Alternate Views – The North Melbourne Assistance Package


On Monday, the AFL released the assistance package that will be provided to North Melbourne. While it hasn’t given as much as some people may have believed possible, there are still plenty complaining that it’s inappropriate, outrageous, and in one particularly dramatic comment I saw on facebook; un-constitutional and a violation of fair work policies. I don’t know about that, but there’s plenty of feeling around the issue.

Rather than weigh in on one side, we figured we’d let two of our writers duke it out, so without further ado, let’s see what Kangas tragic JB and our own inimitable Doc make of the situation…


On assistance packages in general:

A bit of a controversial topic, but one that’s relevant here.


Doc says:

I believe in a fair and tight competition in the AFL and we’ve seen one of the closest fights for finals spots that we’ve seen from multiple teams in quite some time.

Having said that, though, there will always be one or two (or sometimes three) sides that will struggle for many reasons – injury-hit to the top liners, bad coaching, bad list management, or you could be a Fitzroy case and just have no money left and forced to merge with another club or relocate.

As much as I take great pleasure in watching blowout games, I do feel for the players out there who put their bodies on the line to get the four premiership points week in and week out even more so if they’re in a spot like North and haven’t got many players that can will them over the line.

Assistance packages shouldn’t be abolished from the league, but there needs to be extraordinary circumstances around clubs who have struggled for a certain amount of time. What the packages mean, well, I’ll leave that to the powers that be on what constitutes fair and balanced assistance.


JB says:

I can see why the AFL wants them in there. They want to make sure that the comp is healthy, not just to keep all the teams viable, but to sell advertising space in the games. If the bottom teams are hopeless, no one will watch, which devalues the ad space they can sell on TV and at the ground.

In the end, they want nail-biter games that people watch every minute of, instead of blowouts that have people switching over to Netflix once the margin grows beyond 60.

North are hardly the only team to benefit from equalisation though, and in fact, has gotten less out of it than many other teams.

For example, let’s look at other teams who have been given top 5 priority picks:

Year Pick Player Club
1997 1 Travis Johnstone Melbourne
1999 1 Josh Fraser Collingwood
1999 2 Paul Hasleby Fremantle
2000 1 Nick Riewoldt St Kilda
2001 1 Luke Hodge Hawthorn, (pick traded from Fremantle)
2001 2 Luke Ball St Kilda
2001 3 Chris Judd West Coast
2003 1 Adam Cooney Western Bulldogs
2003 2 Andrew Walker Carlton
2003 3 Colin Sylvia Melbourne
2004 1 Brett Deledio Richmond
2004 2 Jarryd Roughead Hawthorn
2004 3 Ryan Griffen Western Bulldogs
2005 1 Marc Murphy Carlton
2005 2 Dale Thomas Collingwood
2005 3 Xavier Ellis Hawthorn
2007 1 Matthew Kreuzer Carlton
2009 1 Tom Scully Melbourne
2019 1 Matthew Rowell Gold Coast


It’s worth noting there that Judd, Roughead, Thomas and Ellis all helped their sides win a flag, despite joining a team that was at the time a cellar dweller, while Deledio, Reiwoldt and Griffen got close.

Hodge was an obvious contributor to Hawthorn’s success, but that was technically due to the Croad trade with Freo rather than Freo using the pick they received. Instead it’ll just go down as one of the most ill-advised trades in history.


Should North be eligible?


Doc says:

Given North’s struggles in recent years, I think they have a right to have some form of compensation. But it is not a draft pick that is bandied up with pick two and the pick three I assume they will get for losing Ben McKay to free agency. I have my queries about compensation in free agency, but that’s a matter for another time.

And it damn sure isn’t a pre-listing to a kid from their Next Generation Academy who is widely tipped to be a top-10 talent in this year’s draft, but more on that down the piece.

North has been struggling since 2020, and I’m sure some will argue they began their slippery slope in 2019 when they pushed Brad Scott out the door. But in my eyes, anyway, they started at the end of 2020 when they pushed out about a dozen names and then, of course, we had the abrupt fall of Rhyce Shaw as coach of the Roos.

They were handed some compensation picks last year which were eventually on-traded to Fremantle for Griffin Logue and Darcy Tucker, and so far, that hasn’t worked. Logue has been on the shelf with a knee injury, and Tucker has been okay, but he doesn’t push that needle for North to improve.

