangaroos shifted the ball from defence into the forward 50. It'll be a new-look North Melbourne in 2017, even if the coach and a majority of the team's best 22 will return.

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