The Terrifically Towering Trajectory Of Tarryn Thomas

While remakes are often much maligned, North Melbourne has nailed their version of “A Star is Born- the tale of Tarryn Thomas”.

Taken at pick 8 in the 2018 National Draft, Thomas’ talent wasn’t an unknown, in fact he was probably the most hyped junior heading into that draft.

A tall midfielder that could do it all offensively, it was no surprise to see him play 20 games for the Roos in his debut season.

Thomas started off across a forward flank, remaining inside-50 for large parts of games and showing glimpses of elite talent in front of goal. He only played six games last season after ankle surgery cut it severely short.

Perhaps it’s the sudden emergence of the 21-year-old in that case, coming into his third season off a serious injury and an unknown on his fitness levels, that's really helped catch the eye.

It became quite clear early in 2021 that Thomas would get more opportunities in the midfield, but as time went on and near-universal pessimism engulfed the Roos, more opportunities arose for the former first-round pick to get involved in the action.

The result? Since Round 9, the Kangaroos’ first win of the season, Thomas has averaged 20 disposals, 5.1 inside-50s, 4.7 marks, 3.6 clearances, 3.5 tackles and 402 metres gained. He's kicked 14 goals in those 10 games as well as having 10 goal assists.

During that time, the Tasmanian is ranked 1st at the club for score involvements, 3rd for metres gained and 2nd for inside-50s. Even more remarkable is that in these 10 games, he's played over 80%game-time just once.

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The beauty in the development of Thomas’ game during 2021 is in the versatility and flexibility he is showing, proving that it isn’t linear.

When playing against Hawthorn in Round 9, he was the perfect half-forward flanker, ending up with 18 disposals, 11 uncontested possessions, 6 inside 50s, 2 goal assists and 1.2, proving to be a fantastic facilitator and linking player.

This past weekend, in Round 19, it was a mix of both to produce the best game of his career against Carlton. Thomas had 23 touches, a dozen of which were contested to go along with 9 score involvements, 7 inside 50s, 5 clearances, a couple of marks inside-50 and a massive 509metres gained. For good measure, he also added a career-high 4 goals to sign off on an almighty performance. 

Simply put, Thomas has put together some stupendous numbers of late with his extreme rise resembling the significant improvement shown by North Melbourne as a club.

Coach David Noble is right out of the Chris Fagan school of teaching, where he will guide and nurture the playing group, enabling them to learn and grow without letting disappointment escape as a failed opportunity to improve.

Needing to play such a young group with injuries and unavailabilities hurting the experience of the best 22 in the season, it was obvious that the only way was up for the club, but trusting Noble to integrate senior experience into the team to further enhance the talented youth was not something many were willing to do, yet it seemed a man of his pedigree would manage perfectly.

When Ben Cunnington, Trent Dumont and Luke McDonald returned, it would have been easy to revert back to the reliance on experience in key midfield areas to try and squeeze some wins to look decent on paper, a little like Adelaide has inevitably done.

And while Cunnington has remained the club’s most important midfielder, and Dumont has returned to the outside with McDonald settling across half-back, Noble actually leant further into the youth, increasing the opportunities given to the young core that has star potential.

We have seen Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke maintain their status as centre-square starters, Will Phillips is getting a run in the midfield as Tom Powell did earlier in the year, but the single biggest beneficiary has been Thomas.

Being surrounded by someone like Cunnington makes the game easier for a classy player like Thomas, but what will go unnoticed by those who don’t support North Melbourne will be the traits the 21-year-old has already picked up from his veteran teammate.

Thomas is supremely skilled and throughout his draft year he was known for having clean hands, elite skills by foot and great agility that could set him apart.

But playing next to Cunnington, we have seen Thomas’ cleanliness offer something completely different to the perceived image of the Tasmanian that is much more reminiscent of the 30-year-old himself.

Thomas is someone who scoops the loose ball in a fluid motion with space, but in stoppages, his improved upper-body strength and intelligent use of his body to give him a little room to forcefully pick up the ball and extract to his teammates has let him be a reliable source of clearances.

The only space on the ground that isn’t occupied by someone else is exactly where you’re standing and there is no better exponent of that than Cunnington, who has clearly been influential on Thomas.

Setting up a long-term connection with Simpkin, Davies-Uniacke, Phillips, Powell and Thomas has clearly been on the agenda this season and the fact each player has been influential in their own right should be enough to give North a tick for the season.

Of course, in front of goal, Thomas is ridiculously talented and won’t shy away from even the most difficult of shots. He’s a multi-level threat as a midfielder/forward in a similar sense to Shai Bolton of Richmond, with an added four inches in height to really set him apart.

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The upside here is enormous. 

Some detractors may choose to believe that there is an overreaction overall to what we are seeing in front of us, but the rightful counterargument would indicate that Thomas’ trajectory was always going down this path, it just came along quicker than anticipated.

If you haven’t been excited about North Melbourne in 2021, you should be. Many got caught up in the immediacy of the poor results earlier in the season without an eye on what was truly building under the surface, and the 21-year-old has emerged as the poster boy of this.

He’s a likely All-Australian at some stage, he’ll win a best-and-fairest if all goes well and perhaps higher honours could be on the horizon too.

Regardless of all the potential accolades, Tarryn Thomas is a pleasure to watch and if he isn’t already, will be a fan favourite for not only North Melbourne fans, but anyone who loves to watch the AFL.

There’s a new leading man in town, and he is going to provide highlights for many years to come.  

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Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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