How North Melbourne managed to take headlines away from Carlton and Collingwood.
North have frequently complained about the lack of media exposure. They’re regularly ignored, and when they’re not, it’s usually because a journo wants to throw a low-effort article around about them moving to Tasmania or how the team’s former President was being mean to them a few years ago.
That is, of course, when the articles aren’t about a big offer to a star player, who eventually decides to remain at their current club.
It’s pleasing for North fans to see them receiving headlines that give them cause to smile then—especially when Liam Jones and Jordan De Goey seemed set to dominate the back pages for a few days to come, yet.
By now everyone has heard about North Melbourne conducting a blitzkrieg raid on the Gold Coast Suns’ Hugh Greenwood. There’s even been a few excellent articles on this very website which we’ll link at the conclusion of this article. However, while my esteemed colleagues have rightly focused on the cost of Gold Coast playing with fire and Greenwood’s abrupt change of satisfaction with his current situation, it seems there may be a little bit of room to give credit where it is due for masterminding this coup—The Optio of Opportunity, Mr David “Hide-yo-midfielders” Noble.
As may have been apparent from the opening, this article will focus on the North Melbourne side of the deal, and it is being written by a North Melbourne member, so if I happen to come across a little smug…. well it’s been a long time since I’ve had reason to, so I ask for your forgiveness.
Actually, it’s been so long since anyone had any opinion about North, I’d happily take your anger too. It’s much better than indifference.
Regardless, let’s look at the situation:
Hugh Greenwood is 29, and will be 30 in March next year. In Round 17, he tore an MCL in a game against GWS, which put him out of the side for the rest of the season. Up until then, he had played an important role through the midfield in a young Suns unit, ably backing up the number one star Touk Miller by bringing the sort of physicality that allowed him to break a tag, as well as opening up turnover opportunities himself.
On Wednesday the 10th, Gold Coast announced that they had to delist three players to comply with the AFL draft rules, and chose Greenwood, Rory Thompson and Jez McLennan, and committed to redrafting each of them, taking three picks in the national draft, and using their last two on Greenwood and Thompson, collecting McLennan in the Rookie draft.
It’s a solid move, delisting players still under contract to comply with list management requirements—North did it themselves with Jarod Polec—but the problem is that it requires the player and the club to have absolute faith that it’s in both their interests to go through with the deal.
It’s also a fairly safe move, with the delisted free agency window closing on Monday at 5pm, meaning that clubs would only have a few days to discuss the opportunity internally, speak to a player’s management, arrange a meeting, convince them to leave their club, come to terms, formalize a contract and have the player accept it over whatever the Gold Coast were willing to offer.
As we’ve found, that is not always the case.
A few articles were written that Greenwood himself called “clickbait articles and social nuffs” in a tweet he put out on Thursday the 11th.
The rest of the tweet read:
“Still On The Primary List
Still On The Same Contract
Still Been Medically Cleared To Train/Play For Over A Month
Still At The Suns
Still See Everyone Round 1”
It did not age well.
Enter, David Noble
The Gold Coast is a fantastic place for a holiday. You can hit the beach, get a bit of a tan, go to some theme parks…. It’s no wonder David Noble decided to spend some time up there, especially as he spent four years in nearby Brisbane as the Lions’ head of Football before taking the role at North.
Prior to that, he was in Adelaide for eleven years, working as an assistant coach and then their list manager. It’s the time he spent as Head of Football in 2015 that is most relevant here, though.
That year, Noble was one of the people responsible for convincing Greenwood to quit a promising basketball career (and voiding a three-year contract with the Perth Wildcats, who were already a strong side, and went on to win the 2016 and 2017 NBL championships) to take a chance as a category B rookie for Adelaide.
It would seem Noble hasn’t gotten any less persuasive since then.
After enjoying his break in sunny Queensland, Noble was about to take a Friday flight back to sunny Melbourne and begin preparing for draft night, no doubt rehearsing how to avoid looking too pleased with recruiting Jason Horne-Francis, when his wife called to clue him in on the current situation happening at Metricon stadium.
