How will North Melbourne deal with the loss of more than 1500 games worth of AFL experience?
It’s the big question for the Kangaroos following the shock axing of veterans Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo and Michael Firrito on the eve of the finals last year.
Few were more beloved at Arden St than Harvey, the former captain, premiership player, four-time All-Australian and AFL game record-holder, who remained among North’s best players last season at age 37.
The quartet racked up a combined 1337 games, with the departure of Daniel Wells tipping the figure well beyond the 1500 mark – not far off the combined 1952 games played by Brisbane’s entire 48-man list.
Only time will tell whether the list rebuild proves to be the correct decision but there’s no doubt it was the move of a club with a very clear idea of their direction.
Just a few months earlier, things were far less certain.
North’s barnstorming start to last season, winning nine straight games, raised questions internally about their long-term planning.
Was the premiership window still open? Should they look to load up again in the hopes of having another serious crack?
The way the rest of the campaign played out made it clear they should stick to their guns.
North won just three of their remaining 13 games to scrape through to the finals and were turfed out in the first week with a 62-point drubbing from Adelaide.
The decision of classy free agent Wells to move to Collingwood only added to the gloom but there is nonetheless a belief that the list changes haven’t gone down as badly as they could have.
Fans initially responded angrily to the news of Harvey’s departure – some even threatened to rally outside the Kangaroos’ final home game – but membership numbers are understood to have remained steady once the dust had settled.
This is due in part to the excitement about talented youngsters like Ben Brown and Mason Wood, who will form part of a formidable tall lineup alongside Majak Daw and star ruckman Todd Goldstein.
North were approached about Goldstein by rival clubs last year but considered him too valuable to seriously entertain offers, and he is expected to benefit from the new ‘no third man-up’ rule.
The Kangaroos now have one of the competition’s least experienced lists, both in terms of age and games played.
Almost half of the 48 players on North’s list have played fewer than 25 AFL games.
There are hopes that at least 10 of them will play 100 games, taking the list towards similar demographic territory to recent premiership sides.
They also have a solid core of experienced players in their prime, including best and fairest defender Robbie Tarrant and new skipper Jack Ziebell.
But the Kangaroos are under no illusions about the deficiencies on their list and have acknowledged the need to secure more hard-running outside midfielders.
“We’ve probably got to get a better understanding of what the quality is of some of our younger guys,” Kangaroos football boss Cameron Joyce told AAP.
“If they can step up and fill some of the potential holes in terms of being able to complement some of our guys in the midfield, and a couple of our talls stand up, then we’ll be in really good shape to be able to target exactly what we need.”