The North Melbourne Draft Dilemma

It might only be May, but this AFL Draft problem is already staring North Melbourne in the face 

It’s only the end of Round 9, but it seems very close to a foregone conclusion that North Melbourne will once again be the wooden spooners in 2024 with no wins and the worst percentage in the competition. Richmond have been poor in their own right and might take it over, but North have objectively been worse.

Put it this way, Alastair Clarkson was relatively upbeat about his team’s performance this weekend, a game where they lost by 68 points to the inconsistent Suns. The worst thing is he was technically right, the team did look better in comparison to the few weeks before that.

But we aren’t going to get too much into the state of North, that’s been done enough. This is about looking at a problem that will be staring at them in the face when they likely have the #1 pick for the draft.

This is where I have to be blunt, one of the big problems for the Roos has been in their list construction. Not all of it is their fault, as a smaller Melbourne-based club that won’t lure big free agent or trade targets, but the draft is something they can control.

Compare this to a similar team that was in the doldrums in Carlton. In 2015 Carlton drafted Jacob Weitering, Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow in the first round. Weitering is one of the best fullbacks in the league, and should have won at least one All-Australian selection by now. Charlie Curnow is a two-time Coleman medallist, and Harry McKay has developed his game to be a Coleman threat in his own right. With Curnow, they are the top key forward duo in the game. They drafted for years down the line, and are reaping the reward now. In comparison North Melbourne have been for the most part midfield-centric in early draft choices. Some were the right choice, some were headscratchers.

For the latter, taking Will Phillips over Logan McDonald in the 2020 draft raised so many questions given the Roos needed a developmental key forward over a midfielder. As harsh as it is to say, Phillips has been a bust for them, while McDonald has bloomed into a promising key forward for the Sydney Swans. At least the Roos can be a bit more optimistic taking Colby McKercher over swingman Daniel Curtin in last year’s draft. Coach Alistair Clarkson was a big fan of Curtin and wanted him, but the team decided to take yet another midfielder when it wasn’t needed. On the plus side for North, McKercher has looked incredible.

Other picks just haven’t worked out for varying reasons either partially or fully outside North’s control. Tarryn Thomas is out of the league due to his own stupidity and reprehensible actions, Jason Horne-Francis left for Port Adelaide after a combination of homesickness and the club misdiagnosing an injury for the young midfielder (Port Adelaide ended up having to send him for surgery immediately after trading for him), Harry Sheezel looks like he’s much better off on the halfback flank for the Roos at least in this point in time.

Drafting key position players doesn’t solve problems overnight, but they set you up to solve the problem afterwards. Nick Larkey and Charlie Comben can’t solve it all on their own.

The problem facing North Melbourne is this draft is the polar opposite of last year. While in 2023 it was a great draft to have if you needed help at either end of the ground, this is a very midfield-centric draft. As of writing, the big favourite to go #1 is Josh Smillie, the 194cm tall Eastern Ranges midfielder who isn’t unlike GWS midfielder Tom Green.

The only top 5 prospect currently who isn’t a midfielder is Sandringham defender Luke Trainor, a 194cm intercepting defender who has a quite a good boot on him. The problem is, he isn’t considered to be as good as Smillie. I wrote before that a team picking early in the draft should always go for the best player available early in the draft, but North could be the exception to that rule.

The midfield for North Melbourne is extremely promising. McKercher has dazzled as a first-year player, George Wardlaw has taken his game to another level and Luke Davies-Uniacke is in career best form after a slow start to his career. Add in Tom Powell who’s also recording career best numbers – can the team really afford to go with another midfielder?

Therein lies the dilemma staring the Roos in the face. Do they add the best player available and yet another midfielder to the rotation? Do they reach for Trainor, or do they desperately try to trade down from the #1 pick? Keep in mind there’s no Harley Reid calibre prospect in this draft that teams will pay through the nose to get.

Let me know what you think? Take the midfielder, reach for the defender, or try to find a trade out? It’s a problem that isn’t going to go away for North Melbourne.