North Melbourne has won just 11 games since 2020; realistically, this build hasn’t gone anywhere. They’ve had four men coach this side since 2022 and there hasn’t been improvement, except for maybe a handful of players.

They deserve an assistance package this year, I’m not an entirely heartless bloke. But to suggest they deserve a top-five draft pick not only compromises what is already going to be a diluted draft pool once the father/sons, academy prospects and free agency compensation picks are all finalised, but it’s a genuine joke to hand it to a side that deliberately blew up their list on their own volition.


JB says:

The formula for eligibility has been kept a secret since it was amended in 2012. Until then, assistance meant that any team with less than five wins in two consecutive seasons would get a pick at the top of the order (essentially pick one). If they had more than five in one season, and less than five in the next, they’d get a second-rounder.

The theory is that if the actual formula is kept secret, teams can’t strategise to make sure they qualify if their season looks shot to shit, but it’s supposedly based on these criteria:

  • Premiership points that a club has received over a period of years (with greater weight to recent seasons) (North have very few recently).
  • A club’s percentage (points for/points against x 100) over a period of years (another indication of on-field competitiveness, with greater weight to recent seasons).
  • Any finals appearances that a club has made in recent seasons.
  • Any premierships that a club has won in recent seasons, and
  • A club’s injury rates in each relevant season.

North fit all those criteria. You could also make a case for West Coast, but a recent flag works against them.


What sort of assistance was discussed throughout the year?


Doc says:

On top of getting a pick that carried after their basic selection (currently pick two), there were many murmurings about North wanting a serious push for pre-list access to Riley Sanders.

I’ve already seen a few of his performances throughout the season in the Coates Talent League and the under-18 championships. I love this kid, he’s got a great inside game, and is already a very good extractor and an elite possession accumulator – the boy averaged over 35 and a half possessions and a goal per game in the championships this year. There’s no doubt that his future is very bright.

He’s expected to be in the best 10 kids in the country by the time we roll around to November. But, he’s a part of North Melbourne’s next-generation academy. The rules have been changed since Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, as a Bulldogs’ academy selection, was taken at pick one in 2020.

That caused a lot of uproar within the AFL clubs, and as a result, Victorian and WA clubs don’t have access to their NGA players until pick 40, but the Northern state clubs like Gold Coast will still have priority access to their academy boys, the Suns have a few that will likely make the top 10.

North asking to pre-list this kid due to the football department’s own incompetence, is another insult to the Draft system that has already been compromised countless times.


JB says:

Depending on who you listened to, it included the following:

  • Pre-list access to Riley Sanders.
    He’s a top-10 talent, and due to eligibility for North’s NGA, and the club’s involvement in his career since he was 15, it was possible that North would get the top-40 exclusion that Gold Coast currently enjoy, and will use to get Jed Walter, or bypass the draft entirely and pre-list him directly.
  • Pick 2.
    This was when North looked to be wooden spooners, and were under heavy accusations of tanking in the final game before it’d even been played. Proven to be overblown, in the end.
  • Pick 3.
    Once North finished 17th, there was great opposition to North being awarded pick 3 as part of an assistance package, despite that proving to not be something the AFL had considered seriously. Caroline Wilson in particular was very vocal about the outrage from the other clubs and supporters, though it seems that the potential for this to be a real part of the package was mostly her own claims anyway.
  • Pick 11.
    Cal Twomey reported this, but it seems he was misled or overly optimistic. He’s usually pretty well informed about the goings-on in the footy world, so maybe it was benign considered at some point though.


It turns out most of this was pearl-clutching from people in the media, likely driven by a need to keep up those click rates.


What are your thoughts about the final package North received?

The League confirmed North Melbourne will receive the following:

One end-of-first round selection in the 2023 AFL Draft (currently pick 19)

Two end-of-first round selections in the 2024 AFL Draft (currently picks 19 and 20)

The continuation of the club’s ability to have two additional rookie list spots in season 2024


Doc says:

No issues for the rookie list spots. It gives them another two opportunities for mature-aged players to work themselves into the system unless the club gives crabs like Lachie Young another opportunity to play senior footy… seriously, why even bother? Give it to some young chap in the state leagues who have earned it through hard work.

