July 23, 2024

North Melbourne is currently the AFL’s unsolvable conundrum.

Despite multiple doses of AFL assistance, what is starting to feel like an age-old puzzle seems no closer to being pieced together.

Ten weeks into the 2024 season and the Kangaroos remain winless with an average losing margin of 51.4 points. And despite Alastair Clarkson’s saviour-like induction in late 2022 — he is 3-19 since taking the reins — the Roos’ short, medium and arguably long-term prospects remain bleak.

The North Melbourne-flavoured optimism in the pre-season was evidently fool’s gold.

“It’s obviously going not the way we planned,” co-captain Jy Simpkin conceded after the club’s 68-point defeat to the Suns in Round 9.

A pre-season pumping of Collingwood birthed excitement about ‘Northball’ — a high-scoring, high-octane concept that injected a dangerous amount of hope in a starved fanbase.

George Wardlaw said his Kangaroos were “really confident with Northball” immediately following that February win over the Magpies.

It hasn’t proved a fruitful innovation.

The Roos’ scoring shots per inside-50 rate of 38.6 per cent is AFL-worst. Their 17.0 score launches per game are worst in the league, and they sit second-last in the AFL in scores from their defensive half.

And yet, putting points on the board isn’t their biggest issue.

North Melbourne has conceded at least 100 points in every game this season thus far, shining a bright, bothersome light on the club’s defensive plight.

The Kangaroos lose 33.6 per cent of their defensive one-on-one contests, ranking second-worst in the AFL. On average, they concede 19.9 free kicks per game, ahead of only Richmond’s league-worst 20.6.

Ben McKay was allowed to leave last off-season and is lapping up life at Essendon, with the Roos opting to bring in recycled defenders Toby Pink and Bigoa Nyuon in his stead.

The previously Sydney-listed Pink, 25, earned another chance at a professional career after impressing with Glenelg in the SANFL, though his second shot hasn’t paid dividends — he was moved from defence to attack against the Bombers last Sunday — while Nyuon never got a run-on at Punt Road with the Tigers.

Charlie Comben has been an irrefutable bright spot in an otherwise grim defensive landscape at Arden Street, already equalling his most games in a season in his career (seven) by Round 10.

The Roos’ off-field obstructions involving Clarkson and Tarryn Thomas, respectively, have only further compounded the impact of their on-field shortfalls.North Melbourne finalises coaching team for 2024

Clarkson’s tactical approach has been questioned by some, but the club’s list remains lacking in critical areas — and they have had their fair share of free-agent misses in years gone by.

The Kangaroos aren’t all that dissimilar to St Kilda — and it’s hard to know which club’s fans would resent that comparison more.

Like the Saints, the Roos have missed time and time again in the player exchange window, watching as their big-fish targets either re-sign or are lured to more attractive destinations.

Travelling back in time to the late months of 2017, North Melbourne was just a few whiskers away from luring legendary Tiger Dustin Martin to Arden Street on a purported deal of $11,000,000 over seven years.

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