“I was about to jump on a plane to come back to Melbourne and my wife goes, ‘You better go and have a look on AFL.com.au, Hugh’s been delisted,'” Noble said.
“People may not know that Brisbane were pretty close to getting him when he went to the Gold Coast,” he added.
“I’d spoken to him there as well, so I think it only happens as quick as it did because I’ve got such a strong relationship with Hugh and I know him so well, I know his character, I know what he brings.”
“One thing led to another, and I reached out on Friday, we got our skates on over the weekend and we were able to secure him as a delisted free agent.”
Condensing the action down to “one thing led to another” is a bit of a disservice to just how quickly and efficiently North were in putting the offer together.
Getting the list management team on board and pulling together an enticing, legal contract in just a few days is an extraordinary effort. To do it in less than 24 hours is simply astounding.
Gold Coast were apparently caught completely flat-footed. Upon hearing that Greenwood was looking at an offer from North, the club tried to get their own list management team mobilised to look at a counteroffer. They were slowed by being unable to get in touch with Stewie Dew, who it’s been reported was on a bushwalk at the time. No journo is letting on how many pubs or kebab vendors this bushwalk happened to pass by, but it’s safe to say that it delayed their response. Not critically, but perhaps enough for North’s tempting offer to take hold in Greenwood’s head.
Besides the delay, there was another problem that Gold Coast had to contend with—they couldn’t add him to their list, so he couldn’t sign a contract.
Life is all a gamble
Now put yourself in Hugh Greenwood’s shoes.
You’re 29 years old, which is like being 63 in the regular work force. You’re coming off a knee injury that isn’t particularly serious, but bad enough that you spent a fair bit of time out of the game. You’re at an age where you have one, maybe two contract periods left before you’re really just accepting whatever comes your way.
Gold Coast’s newly-revised two-year deal is decent, but it depends on them actually picking you back up. Of course, they probably will—you’re definitely in their best 22—but what if they don’t? You’ve got a young family, and there’s always a chance—a remote chance, sure, but still a chance—that someone else pops up and Gold Coast decide to forego your spot. Or perhaps it happens next year when the young superstars are looking to re-sign.
On the other hand, here’s a bloke that you’ve known longer than anyone at the Suns. He’s putting a team together that oddly enough seems to have a lot more buzz around it than a team coming off a wooden spoon should. They’re offering you two years with the trigger for a third if you play the required number of games. The money is a bit better too. Plus, being Melbourne-based, you’ll be travelling less and able to spend more time at home with the family.
Also, Arden St station is in Zone 1 for Metro Trains, so it’s a pretty cheap Myki fare.
There’s no such thing as a sure thing, but it’s not too hard to see why the deal had appeal.
Going South to North.
So Greenwood let Gold Coast know he was heading down to Arden st.
Wayne Campbell, who joined Gold Coast as their General Manager of Football Performance in September this year, wasn’t a fan of North’s coup.
“We thought we chose the players that other clubs potentially would pass on given circumstance,” Campbell told SEN’s Drive.
“It wasn’t what we planned it to be,” Campbell told SEN.
“We didn’t intend for this to happen and I’m not excusing it…North Melbourne have found a loophole,” Campbell said on Sportsday.
David Noble was less than concerned though.
“I don’t think this is a loophole, it’s the actual rules,” said Noble.
North General Manager Brady Rawlings seems equally positive.
“Hugh was the number one pressure player and tackler in the league across 2020 and 2021 until he was injured,” Rawlings said.
“Obviously, we’ve been on the road to attracting young people for the past two years, but we’re always on the lookout to improve our list,” he added.
As Rawlings says, North have been focused on youth, both in the draft, and with recruitment of players like Jaidyn Stephenson, Lachie Young, Aiden Bonar, Atu Bosenavulagi, and in this year’s trade period, Callum Coleman-Jones. All are 22 or under.
But a big part in developing younger players is giving them the protection they need.
Cover for Cunners
In 2021, Tarryn Thomas had some fantastic highlights. His ability to find space and create scoring opportunities is something that Roos fans are justifiably excited about. The problem is that occasionally, while he’s looking at where his teammates are, the opposition are looking for ways to plant him into the turf.