End-of-first-round selections are fine; by then, a lot of the top-line talented youngsters are off the board, and it gives them the opportunity of looking to trade them off to get some established players into the club and help out their younger brigade as they look to work themselves up the ladder again.

Plus, it should be mentioned that Alastair Clarkson should have an entire season at the helm of this team next year unless anything else that has the potential to incriminate him comes up and he takes leave again. That’ll be a hell of a lot more beneficial to the club going forward.

They’ll have picks two and three to come to the club, too. Whether that’s Harley Reid, Daniel Curtin, Riley McKercher, or Connor O’Sullivan… they will add at least another two fine young lads into what’s already shaping to be a budding young core group.


JB says:

Honestly, I think the worst is over for North now anyway. Full turnover of the board, CEO, President, coaching staff, high-performance staff, medical room, and now a lot of older players are moving on. Ziebell, Cunnington and Hall to retirement, Goldstein leaving to get a two year deal when North only offered one.

With Sheezel, Wardlaw, Curtis, Scott and Thomas all looking very handy this season, they’ll be joined by Braydon George (a potential top 10 pick in 2022, but a knee injury put him out for the season) as well as either Curtin or Reid, plus whoever else North pick up. If LDU can stay healthy to be the midfield bull and look after the young lads, there’s no reason North can’t double their wins in 2024, and look for a finals run in a year or two after.

However, retention and ability to attract mature talent will be the two biggest factors in the success of the next few years. If young talent was enough, we’d have seen the Suns dominate the comp. The assistance package will let North retain young talent with the extra list spots, while the tradeability of the picks may help them bring in some mature bodies.

So all up, I think it’s a lot less than people expected, but probably an appropriate level of help, considering the upside of the list in 2024.


What should North do with the picks?


Doc says:

Also have to take into consideration that the AFL will review the 2024 draft selections next year if North Melbourne holds onto them, so I’d probably strike while the iron is hot and make some moves while you’ve got the picks at your disposal.

Assuming North get their compensation pick for losing Ben McKay, North will have picks 2, 3, 15 (as part of the Horne-Francis deal last year) and 20 – those last two picks will most likely move down once all the Father/son and academy prospects get selected.

Zac Fisher looks likely to move on from Carlton and arrive to North Melbourne, so what Carlton decides on what’s an acceptable offer will be intriguing. I don’t suspect he’ll be worth much, considering he can’t get a game so I wouldn’t offer him anything first-round.

The Roos have had some interest in the Suns’ first pick, which currently stands at pick four (will be five once McKay’s comp is dealt with). The Suns need to offload this pick for draft points on their three academy kids – all likely to be bid on by the first 15 selections.

The Dogs are current front-runners, offering picks 10, 17 and a future first round (as a Dogs’ fan, way over) to secure this pick and add to their list. But North Melbourne would love another pick in the first five selections to cap off an exciting core.

So 15 and 20 are on the table; are North daring enough to put their own future first-round pick for next year on the table? If yes, then the Suns would be stupid not to take it. They will most likely trade some later picks around – North has two third-rounders that will help the Suns manage their draft points, and the Suns have picks 29 and 35 in the second round to see if they can get the other way.

If North can manufacture a deal to offload their two AFL-assisted futures to get a pick in the top 13 or 14, they will have done very well for themselves here. Start with Geelong at pick 7, who will be looking to enter a rebuilding phase sooner rather than later. Geelong get an extra two young players to draft in next year’s lot, and North enter with another pick in the top 10 – leaving them with 2, 3, 5 and 8.

The worst-case scenario is probably Carlton’s pick 16. So let’s say we can package the two future firsts with pick 35 we got from the Suns. If the Blues say it’s available, pull the trigger for Zac Fisher and pick 16.

About eight clubs could probably benefit from trading for North’s assistance package. I’d like to see my Doggies enquire in a pick swap for them if they’re genuinely serious about contending for a spot in the top eight swap the future firsts around. They need some young depth coming through and North could add a cherry on top if the Dogs finish low enough in 2024 – they could very well be a bottom-six side with the way they’re going about things.

If North can manufacture four picks in the top 20 for this year’s draft, they should be pretty pleased with themselves. It might be considered a bit of a gamble, considering I’ve done nothing but slander their list management, but North are entering their fourth season of their rebuild. They must start making some inroads sooner rather than later. They say big risks come with significant rewards.


