North Melbourne, Callum Coleman-Jones And The Audacity of Hope
Last year the Roos stood on the trade period platform with tears in their eyes as they farewelled Ben Brown as the Tasmanian boarded a train to start life as a demon.
This year they’re on the same platform waiting for a carriage to arrive with Callum Coleman-Jones on board.
When Brown departed twelve months ago his suitcases were packed to the brim with 287 goals and four North Melbourne goal kicking gongs while he’d pretty much functioned as the entirety of their forward line since Drew Petrie’s final season with the club in 2016.
Speaking of luggage, Coleman-Jones is carrying nothing more than a bumbag and a pair of earphones while possessing the AFL’s dirtiest and most delicious commodity- unrealised talent.
While of course Brown has since gone on to become a premiership player with Melbourne, playing a vital role in the Demon forward line, particularly through their rampaging finals run, North’s pain was soothed in 2021 with the meteoric rise of Nick Larkey who kicked 41 goals on the season and was averaging almost 3 per game over the second half of the year.
Like Coleman-Jones, Larkey had precious little on his resume prior to his breakout yet benefitted from the opportunity he had coupled with the development and faith the Roos invested in him and thanks to one of the game’s most emerging and exciting midfields.
Prior to this season Larkey had managed just 29 games and 40 goals. As for Coleman-Jones, he’s tasted just 9 games at AFL level since being drafted by the Tigers in 2017, struggling to break into a dynastic Richmond team that had both Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt patrolling their forward line and which had Tony Nankervis successfully employed in the ruck.
Like an ambitious kid who wants to be both a movie star and a rock star Coleman-Jones wants to be both forward and a ruckman. That’s admirable, however his ruck dreams might have to wait owing to the continued excellence of Todd Goldstein who at 33 is as durable as ever and still producing remarkable numbers.
So for now, the path to Coleman-Jones becoming a regular AFL footballer will likely be via the forward line which is also where he flashed so much potential at junior level captaining South Australia at the 2017 under 18 championships and making the All-Australian team, while it was the kind of talent that prompted the reigning premiers to take him 20th overall at the 2017 draft.
Richmond has been one of the league’s best drafting teams over the last decade so their estimation of Coleman-Jones carries a little more weight, as too did their genuine desire to not see him leave Punt Road this off-season.
For him to fall into the pouch of the Kangaroos fresh off their first wooden spoon in 49 years and losers of 31 of their last 39 games represents an absolute steal.
For a reigning wooden spooner North is actually a club on the rise and who looked anything but a last place team over the second half of 2021. In fact, there’s no reason to think they can’t start taking some serious strides and perhaps be able to start knocking on the door of a final’s appearance, perhaps as soon as 2022.
While of course Coleman-Jones alone won’t push North into contention, he should be able to parachute into a forward line which performed decently last season and actually ranked 13th for turning inside 50s into marks which placed them above both Brisbane and the Giants- two clubs that played finals.
And the reason why North isn’t your run of the mill wooden spooner and why Coleman-Jones might be walking into an advantageous situation is because this midfield is packed with quality. Tarryn Thomas oozes class, Luke Davies-Uniacke is finally starting to look like a genuine game-changer while Jy Simpkin just became the youngest Roo to be crowned club best and fairest since John Longmire in 1990.
Ben Cunnington is still a force, Jaidyn Stephenson has massive upside while Tom Powell ranked top-10 among rookies where all of tackles, possessions, clearances and inside-50’s were concerned. Numbers which laughably never warranted even so much as a Rising Star nomination let alone a podium finish.
A genuinely good team is beginning to emerge at Arden Street the likes of which Coleman-Jones can become a vital part of. That path will made easier by David Noble who's proving a master of development, particularly of key forwards having overseen Tom Lynch and Eric Hipwood's rise in Adelaide and Brisbane respectively and who's already helped supercharge Larkey's career at the Roos.
Coleman-Jones is an excellent, low risk, potentially high-reward steal for North who have every reason to believe their 2021 wooden spoon was simply one stop within a very exciting journey.
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