Unsurprisingly, the news of Jason Horne-Francis opting to hold off on contract negotiations with North Melbourne has given ammunition to the mob targeting for the Kangaroos and the alleged ineptitude of the club both on-field and off.

I’ve also seen the story emerge of David Noble giving the Kangaroos’ players a spray following their efforts against Brisbane back in Round Three, with that his outburst was negatively received by a few of the playing group.

Long gone are the days of the coaches handing out sprays on a consistent basis, but given how North played that night at the Gabba, I think a spray was warranted. They were listless; -42 in contested possessions, +25 in turnovers, nearly -60 in uncontested possessions, -38 in inside 50 entries, and 41 scoring shots to 13 – it’s a damn miracle that it was only an 18-goal differential.

Noble apologised for it a few days later. Maybe it’s a bit old-school, but what’s the point of coaching if you can’t get a rev up from the players, particularly after an insipid effort such as their game against Brisbane?

If the reports are true and that he’s battling to keep the players onside with him, then North are cooked as a club.

Yes, we live in different times as opposed to 20 years ago when every coach is used getting angry to fire up his charges, but to say that the players are ‘emotional’ after a spray, then it’s just another feather in the cap of those who argue that the game has gone too soft.

I’ve been handed sprays before, both as part of a group and as an individual, I reckon a lot of us who have played footy at one level or another have been handed down a few over the journey. Did I like it? You bet I didn’t. Was it a bit daunting? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But I didn’t stand there and pout about it like a little child, thinking they have it out for me.

It’s all a part of football. Coaches are there to get the best out of players as consistently as they can – it’s a hard job and sometimes being blunt about how a player goes about it is exactly what is required.

Hell, if you were in his position and saw your team get destroyed by 100-plus points (we’re talking professional environment here) would you stand there and say to the team; ‘bad luck boys, we’ll get them next time?’ or would you call it how you saw it and say something along the lines of it being a pathetic effort and lay out some home truths?

This brings my attention to Jason Horne-Francis. Whilst the results will speak for themselves at the moment, and yes the club is struggling… it’s a basketcase… however you’d like to describe it – people are quick to jump on the wagon that he’s already fed up with North and looking to go home.

I’m not prepared to put my eggs in that basket yet. We are quick to forget that this is just an 18-year old who has just played his eighth career game in the big time.

It’s interesting to hear the media pundits make the claim that he will be North Melbourne’s best player by the end of the season. I think whoever manages the young man (think it’s Ben Williams last time I checked) would’ve heard that comment and told him to reach for the proverbial stars.

I watched his debut game against Hawthorn and thought whilst his first goal was something special, he was being holed up in the forward half of the ground and that compromised his work around the stoppages a fair bit.

Compare game one to the next month of footy he had. Against Hawthorn, he only attended 26 percent of centre bounces. In Rounds Two andTthree, he attended 55 and 59 percent of centre bounces respectively. This is then followed by 76 and 72 percent of centre bounce attendances in rounds four and five respectively.

Now, if we’re to run the numbers he had in rounds two to five, you’ll find his contested possession numbers increase from six in round one to an average of just under 12 per game and the clearance numbers overall rise too.

He won four centre clearances against Brisbane in the loss and another four in their loss to Sydney and whilst he only had two clearances overall against the Bulldogs in round five, one of them came from a centre bounce.

I will stress as well that Horne-Francis is not the number one midfielder at North Melbourne at the current time and shouldn’t be. With Ben Cunnington out indefinitely as he continues to recover from testicular cancer, Jy Simpkin, who won last year’s best and fairest, remains the premier midfielder in North’s camp. Whilst he might not be as good as your club’s best midfielder, Simpkin does provide a lot of grunt and provides a great foundation to the midfield with his clearance work, tackling and penchant for finding the contested ball.

In what Horne-Francis has already done so far in his career, I don’t doubt he is on his way to surpassing him within the next year or two as the team’s best midfielder and could arguably be the best player in the side – it took Sam Walsh three seasons to become a bonafide elite midfielder, remember?

In terms of finding the footy, he actually averages more contested possessions than Simpkin, although the margin is just a very small one at that – 10.6 contested possessions to 10.5 per game in 2022.

Simpkin has built himself through the years of working into space after the initial contest, but it won’t be too long before Horne-Francis begins finding plenty of space to run to and becomes more of a forward threat as well.

I’ve said for years now that hyping up an 18-year old to the moon is a ludicrous proposition, but this piece isn’t meant to be hyping up Horne-Francis as an A-grade talent. The column piece this week is to put away the myth that after eight games, Horne-Francis is immediately finding himself out of North Melbourne.

What I do think will happen is that by Round 15 or 16, we’ll be seeing him, providing he stays fit of course, begin to have a significant impact on games and that is where Horne-Francis is seeking a bigger pay cheque. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and testing your value.

He has until 2023 to make a call on his future, whether that be at North Melbourne or whether he goes back to South Australia. But rest assured he’ll be looking for some extra money around at North Melbourne.