JB says:

The context around the deal included the caveat that the AFL reserves the right to review the 2024 draft selections at the end of next season, meaning that if North have a huge bump in form, they could lose them. However, the club will be able to use the picks in trades this year, and I think that’s exactly what they should do.

If McKay’s departure nets North pick 3, they’ll go into the draft with 2,3,14,19, 39, 51, 59 and 76. 76 is pretty much worthless with a hand like that, so throw that away. Few teams will pick up more than four players, but with the additional open slots and retirements and the exit of McKay and Goldstein, let’s say North want quality or quantity. They can let 51 and 59 burn, or, they could chase another top ten pick.

Gold Coast will want to stockpile points for their academy cohort this year. On an open market, Walter would be a genuine number one chance, so he’ll suck up a lot of points. Pick four is worth 2,034 points. North could package 14,19, 39, 51, 59 for a total of 2972 points, and maybe ask for GC’s 34 coming back their way, netting GC a 400-point profit, while North gets three top-five picks and a late second-rounder to pick up a slider.

I think they should also offload the 2024 picks asap, just to make certain the AFL can’t renege on the deal. I think it’s absolutely valid for the AFL to add that caveat to the deal, but they have to expect North to try and get value while it’s there.

19 and 20 are worth 1,860 points, equivalent to pick six, currently held by GWS. I don’t see them feeling like trading down for points has any value. Likewise, Geelong and Essendon have smaller draft hands, and will be keen to retain the picks they have.

Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs may be keen to stockpile 2024 picks. Tyler Welsh is an eligible Father-Son pick for 2024, and is getting some hype about him, while the Dogs might be keen to offset any bids for Jordan Croft this year, though I don’t see their need being too great, as his number may not be called until late first round at best.

Carlton will be very interested in building up some points for 2024 when the Camporeale twins become eligible, but not as much as Port Adelaide, with 2024 Louie Montgomery (son of Brett) Ky Burgoyne (son of Shaun) Rome Burgoyne (son of Peter), and Oliver Francou (son of Josh) all eligible for them to pick up. I’m not sure they can trade next year’s first pick after using this year’s to get JHF, but where there is a will, there is a way.

I think the most likely outcome would be for Carlton to trade 16 and next year’s second rounder for North’s two end-of-first bonus picks. It’ll net them a nice points tally, while giving North value that otherwise might have vanished if the AFL felt it appropriate.

So, if all that did go through, assuming McKay does net North pick 3, they’d enter the 2023 draft with 2,3,5,16, 34, 43, and 76.

That’ll net them one of either Curtin or Reid (depending on whether West Coast prefer a local boy or not), probably somehow forget to bid on Walter at pick two in a wink to GC, but pick up Duursma and Caddy to give them some forward options, and pick up a taller slider at 16 (maybe Connor O’Sullivan, Ollie Murphy, Arie Schoenmaker or Riley Hardeman).

Plus, they’d still have a couple of later picks to play with in live trades if teams like the Bulldogs or Brisbane needed to match a bid on their F-S players.


Which other clubs may be eligible soon?


Doc says:

If West Coast continues on its trajectory, then I think it won’t be long before we see Eagles pleading with the AFL for assistance packages to become a weekly headline in the news.

They’ve only won five games of a possible 44 in the past two seasons, prompting some in the mainstream media to label them the next Fitzroy. That’s a bit of a stretch, but some of the results in the past two seasons have been nothing short of diabolical. The Eagles need youth and some ready-made players to come through the system over the next few years as they begin their grand plans to rebuild.

The Eagles are coming from a fair way out, so I expect in the next two years, we’ll still see them at the bottom and will benefit from an assistance package.


JB says:

It’s hard to say definitively when the formula isn’t public knowledge, but I think it’ll be a year or two before another team is eligible. West Coast are probably the closest currently, but the 2018 flag and finals in 2019 and 2020 will mean it’ll take a while for that to drop off. Hawthorn are coming off a 16th finish, but their previous seasons were 13th, 14th, 15th, 9th, 4th and 12th and 3rd since their threepeat. Three flags in a row will likely rule them out for some time yet. Freo played finals last year, Richmond and Geelong are just coming off premiership windows, so all that’s really left is Gold Coast (who are already receiving assistance) and Essendon. With a famously long finals-winning drought, recent top 8 finishes may be less impactful.

