Tick tock… the AFL season edges closer, and the Mongrel Season Previews are gathering steam.

Teams are now back at training, working off the post-Christmas break turkey and beer, and as we work through January, our sights slowly turn toward footy. And many teams have cause for genuine excitement. Be it a climb up the ladder, the development of young players, or the recruit that puts them over the top, there is plenty to look forward to.

Over the last stages of 2021, I was slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. Well, I have finished doing that, and looking over them, I quickly came to the conclusion that these previews are going to be monstrous.

So, this is the way this is going to work – the first five questions are available for free for each team and the next 15 are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content, and those who have been with us for a while. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on space as they have to fit in gambling ads. Shots fired…. we’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions about North Melbourne in 2022.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE HUGH GREENWOOD SIGNING?

It was important before the news of Ben Cunnington‘s illness, and it become more important following it.

Many have been critical of the way Greenwood moved to Arden Street, but I find it hard to fault him. We’ve been told for years that football is a business – he just treated it like one. Now at his third club, Greenwood brings an element of hardness in the contest and some of the best tackling in the business.

Quick fact – before suffering his knee injury in 2021, Greenwood was on track to break the record for average tackles per game in a single season. With 8.67 to his name, he was the best in the league – Jack Steele was second, with 8.41…. which is huge in and of itself, but Greenwood was the man when it came to dragging opponents down. When he latches onto you, you stay tackled. I watched with amusement as some of the mids opposing him tried to bust through his outstretched arms, only to be brought down and caught with the footy. At times, his repeated efforts were off the charts, moving from one player to the next as the ball was released. Greenwood made the Suns a force to contend with at stoppages.

With a combination of Cunnington, Greenwood, LDU, and Simpkin, North looked like a contested footy beast waiting to be unleashed, and even as Cunnington takes time to recover, they’re still going to be hard to handle in the middle.

Greenwood will never be your finesse player. He will never blind turn out of a pack, sell candy and hit a leading forward on the chest, but what he does do, is set the cat amongst the pigeons, and allow for no easy path out of stoppages for the opposition. If there is a scrap for the footy, you should damn well bet that Greenwood will be involved. If there is a clearance to be won, he is one of the best at getting his hands on the footy first – he averaged a career-high 6.27 clearances per game in 2021. Whilst the loss of Cunnington, for a while at least, hurts the club’s ability to extract the footy, the acquisition of Greenwood makes it a little more tolerable.

It is worth mentioning that Greenwood’s 6.27 clearances came as part of the Suns.

A team that played the whole year without a ruckman.

Imagine what he will be able to do when he has a ruckman the level of Todd Goldstein feeding him the ball at stoppages?

North Melbourne stole Hugh Greenwood away from Gold Coast, and in contrast to the old saying ‘crime does not pay’, it looks as though North are about to reap some pretty significant rewards.

 

HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN ABOUT AIDAN CORR?

Well, outside North people, I have not heard one person talk about him, so I reckon he is well and truly flying under the radar.

Corr can play tall, but during his time at GWS, seeing him tuck the footy under his arm and running outside 50 was not a rare occurrence. In 2021, North were really plugging holes in defence, with so much asked of Jack Ziebell in that regard. The addition of Corr was supposed to aid in alleviating some of that pressure, but injury prevented him from having impact at all.

He’s a 100-gamer and at 27-years-old is ready to contribute immediately. When people look at North and ask what type of hole Robbie Tarrant leaves behind, I have often crinkled my nose up and thought “It’s an Aidan Corr-sized hole… if he stays healthy”.

And that’s really the key, isn’t it? Corr slotting straight back into the defence, with Ben McKay and Josh Walker as his partners in crime, the loss of Tarrant, at an advancing age, is not actually that bad.

What to expect from Corr in 2022?

It’s hard to gauge, but basing it on his GWS role and form, around 12 touches per game, four or five Rebound 50s and around four intercepts should lighten the load on those who have been doing the heavy lifting. Remember when the commentators start yapping about how much of a difference Aidan Corr makes that The Mongrel didn’t forget about him at all, okay?

 

CAN KAYNE TURNER GRADUATE TO BECOME THE BEST TAGGER IN THE AFL?

From small forward to annoying as hell negating player, the transformation of Kayne Turner in 2021 was a real bright spot for the Roos.

We were all aware that North were in for some pain heading into the 2021 season, so to find things about this team, the players, and the roles they are capable of, whilst picking up someone who could end up being a generational player (no pressure, Jason) is a huge win, and there was no bigger win than Turner’s role as a tagger.

When you watched Turner in 2021, one word leapt to mind – annoying. He was learning on the job, but his ability to get under the skin of his opponent. This was on display during the Roos’ game against the Swans in 2021. Turner was deployed to make life miserable for Sydney match-winner, Tom Papley, and at one point, a frustrated Papley lost his composure and gave three free-kicks away to Turner in the space of five minutes.

