The Big Questions – 2024 North Melbourne Season Preview

The 2023 AFL season started well for the Kangaroos. With a new coach at the helm, they pulled off the WA double in the first two weeks of the season, knocking over West Coast and Fremantle to surprise many critics.

Aaaand then their critics started to smile again as things fell away.

North Melbourne are a team full of young talent. They lack height and strength in defence, but possess one of the best young forwards in the game, in Nick Larkey, whilst anyone who has watched Luke Davies-Uniacke over the last few seasons could not help but see the oak tree in the acorn. Is this the season he becomes a genuine star of the game? And as that star, can he lift his team out of the bottom two?

The club has been pummelled in recent years, but their drafting sees them with an enviable cohort of young, burgeoning stars ready to shine. From Sheezel, to Wardlaw, to LDU, and even the renaissance of Tarryn Thomas, this team has plenty to offer.

But what can they deliver in 2024?

It’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are 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 into 2024, 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 2024.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel Punt. 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 the upcoming 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.

Isn’t it a bit early for a season preview? Well, I suppose, but do you know how long it takes to write seven thousand words? That’s 18 x 7,000… gets out the calculator… that’s 126,000 words. The average novel is about 85,000 words, so buckle the hell up with these previews.

Also, if there are any issues that arise after the publication of the preview, they will be covered in standalone articles to act as additions to this preview.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it. This is where we start the run to the new season and believe me – nobody does it better than The Mongrel.




He has to; there are no two ways about it.

The reasons he has to are two-fold. Firstly, the club need him to excel in defence. North have lost Ben McKay and Griffin Logue is not expected to make an appearance until well into the second half of the season. That leaves North incredibly short-handed when it comes to key defenders.

Secondly, Comben needs a win for his own confidence and his own career. For a few years, I have discussed footy with North supporters and they’ve always given me the “wait til Charlie Comben gets healthy” line.

So, I waited.

And waited.

I’m tired of waiting, and my guess is that both North supporters and Comben, himself, are tired too. North have their power forward in Nick Larkey, but they do not have someone who will stand up and fight with the big boys of the opposition forward lines for position. Charlie Comben had better be ready for the fight of his life in this new role. Teams are going to circle North like vultures looking to prey on their vulnerable key defensive stocks. They are going to want to take them to the cleaners. Charlie Comben has to be the man to prevent that.

It’s a lot of pressure to place on a 22-year-old with nine games to his name, but this shift in position could be just what the doctor ordered for him. Liam Jones did it at Carlton and then the Dogs, Darcy Moore did it at Collingwood, and Jayden Laverde did it at Essendon.

So, what exactly does Comben bring to the table as a defender? At 199cm and 95 kilos, he should be able to hold his own in contests, but what I have liked about him in the two sessions I watched at Arden Street this preseason is his speed. He can really get across the ground, which means that any kicks that are not perfectly placed in front of the leading forward allow him the chance to lunge and get a fist on the footy. Not be be hyperbolic, but that closing speed is something elite defenders have – reining in a forward with a headstart and somehow getting a fist to the ball – if we see Comben pull that off a few times early in the season, hopes will be buoyed.

North supporters wanted Charlie Comben to be a star. They wanted him to be their next great forward to help Nick Larkey out. He may have been, had things played oit differently, but what they wanted two years ago and what they want now are very different. What they’ll settle for is Charlie Comben becoming a hard-nosed key defender who is willing to scrap and fight for position, spoil and jostle his opponents, and break-even more often than not.

And if Comben can give this club something close to that, he’ll have done more for the team in defence than North could have ever asked for as a forward.



It seems inevitable that Harry Sheezel will make the move out of the half-back role that served him so well in 2023, and start working a bit more in the midfield, and perhaps even closer to goal. It should not be forgotten that when Sheez was recruited, the wraps on him were that he could be an A-Grade mid/forward, so to have him continue to ply his trade off half-back may seem a little bit… wasteful?

I’m not sure that’s the right word, as he is anything but wasteful when he has the footy in his hands.

