The Big Questions – North Melbourne 2023 Season Preview

Just what can North Melbourne achieve in 2023?

Depending on who you ask, the answers vary quite wildly. Under new coach, Alastair Clarkson, the Kangaroos are expected to approach the game very differently to the last few years. The days of this group being a week off for the opposition are well and truly over. Talented kids litter the playing list, with question marks over some that have been around for a few years.

If this is the start of something big, there are plenty of questions to ask heading into the new season.

Yep, it’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are just about finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head through January, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.

And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to North Melbourne in 2023.



Let’s assume for a moment or two that everything goes swimmingly, and none of the North talls are sitting on the sidelines for extended periods, okay?

Given that, the addition of Logue is huge. I don’t know one Freo supporter who didn’t rate him – it is just that they have a very strong defensive core of Alex Pearce, Brennan Cox, and Luke Ryan taking the big three forwards f any team, and that left Logue as a potentially excellent defender without a real role to occupy in the back six. As such, he was thrown around as a stop-gap wherever he was needed in 2022.

He is too good for that. He will be needed in defence in 2023, that’s for sure.

But this is not just about what Logue can provide the Kangaroos – far from it, in fact. This is about what his presence allows others to do.

Ben McKay will benefit greatly from having another strong body to combat the big men of the competition. McKay, as we will explore, is highly capable, but was forced to be this stay-at-home defender without licence to be anything else. His job was clear – take the best forward and try your damn best to contain him. That’s it. The lack of support prevented anything else.

Logue taking the second-best forward and using his awareness and intercepting abilities gives McKay a chop-out – one that he was sorely lacking last season.

The other additional benefit comes in the way of what Aidan Corr can become with Logue patrolling defensive fifty. So much was asked of Corr in 2022. More than he had any right to return. At points, we saw Corr outsized and out-muscled as he attempted to combat the number one forward from the opposition. Unless both McKay and Logue are sidelined, that simply won’t occur in 2023.

This frees up Corr to play a more attacking role, zoning off the third forward to impact contests – as he was recruited to do – and makes North a more dangerous prospect once the initial spoil is made.

As we’ll dive into below, North are still lacking at a couple of positions, but finding a good support for Ben McKay was vital to their improvement, and they have done that for the coming season. Logue is a player whose star will rise as his coaches asks more of him. Alastair Clarkson has found a long-term defender in Logue – he is just 24 years old (Logie, not Clarko!) and has the size, speed, and strength to make an immediate impact.

A great pickup for the club, who will make others better just by doing his job.



Have you ever been to Rome?

If you have, there is little doubt you would have wandered through some stunning churches. Centuries-old, they are adorned with some of the most beautiful artwork you will ever see. You could stand there and admire it all day, continually finding new and brilliant details in every nook and cranny of these masterpieces.

That appears to be the type of ceiling we have in the making for LDU – it has the potential to be a masterpiece of its own!

I have made the case before that Davies-Uniacke possesses similar attributes to Christian Petracca right before Trac broke out in 2020 and set the league on fire. LDU is knocking on the door of that type of form.

His breakaway speed from the contest, his power, the long, penetrating inside 50 deliveries, and the balance and composure to never lose his feet… North have an absolute gem in its midst, and they know it.

The news that Davies-Uniacke had signed a two-year extension with the club would have had North fans sighing with relief. So important is he to what they are building at Arden Street that every man and his Kangaroo knew that had he decided to head elsewhere, the team was going to suffer greatly.

Of course, this is something they now don’t have to concern themselves with. A new, experienced, and successful coach is at the helm, and the prized possession of the club has inked a new deal – people, this is the start of something, and if you cannot feel it, I cannot help but feel the last couple of years has been harder on you than you realise.

So, let’s talk numbers for LDU this season, shall we?

In 2022, LDU averaged 24.86 disposals per game. This is a solid season, but you just know there is more to come, don’t you? The one area of his game that he has not fully embraced is scoreboard impact, with his highest return coming last season at just 0.43 goals per game.

This is where his game and that of Christian Petracca differ.

Trac has never averaged under 0.71 goals per game. He has an instinctive way of knowing when to push forward and when to let fly from 45-50 metres out. I’d love to see Clarko give LDU the green light to do the same.

A Davies-Uniacke that launches at goal from 50 metres out on the run… that is the type of player that lifts his teammates and elevates the entire team. That is the type of player that stands on a dais in September and has a little medal hanging around his neck.

That is the ceiling for Luke Davies-Uniacke in 2023. He is an artist in footy boots, and whilst the brush is still in his hand, and there is some work to do, yet, he is in the process of painting his masterpiece.



The talent is there. There is no doubt about that, but did you see anything in 2022 that made you certain that Tarryn Thomas was going to be a star of the competition?

I didn’t, and I haven’t seen any of that since 2021, if we’re being honest.

2022 was a significant step backward for Thomas, who managed ten games, had a family tragedy to deal with, and at times, looked like he didn’t want to be out there. Then, and I hope this was just a slip of the tongue, when asked about the possibility of requesting a trade he responded with the following.

“I’ve still got another two years. I want to focus on my footy and do my two years at North Melbourne.”

Do my two years? Come on, Taz… it’s not a prison sentence, mate! The gates aren’t locked at Arden Street.

In fairness, he did add the following.

“Whatever the future holds, (I don’t know), but at the moment, I’m happy at North. I love the club. The club has done a fair bit for me and my family.”

So, let’s put it down to an awkward piece of phrasing, shall we?