North did not go on to win that game, but the tactics of Turner (and Noble – credit where it’s due) actually halted the momentum of the Swans and kept North in the game. It also threw Papley way off his own game to the point where “evening up” with Turner seemed to take up more space in his head than winning the game.

Whether Turner can continue to develop into a great run-with player could be important to North going forward. The Roos have had someone play that role in the not-too-distant past, with Ben Jacobs one of the best in this role before the after-effects of concussion got the better of him. If Turner can start to play to the level Jacobs did, his future in this team will be secure, and his value immeasurable.

 

WHAT IS THE 2022 CEILING FOR LUKE DAVIES-UNIACKE?

I’ve written about this before.

People look at the leap Christian Petracca made in 2020 – it was difficult to give complete context to, as the game time was reduced and therefore, the game, itself, was a different beast, but the 2021 season proved that the leap Petracca made was no fluke.

2020 was year five for Petracca. 2022 is year five for LDU.

His time is now!

In terms of body shape and power, LDU is the closest in the league to Petracca, or the way he was in 2020, at least. Powerful off the mark, explosive when he gets the footy, highly skilled… there are some serious comparisons between the two, with Trac’s goalkicking probably the thing that sets him apart.

Whilst Petracca was serviceable in 2019 (year four), LDU is actually ahead of him in disposals per game. LDU is +3.32 per game better, but this is the point in Petracca’s career that he knuckled down and got serious.

With Petracca, it came down to one pre-season where he was the hardest worker at the club. Is LDU capable of being the hardest worker at North? Can he have the type of preseason that paved the way for Petracca’s rise?

And what would that mean to North if he did?

If we are talking 2022 ceilings for LDU, we need to look at Petracca’s 2020 in regard to what is possible. Some may think that unfair on Davies-Uniacke, and they may have a point. I felt the same way when some compared him to Chris Judd in his first season – that was incredibly unfair to throw that at a kid. And at 22, LDU is still really a kid.

But so was Petracca two years ago and in one season, he made the step from talented kid to superstar. That IS the ceiling for Davies-Uniacke in 2022. Like it or not, he has to make a huge leap in order for North to start their climb up the ladder, and whether he can, whether he has put in the work, or whether he falls short will be one of the more intriguing storylines out of Arden Street in 2022..

I’ll be watching with great interest.

 

HOW LONG DO NORTH RELY ON ZIEBELL AND HALL AS THEIR BEST MID-SIZED DEFENDERS/REBOUNDERS?

Well, Ziebell seemed to be part of the plan right from the start of the season and when Robbie Tarrant was unable to take the field for a large portion of the season, the captain seemed as though he was attempting to be everything to everyone in defence.

And you know what – he did a pretty damn good job.

Forced into a new role, and without a hell of a lot of support, he threw himself into the new position, despite being caught out of position a few times early. Really, with the benefit of hindsight, what Ziebell was able to do in defence should be highly commended – it was a captain’s knock.

But the tide turned eventually. Tarrant returned to action and then Noble pulled a move that would allow Ziebell play the role he was probably supposed to be playing from the outset. Aaron Hall shifted to half-back and took on the responsibility of doing a lot of the exit-50 work. Ziebell was permitted to concentrate on filling the dangerous space, and North looked a hell of a lot better.

But this is a short term fix.

Hall is 31 years old, and will most likely not be a part of the next contending North Melbourne team. Whilst his run from defence in 2021 was very valuable, there were times where his errant kicking turned the ball over in crucial moments (there were a couple of out-on-the-full kicks in tight moments that just made me sigh). He gets plenty of it. He wastes plenty of it. Should North be looking at embedding players capable of playing for the next four or so seasons, rather than continuing to band-aid the problem with Hall at half-back?

And are these players available?

Luke McDonald had a weird 2021 season, tearing a pectoral muscle and spending plenty of time on the sidelines. Upon his return, he played a subdued role, which saw his numbers pale in comparison to 2020. Able to play as a rebounding defender, he is 26-years-old and is now in his prime. Whilst he has previously been deployed as a tagger (and was really good in the role in 2020), he is the logical choice to take over from Hall, if not in 2022, then not long after.

Ziebell is only three months younger than Hall, but his leadership is vital back there. Both he and Dyson Heppell put their egos aside in 2021 and made the move to half-back. Both were excellent in their roles. I would keep him back there as long as possible. As part of a balanced defence, he is incredibly valuable. If left to be the main man in defence… well, he’ll try his guts out, but I don’t think that would be anything David Noble would like to entertain again.

Where would that leave Aaron Hall?

Well, as happy as I was for him to re-establish himself last season, I’m not sure he is owed anything. I’d be playing him as a wingman who drifts back into defence, but the focus would definitely be on McDonald as the preferred option as he’ll be a big part of this team in two years. I’m not sure that Hall will be.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 15 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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