What I am sure of is that Sheezel will excel in whatever role he is asked to play. If Alastair Clarkson believes he is best served by running off half-back, Sheezel will do it as well as anyone in the league. If he is asked to move into the guts, you just know he’ll start getting his hands on the footy at a ridiculous rate. And if he is asked to switch up and head into the forward line… well, let’s just say I would not like to be the defender keeping track of him in traffic while the ball is live.

In his first season at the club, not only did Sheez blow everyone away with his skills, the fact he re-signed with North so quickly set everyone at ease, particularly after the events of 12 months prior. This is the player North needed – a mature, level-headed young man that is committed to the club that drafted him, and his Syd Barker Medal indicates that everyone associated with North sees and appreciates what he has already brought to the club.

How much more does he have to offer?

At over 27 disposals per game, Sheezel broke records in 2023. With a better fitness base, more strength, and additional confidence knowing that he not only belongs in this league, but has the skills to be one of the best overall players it possesses, taking the game on seems to be the next realistic step. If there was one criticism of Sheez’s game in 2023 it was that he didn’t take enough risks. Will Clarko give him the green light to get creative in 2024?

If so, 2023 may be looked back on as the year Harry Sheezel arrived at North, but 2024 could be viewed as the year he took the damn place over.

A combination featuring Sheezel, LDU, Simpkin, Wardlaw, and Tarryn Thomas in the middle is mouth watering to a footy purist.



I’d like to say it’s a blanket yes, but the jury’s out at the moment.

Stephens is no slouch and has played in a Grand Final to prove it. Yes, his Swans copped a hiding, but Stephens’ experience, having been at Sydney as they pushed hard through September, has demonstrated to him just what is required to reach the top of the league.

A former number five overall pick, Stephens’ preferred position in Sydney was on the wing, but it was a bit of a dogfight… or a swanfight to bed down those roles. Errol Gulden owned one wing, Callum Mills, Justin McInerney, and Braeden Campbell all frequented the other; this left Stephens as the odd man out on several occasions.

After 13 games (down from 15 in 2022) and with an average of under 14 touches, it became apparent that he was not going to receive the opportunities in Sydney he would elsewhere, and despite a contract offer in front of him, he looked for a team where the possibilities would be plentiful, and he settled on North.

Why he chose North is an interesting one to ponder. As stated, his preferred role was on the wing, and outside Bailey Scott (see below), the Kangaroos’ wing roles were a pretty fluid arrangement. I reckon Stephens is eyeing one of them off, with a view to moving into the midfield once he establishes himself in the team.

A wing pairing of Stephens and Scott could be a huge win for North, particularly when you consider they only gave up one of their end-of-first-round picks in 2024 and pick 44 in 2023. The Swans also sent pick 25 (which turned out to be part of the Zac Fisher trade) to North in the deal. That alone kind of indicates it is a big win for North, but the play of Stephens as he settles into his new club will be the real evidence.

Stephens will get the game time he wants. On talent, he walks into the North Melbourne side, but Alastair Clarkson knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and he tends to work that stuff out pretty quickly. The harder Stephens works defensively, the harder he runs from end-to-end, and the more times he can beat his man back inside defensive fifty, the more Clarko is going to love this bloke.

And if he finds himself on the wing week after week, it also offers North the chance to finally have some genuine stability in those positions. As we’ll explore below, I am not sure what that means for those who occupied the wing across from Bailey Scott last year.



Absolutely, he can.

He is coming off a season where he snagged 71 goals in a team that won three games (and yes, we all know that should have been four games). No offence to the North mids, but they were not exactly putting the footy down his throat, either – Larkey was working his arse off for his shots at goal.

I have a bit of a confession to make before I go on – I was getting a little tiredfof waiting for Larkey around this time last year. I kind of felt that others in his age bracket were making improvements whereas Larkey was a little stagnant, particularly when it came to contested marking.