All it would take is a wooden spoon, and I think the Dons would be thinking about asking the question.


How will this impact the comp in 2024 and beyond?


Doc says:

We’re not going to see assistance packages dealt out every year like it’s some kind of box of special edition assorted cookies. The AFL will look after the sides that have been perpetual strugglers and North deserve at least something for their troubles.

I don’t expect the assistance packages North have received this year will have any bearing on where they finish next year. I think they’re still a year away from beginning to making major steps.

If anything, the Roos will likely win two or three more games with a fit and healthy roster, which is something they struggled with this year, as key players went missing with injuries at various points of the season.

By 2025, we should see this North side pushing for eight to 10 wins and perhaps by 2027 they should be a definite for contending for finals. If anything, the assistance package they’ve received should have them fast-tracking the development of the list by maybe a season or two.

But that’s really a rough estimate, and besides, it all depends on who they draft with the picks that they have. Last year, I thought they did well with Sheezel and Wardlaw. This year, they’ve got to start looking for players around them Harley Reid will be a great player, but Daniel Curtin is someone who fits exactly what North are looking for to contend later on this decade.


JB says:

I think these sorts of packages will be revised, but rather than taken away, I can see them being increased. We’re seeing more father-sons than ever before as talent pathways are solidified, not to mention once Mother-sons become eligible at some point. Teams finishing down the bottom are no longer assured access to top-level talent, as we’ve already seen with players like JUH, Nick Daicos, Will Ashcroft and many others being locked away well before draft night.

Personally, I really like the generational system we have in the AFL, but it does need some balance. Removing the points discount would make sense, as it’s already a massive advantage in being able to match a pick with multiple later picks. Alternatively, having  maximum number of father-sons on a list, or a maximum number of father-son bids in a rolling three-year period could help level the access to talent.

Regardless, the idea of teams finishing lower on the ladder having first access to top talent is done. It’s gone, and as long as academies and F-S eligibility exists, it’s not coming back. I’m not sure if further compromising the draft is the answer, but it’s a start.

In my opinion, though, I’d rather they give soft cap and salary cap breaks to bottom teams. Giving them more support and a greater ability to attract or retain talent will be pretty handy in developing a young team.


Final thoughts


Doc says

I’ll concede that North need some assistance from the AFL. It’s clear they are not a good team and they’re clearly amidst a heavy rebuild.

But I’m glad it’s nothing as extreme as a top-five draft selection or pre-listing a kid that is a surefire top 10 talent. That’s not only a ludicrous proposition, but it’s deliberately rigging the system and rewarding the football department for sub-par mediocre decisions.

I want to see North Melbourne succeed but since the scrapping of that old priority draft rule where if you won less than five games you got a top pick, a lot of sides have had to go the long way around.

Melbourne received very few priority picks and the ones they did, ended up being busts anyway. They finally got a recruiting strategy that stuck and they ended up winning a premiership.

Adelaide was just as garbage as North Melbourne in 2020. Three years later,, they were a dodgy goal umpiring call away from playing finals. North are certainly capable of getting a good team together, and they’ve already received some assistance last year from the league.

They need to nail everything they do this year to go forwards.


JB says

I know I’ll get a lot of stick for some of the points in here, and that’s fine. You publish something about footy, you get some valid criticism with a smattering of abuse, that’s just the way it is.

But let’s look at this without all the pearl-clutching.

North are getting some help due to some disastrous seasons, but it’s hardly worth the shrieks of outrage that we’re seeing. They aren’t the first, and won’t be the last. What grinds my gears though, is when bigger clubs work the system, it’s “smart business”, like when Geelong managed to get the AFL to approve losing a third-round pick for Bowes and pick 7 in return for taking on his salary. Or when Hawthorn got access to Roughead and Ellis via the same sort of assistance, except a much better package. Carlton have worked the system better than most, yet it seems their fans in particular have forgotten their own priority picks, despite their issues being largely self-inflicted at the time due to big salary cap breaches.

If there’s nothing wrong with gaming the system in these cases, then there can be nothing wrong with a package that is far, far less impactful than what was given to all the other teams that have received top 3 priority picks.