Heading into 2022, Thomas was building the type of career that North fans expected him to. He was highly touted as a junior, came through North’s Tassie Academy, and with 18 touches and over a goal per game to his name in 2021, Thomas seemed ready to break out in 2022.

That evidently did not occur.

2023 offers many at Arden Street a new beginning, and you’d think Thomas would be pretty eager to put 2022 behind him and focus on revitalising his career. He was a non-factor for North in 2022, and I expect it is probably the first time in his football life that he has not been the most talented player n the list. It could even be the first time he has not cruised through on talent, alone. Hard work rectifies that slide, if that is the case.

We will learn quite a bit about Tarryn Thomas in 2023. Is he the star in the making we thought in 2021? Or will the weight of 2022 be too heavy to shed?

This season could define him as a player, and much of the Kangaroos’ 2023 improvement walks hand-in-hand with that of Tarryn Thomas.



I am like a dog with a bone when it comes to this bloke. Last season, some bozo said I had it in for him. With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose it could seem that way – apologies to the bozo. However, allow me to counter the accusation by stating that I just have high expectations of a player who has been given the green light as the number one forward. I genuinely want him to succeed, and therefore, I have standards I expect him to start meeting.

When I start to assess the progress of Larkey, I begin by rating him against his peers.

There is a cohort of key position players in the 22-25-year-old bracket at the moment that are meant to be the future of the position at the top level. A player like Harry McKay has already proven himself. He has a Coleman Medal and is now the AFL version of a Made Man at AFL level. He is roughly the same age as Larkey but the differences between them are huge.

However, assessing Larkey against the best of the age group is vastly unfair, so you tend to look elsewhere.

Underneath McKay, you have a group of players headlined by Aaron Naughton (23), Max King (22), Ben King (22), Todd Marshall (24), and Mitch Lewis (24) who are charged with clunking marks and kicking goals at their respective clubs. At one point over the last two seasons, all have delivered.

All the blokes listed above have managed at one point to average two goals per game.

Larkey is yet to hit that mark, despite having two extra years in the system than a couple of them.

An additional concern I have is that Larkey, as the deepest forward, simply has to be able to clunk contested grabs. Whilst the King Brothers, McKay, and Naughton have all been able to fight their way to two contested grabs per game on average, Larkey is nowhere near it, with his best being 1.35 per game back in 2019. Marshall and Lewis were both ranked above him this season, as well

So, what has happened since 2019?

Well, we immediately disregard the statistical anomaly that is the 2020 season due to shorter games. However, in 2021, Larkey dropped to 1.14 contested grabs per game and then marginally improved to 1.25 in 2022. Do we put it down to North being less competitive over the past couple of years? Ben King has made it happen on a pretty average team. As have Mitch Lewis and Harry McKay.

What I have found when watching North games – and I watch plenty – is that he tends to be content with picking up free kicks way too often. As an outsider, it seems to me as though he plays to the whistle, or concerningly, for the whistle, as opposed to committing to the contest and fighting for the best position.

This is statistically evident, as well. Of the players listed, Larkey is one of just two men to average more free kicks than contested marks in the last five seasons. He did this in both 2021 and 2022, whilst Todd Marshall managed it in 2018, 2019, and 2020 before finally growing a set and attacking the contest harder over the last couple of seasons. Larkey is pushed under the ball too easily and seems to only get any sort of traction when he accentuates the contact he is receiving. Free kicks are fine, but wouldn’t you rather him taking control of the situation and removing the reliance on the umpire’s discretion?

I ask you – is this what you want from your key forward? Can you win without a big fella imposing himself on the contest?

It is time for Larkey to make the step from being a kid with potential to THE MAN in the North forward line, and it is time for North supporters to stop having to play the waiting game with him. He either makes the big step in 2023, or we start wondering where the true key forward is going to come from, allowing Larkey to slot into the number two slot.



It’s quite easy to do, given he didn’t take the field in 2022 as he battled glandular fever.

Taken at number three in the 2020 National Draft, regaining Phillips is like obtaining a new recruit at Arden Street. He has 16 games to his name and had a productive, without being spectacular, start to his AFL career, averaging just under ten touches per game in his rookie season.

Whilst the 2022 focus went on Jason Horne-Francis, and the 2023 focus will no doubt switch to Harry Sheezel and George Wardlaw, I expect that Phillips will compile quite a nice little season as he readjusts to life as a budding AFL talent.

During the 2022 season, I heard a few people lamenting the 2020 draft result for the Kangaroos, stating that the club should have gone all-in on Logan McDonald instead of taking Phillips. It was a lazy, easy take, with Phillips sidelined and McDonald showing signs. We have yet to see what either player is truly capable of – I much prefer to assess draftees over a five-year period than starting banging drums a couple of years into their careers. Things change quickly.

To put it in context, none of the early picks from the 2020 draft have dominated games at this point. Not Jamarra, not McDonald, not Thilthorpe, not Bruhn… none of them! People may have lamented him being unable to take the field and viewed that as a drafting faux pas, but those people have jumped the gun significantly.

North are flush with young talent. They will undoubtedly find a couple of stars from the good draft hands they have had in recent years. Phillips could well be one of them. Maybe he turns out to be a star?

Or maybe not.

Where is the best position for him?

Described as the “best pure midfielder” in the 2020 draft class, you’d expect Phillips to be pushing for time in the middle by the middle of the season. He is a workhorse, and assuming his recovery from illness is complete, he should make 2023 the year he taps people in the media on the shoulder and asks “remember me?”

I’m pulling for him to make a few people eat their words.


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