Whilst that aspect of the game remains an issue (he was at 1.13 per game – 61st in the league), his effort at ground level more than made up for it, as his second efforts to lock the ball in were elite for a big bloke. It got me to thinking that maybe he doesn’t need to be a player who takes the big clunking marks as often? Maybe he is one that uses his skills at ground level to compensate? Dare I say it… was I just completely wrong on him?

It happens.

So, on this one, I owe Nick an apology for my lack of patience.

What will likely hinder him in terms of increasing his contested marking in 2024 is the lack of a genuine second option when it comes to a marking target. It places more pressure on him to improve that 61st rank in contested grabs, with defenders knowing full well where the ball is headed. Larkey is a relatively reliable chance at clunking a mark when he is one-out, but throw another defender dropping in the hole into the mix, and what happens? Even the best in the game struggle when they have two opponents to beat. Larkey is up against it.

Cam Zurhaar will draw some fire, but from where I sit, he is the ideal third forward – physical, athletic, but it is a huge ask to have him line up as the second marking target. Charlie Comben was supposed to play that role, and damn it, I got tired of North supporters telling me how good he was going to be, but as covered above, he will be required to fulfil another important role.

I’m not sure who else can fill the role. Callum Coleman-Jones? Has he shown enough as yet? Richmond fans were telling me he was the next big thing three years ago. Now, suddenly, their opinion on him has changed. I cannot quite work out why… haha.

The danger with the reliance on Larkey is that if he is well-held, North are in trouble. Larkey kicked 29.2% of the Kangaroos’ goals. For context, Charlie Curnow kicked 26.4% of Carlton’s goals and Tex Walker kicked 23.8% of Adelaide’s goals. Carlton have Harry McKay to step in. Adelaide have Darcy Fogarty and Riley Thilthorpe (and Izak Rankine).

North have Jaidyn Stephenson and Cam Zurhaar.

Ouch, right? No shade intended toward Zurhaar – the bloke is a weapon, but North desperately need a bloke that can stand under the footy and take a contested grab. Zurhaar’s strengths are elsewhere.

So yes, Larkey can win the Coleman and in a way, he has to go close or the Roos will struggle to score at all. And I shudder to think what will happen to this North forward line if he cops an injury.



North struggle for small forwards and in a perfect world, Zac Fisher would slot in on a half-forward flank, kick goals and set up others with his creativity.

Yes, those perfect worlds… they don’t really exist. Here’s why.

Zac Fisher is not a goal kicker. It’s as simple as that. He has never averaged over a goal per game in his career, despite the Blues giving him ample opportunity as a forward. They played him both on the wing and late in his tenure with the club, worked him across half back. Whilst I am sure North would love him to suddenly learn how to kick a few snags to remedy the small forward dilemma above, Fisher’s recruitment may well be the addition that allows Sheezel to move out of his role in defence to become a more damaging player in his own right.

Fisher is a good distributor and working off half-back, provided the Blues good run and carry. Having him slot into the role as a rebounding defender means he gets to play in a position where he can be creative and give Sheezel the freedom we all want to see.

That’s a win/win.

What are the expectations in terms of numbers?

Well, assuming Fisher does play back, I’d like to see him lead the team in rebound 50s. Last season, it was Jack Ziebell (6.0) and Harry Sheezel (5.22) who were numbers one and two, respectively, so loding them both from.thenroles would give Clarko plenty to think about. That’s where we want to see Fisher doing his work – somewhere between five and six rebounds per game whilst not turning the footy over would give North some real composure coming out of defence.

And I would also like to see the club start using Josh Goater in a complementary role to Fisher, as well. He looks like he has wheels and could turn on the jets out of half back if permitted any room. Between the two of them, they should be able to generate a heap of run for the Roos, and if North are going to trouble teams in 2024, it is going to be with fast ball movement and pace. Slow the game down and it spells trouble.


This concludes the free section of this article. The next two-thirds are for our members. You can join below.


As mentioned above, the first five questions are free – the next 14-15 are for our members. Yep, I believe my work is worth twenty-five cents per day. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re welcome to join and keep reading