North Melbourne's Dismal Draft Drought

If we can imagine that the AFL Draft is the equivalent of a piñata at a children’s birthday party, then studying the North Melbourne variant amongst the revelling toddlers makes for an interesting morning.

North is the child that’s wandered it's way distractedly to the front of the queue, their face covered in the usually-forbidden chocolate cake. They see the piñata, knowing that sweet, sweet wonders lie within, but require a patient, guiding parent and a set of very specific instructions on just how and where to hit the target.

The problem is the child completely ignores instructions and ends up swinging wildly while desperate parents rush in to protect their offspring. The North child ends up whacking itself in the head before running to the sandpit dazed and in tears. 

It’s a tragic scene, I know, yet so is the current state of the North Melbourne Football Club.

There’s been plenty wrong at Arden Street for a long time now. Their 2-6 record and second last position on the AFL ladder speak loud and clear to that fact.

They have the worst defence in the entire AFL, conceding an average of 95.5 points per game

There’s not a single team that has amassed less than North’s 425 tackles this season. 

Only the Demons average less than North’s nine contested marks per match, while the Kangaroo’s 12 total quarters won is the worst in the league

Their 32.8 clearances per match is a number only the Tigers are fairing worse in.

Pick a stat, and North Melbourne are likely performing terribly in it.


One could understandably point the finger at coach, Brad Scott. He’s served an underwhelming full decade at the helm as the Roos' coach, with a highest-ever regular season finish of 6th

Equally, one could also point the figure at the curious approach the club takes to courting free agents which is to very publicly link themselves with every available (and unavailable) big name, only to end up experiencing a groundhog day of rejection, each October.

There’s a sign at my local gym that reads ‘don’t tell people your dreams, show them.’

Someone should remind the Roos about that one the next time they go fishing for free agents.

Yet for all North’s dilemmas, none are as clear and present as their repeated draft-day failures.

Put simply, in recent times, no team in the competition has messed up the draft, year after year after year, quite like the Kangaroos.  

Where other clubs are waiting in line for their turn at the piñata, calculating just how and where they’ll make their strike for maximum impact, North are in the queue daydreaming, staring at the nearby fairy-floss.

It is the result of the decade-long draft drought first and foremost, keeping North mired in the valley at the foothills of AFL mountain. 

It's also the draft that can act as its sherpa back towards the top.

The importance of the draft - especially amongst non-established, successful teams - simply can't be underestimated.  

Especially in the first couple of rounds where the richest talent lies.

Show me a recent premier - heck show me a preliminary finalist - and I’ll show you a team that has used the draft and particularly its top end talent as the bedrock of what that club has built.

Sure, there are outliers upon the resume of even the league's best drafting teams, but for every Richard Tambling, you'll find the Tigers netting Jayden Short, Jason Castagna and Kane Lambert in the first three rounds of a rookie draft.

Teams are allowed to have one or two forgettable drafts. North Melbourne have had an entire decade of what could be called gross incompetence.

YearFirst and Second Rounds picksStill on the board
2011Brad McKenzie (18), Tom Curran (40)Elliot Yeo (30), Lachie Neale (58)
2012Taylor Garner (15), Ben Jacobs (37), Mason Wood (41)Brodie Grundy (18)
2013Luke McDonald (8), Trent Dumont (30)James Sicily (56)
2014Sam Durdin (16), Daniel Nielson (25), Ed Vickers-Willis (36)Toby McLean (26), Brayden Maynard (30), Caleb Daniel (46)
2015Ben McKay (21), Ryan Clarke (31), Mitchell Hibberd (33)Josh Dunkley (25), Blake Hardwick (44), Bailey Williams (48)
2016Jy Simpin (12), Declan Watson (34), Josh Willliams (36)Sam Powell-Pepper (18), Tom Stewart (40), Esava Ratugolea (43)
2017Luke Davies-Uniacke (4), Will Walker (23)Aaron Naughton (9), Tim Kelly (24)
2018Tarryn Thomas (8)

With the exception of Ben Brown (third round selection #47, 2013) North have failed to make any kind of solid imprint over the last eight drafts. In fact, you could argue that with the exception of the brilliant Brown, North Melbourne would accept a mulligan on each and every first and second round pick they've had this decade. 

That's not cool.

I’ve no doubt the North Melbourne recruiters work like absolute beavers and take their jobs very seriously. I’m sure they possess a skill set that’s thorough and varied.

Yet, hard work doesn’t always equate to good work (see; Brendan Bolton), and the evidence is abundantly clear that North’s draft record is a principle reason there's so little optimism about anything happening at the Kangaroos, with the exception of Majak Daw's rehabilitation.

Maybe North Melbourne can end their competitive hibernation and begin to recreate the kind of energy and league-wide respect the club earned throughout the nineties. 

It certainly won’t happen, however, if the Roos continue to perform so wretchedly on draft night.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- for story ideas or opportunities.

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