In North’s drought-breaking win against West Coast Eagles this year, Jamie Cripps manhandled Thomas, putting him off his game. Jeremy McGovern didn’t like Thomas dancing around him, so pulled a “professional foul”, tripping Thomas by hand as he tried to glide by.
There was also the game against GWS where Shane Mumford decided to coat-hanger Thomas as he attempted to play on after a centre-square free kick.
In both cases, the world’s pre-eminent hard-nosed midfielder/fisherman Ben Cunnington was on hand to remonstrate, but despite being so hard he runs a dairy farm full of velociraptors, regrew his hair through sheer force of will, and defeated testicular cancer by simply staring at his glorious scrotum in the reflection of the pacific ocean, he can’t be everywhere at once.
Ziebell, Zurhaar and Tarrant likewise fly the flag when needed, but Tarrant has headed off to Tigerland, Ziebell needs to stay in the backline, and Zurhaar’s aggression when in the middle isn’t quite yet matched with the gas tank needed to play there for long stretches in the game.
With so many young players to look after, North need to ensure that they get a fair run at the ball. Sometimes, a team captain will let the umpire know that a young lad is being targeted, but most of the time, it’s up to a team to protect their own.
Sometimes it’s done by breaking the rules, but other times, all it needs is a fierce and fiery tackle that knocks the wind out of a player to make them think twice about putting a bullseye on a younger player, and those big tackles are Greenwood’s best feature.
Greenwood’s role at North
For his part, Greenwood acknowledged the abrupt change of direction.
“Welp. Safe to say that tweet didn’t age well,” he wrote in a follow-up tweet, regarding his initial assurances that he was staying at the Suns.
“At the time of my tweet on Thursday everything in it was sincere and true and its intended purpose was to simply put to bed any chatter around my ‘delisting’,” Greenwood wrote. “It was also an opportunity to fully support the footy club’s decision to find ways to make itself better and to highlight the fact it didn’t change our plans of happily living on the GC and being part of the Suns for 2022.
“However, less than 24 hours after the tweet, North saw an opportunity to give us a call and then 48 to 72 hours after that, with a 5pm DFA deadline approaching on the Monday, both parties agreed on a deal that we felt comfortable enough ticked the many boxes required for us to consider and ultimately move our young family to Melbourne.”
“If I’m prepared to put myself out there then I’ve got to be prepared for everything that comes with it and clearly without the right facts and right information this scenario can be seen as a dreadful look. However, from what I’ve now learnt and what I hope people can understand is that 24 hours can be a very long time in footy.”
“I look forward to thanking the Suns in the coming days, but for now we are excited to see what North Melbourne has in store for our family.”
If he plays in the middle, it allows Cunnington a chop out and Ziebell to stay in the backline where he’s most needed.
If he rests up forward, he and Zurhaar will be chasing down defenders trying to rebound like a pack of wild dogs trying to take down a caribou and eat them alive.
If he plays off the wing, he’ll be able to mix his inside work with being an outside marking option to open up the flank he’s on.
He’s not going to be the key to putting North up into finals contention, though. He’s a fantastic player, but not even a Brownlow-level performance can rush the development of so many players. He’ll be a huge boost in the development of the younger group, and a reliable member of the midfield rotation.
He’s not the answer, but he does remove a couple of question marks around this North side, and the Roos will no doubt be walking a little taller, knowing they’ve managed to pick up a quality player right under the noses of the rest of the competition.
North of recent years have been thoroughly inoffensive. “I don’t mind the Roos” you hear people say. “They always seem to be trying. I kind of want to see them do OK.” This is another line that comes out.
But football is a brutal business sometimes. It’s a competition, and one where there has to be winners and losers. Being one of the winners means you have to have a group filled with drive, work ethic, talent, and a little dash of the bastard.
As well as adding a decent player to their list, this move shows that there is a ruthlessness growing at North. A willingness to take an advantage that presents itself, regardless of the noses that are put out of joint.
Will this extend to draft night, and see Daicos and Darcy picked one and two? Probably not, but there would be list managers suddenly rechecking their draft point calculations, just to be sure.
Because there’s a willingness to go against the grain growing at North, and I am keen for it.