What could be a $500,000 – $550,000 per year contract extension today could easily be $700,000-plus if he holds out until next year. With a new TV rights deal in the works, it may be significantly more. This won’t be a rental period for Jason Horne-Francis

The secondary aim of this column is to write about the Roos and why they are where they are. It was good to see Jack Ziebell come out and state that the players are 100 percent behind Noble and his coaching tactics, as opposed to dodging the question, which some people like to do.

But with Port Adelaide this weekend in Tasmania, this is a game that they need to be fired up for. North’s record in Tasmania in recent years has been pretty good. Last year they beat Hawthorn and Gold Coast and drew with GWS. Since 2012, North have won 17 of their 27 matches at Blundstone Arena.

Right now, the problem does not lie with Noble’s coaching – as much as people will say he’s being too hard on the playing group or that the methods are too complex, that is not the problem. The problem is the cattle that is out on park.

It will be said that Fremantle, on average, had a younger side on the park last Friday night and nearly 300 less games experience than that of the Roos, yet things seem to be clicking for the Dockers. Are they just ahead of schedule? Or are the Roos behind?

What gives? Why is the club struggling?

Well, simply put, there are simply not enough players pulling weight. There’s a large portion of them who are 23 and younger, but I look at guys like Josh Walker, Hugh Greenwood, Todd Goldstein, Aidan Corr and to a lesser extent Kayne Turner and immediately think that they won’t be a part of North’s next Finals tilt. They all have roles in this team right now, but in the grand scheme of things, if they’re being belted by 10 goals-plus every week, then what’s the point?

Remember when Goldstein was put up for trade and the Cats could’ve snapped him up? I think it was the 2019 off-season when that news was running rampant. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if the Roos had their time again, they’d tell him to head down the highway.

It sounds hypocritical, considering I’ve been big on loyalty for years, but unfortunately, football has become more business than ever before. It just is what it is.

Trust me, this is nothing against big Goldy, who’s been a stalwart of the club and has done some great things as the number one ruck over the years (the all-time leader in hit-outs is nothing to sneeze at), but considering that they were heading for a rebuild at that time, they would’ve been better off seeing what value they could’ve eked out whilst there was still something there.

This year, he’s playing Full-Forward as a second banana to Tristan Xerri, who I must admit, after being completely off him like sour yoghurt, has been playing some good footy so far this year. It’s such a shame that he’s now out for the next few weeks with a foot injury.

Trade Goldstein away this season and you’ll probably get something significantly less than North could’ve been offered a few years ago. Sadly, his value now equates to probably something like a future third – there is simply not much value in that.

I’ll be less critical for a player like Jed Anderson, for he won’t be there in North’s next finals push either, but he had just worked his way back from a severely interrupted pre-season. However, the facts are that he’s 28 and North are probably looking at being at least another three or four years away from contending for Finals, when he’s well and truly past his peak.

I look at players like Lachie Young, Jack Mahony and Atu Bosenavulagi and ponder about what their roles in this team are.

I was far from impressed with Young’s work at the Bulldogs prior to being traded away and has only gone backwards with his skill set. Bosenavulagi has struggled a lot in his games this year and maybe I’m being a bit stiff on Mahony, but aside from his defensive pressure, I struggle to see what exactly he adds. He’s not exactly potent as a small forward.

And as for Jaidyn Stephenson… don’t get me started with him. For someone who came to North looking to prove a point, the only thing he’s proven so far is that Collingwood were in the right to trade him away… Can’t believe I’m saying a good thing about Ned Guy and Collingwood’s 2020 trade period.

But with that, there is the good. Paul Curtis had a ‘mare on Friday night against the Dockers, but I thought his first couple of games prior were promising as a forward. Flynn Perez is starting to come along nicely after the slow burn of working his way back from a second knee reconstruction and Bailey Scott shows good glimpses of his footy every now and then is closing in on his 50th game.

There are other players inside the North Melbourne squad that show potential and promise. Will Phillips was a high-end draft pick just a short time ago, as was Tom Powell as a first-round selection. I’m also a big fan of Eddie Ford’s exuberance whenever he gets near the footy and Jacob Edwards is a promising tall option in progress that can hopefully partner up with Nick Larkey in the long run, because that man is in desperate need of a chop out.

When North Melbourne went on that axing spree at the end of the 2020 season, I think there were many of us writers, observers, and fans who could see that North Melbourne are going to be in for some painful times.

We saw them turn the corner mid-season last year and play a more competitive style of football, but they’ve only gone backwards this year.

I’m sure David Noble has used the line of progress not being linear, and he’s right. Like building and developing anything whether it’s a side or a personal skill, progress isn’t just going to be straightforward – challenges are going to be laid down and right now, Noble and the Roos have got themselves into the mire again.

They need to respond against Port Adelaide this weekend. Forget about the criticisms, forget about Jason Horne-Francis putting contract talks on hold. The one thing that David Noble will want to see is an effort in contest and repeat efforts defensively.

And if not showing enough heart or effort isn’t enough to warrant a spray, then why the hell are we playing football?

 

 

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