Nothing tells the story of sport like statistics. There’s no hiding from the truth found in cold, hard numbers.
A number of North Melbourne’s young stars experienced breakout seasons in 2021, while some veterans of the game experienced a career resurgence.
One thing is for sure, as the season progressed, the Kangaroos improved almost across the board.
North Media breaks down some of the key individual stats from across the 2021 season.
The leader: Aaron Hall - 21.15 per game (14th in AFL)
The podium: Jack Ziebell - 21 per game, Jy Simpkin - 18.91 per game
The rising star: Tom Powell - 12.23 per game (7th amongst rising stars)
Disposals are often used as a measure of the impact any individual player has on a game of football, but what good is effortlessly finding the football if you’re just going to turn it over?
Aaron Hall’s position change at the start of the season was met with some skepticism, but his ability to start attacks from the back half has been second to none in 2021.
Hall and Jack Ziebell provided a lethal quarterback combination out of the defensive end of the ground, with the skipper ranking just two spots behind Hall, in 16th, competition wide.
Jy Simpkin’s average of nearly 19 effective disposals per game is made all the more impressive by the bulk of his work over the season was at the coalface, winning contested ball and releasing it to his teammates.
Tom Powell leads all of North’s rising star eligible players, with his 12.23 effective disposals per game coming from all over the ground, with the first-year player often utilised in multiple positions.
The leader: Ben McKay - 88.48 per cent (6th in AFL)
The podium: Connor Menadue - 87.42 per cent, Robbie Tarrant 85.52 per cent
The rising star: Atu Bosenavulagi - 83.92 per cent (4th amongst rising stars)
A statistic dominated by North’s defenders, efficient ball use out off the back half means fewer turnovers, and therefore fewer scoring opportunities for the opposition.
Ben McKay’s game has gone from strength-to-strength in 2021, but the number 23 is more than just a lockdown defender. He’s one of the most efficient ball users in the AFL.
Connor Menadue’s electric pace out of the back half of the ground saw him find space time and time again, ranking 11th in the competition.
Upon his return to the side, Robbie Tarrant marshalled the defence like he has for much of his career, offering a calming influence whenever the ball was in his hands.
A position change at the start of the season looks to have been a successful move for Atu Bosenavulagi, with the young defender’s composure lending itself well to maintaining possession.
The leader: Ben Cunnington - 15.6 per game (2nd in AFL)
The podium: Jy Simpkin - 10.68 per game, Luke Davies-Uniacke - 9.55 per game
The rising star: Tom Powell - 5.31 per game (14th amongst rising stars)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Similar to much of his career, Ben Cunnington’s ability to find the football in traffic is amongst the best in the AFL.
The experienced head in a young midfield group, Cunnington didn’t skip a beat after missing much of the 2020 season, returning back to his best to lead from the front.
Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke both elevated their games to the next level, ably covering for Cunnington’s absence in the latter part of the season at the inside-midfield positions.
Tom Powell showed his courage and grit when afforded the opportunity to run on the ball, having no troubles finding the contested ball against bigger, more experienced bodies.
The leader: Ben Cunnington - 7.53 per game (3rd in AFL)
The podium: Jy Simpkin - 5.14 per game, Luke Davies-Uniacke - 4.5 per game
The rising star: Tom Powell - 1.68 per game (8th amongst rising stars)
Much like with contested possessions, Ben Cunnington’s ability to win the clearance, whether that be in the centre or at stoppages, has always been elite.
A true leader by example, Cunnington’s 7.53 clearances per game was a career-high, with the midfielder scarily improving with age.
With young charges Simpkin and Davies-Uniacke often in support, the future of North’s midfield looks to be in safe hands.
Tom Powell made the most of his time at the coalface, often weaving through traffic to release the ball into open space.
The leader: Todd Goldstein - 29.64 per game (5th in AFL)
The podium: Tom Campbell - 10.78 per game, Tristan Xerri - 7.38 per game
Todd Goldstein’s ability to provide his midfielders with first use of the ball is a huge part of why North Melbourne’s clearance numbers were so high this season.
Now the all-time leader for hitouts in AFL history, Goldstein is still one of the most dominant and dangerous rucks in the competition, at the age of 33.
Tom Campbell and Tristan Xerri provided able backup options in the ruck over most of the season, with the pair often utilised forward, rather than in the centre.
No rising star eligible player registered a hitout for North this season, with Charlie Comben spared ruck duties in his debut in Round 22.
The leader: Jed Anderson - 5.7 per game (12th in AFL)
The podium: Ben Cunnington - 4.93 per game, Jy Simpkin, 3.82 per game
The rising star: Tom Powell - 3.77 per game (9th amongst rising stars)
While the injury bug once again bit Jed Anderson this season, the bullish inside-midfielder set the tone for North’s defensive on-ball structure when available.
A career-high 14 tackles in Round 2 helped pave the way for some of North’s young stars, showing them what needs to be done on the defensive end on a consistent basis.
Ben Cunnington continued his run as one of the most all-around elite midfielders in the competition, never shirking his defensive duties, while Jy Simpkin showed leadership to his fellow young midfielders with his ability to get stuck in.
Tom Powell showed the signs of becoming a legitimate threat on both sides of the football, getting just as involved defensively as he did with the ball in hand.
The leader: Aaron Hall - 637.35 per game (1st in AFL)
The podium: Jack Ziebell - 476.43 per game, Jy Simpkin - 365.23 per game
The rising star: Tom Powell - 190.31 per game
The stats once again prove how integral North’s defence is to its attack, David Noble utilising the lethal kicking of Aaron Hall and Jack Ziebell to start attacks.
Whether it be long bombs to a contest, or sharp darts into the corridor, Halls’ kicking was an integral part of North’s offence.
Jy Simpkin moved the ball forward through the midfield with ease, using his ability to pull the ball out of the contest to often launch the ball inside 50.
Tom Powell easily found space when positioned on the wing or in the forward line, with the young midfielder impressing with his forward first mentality.
The leader Ben McKay - 7 per game (14th in AFL)
The podium: Robbie Tarrant - 4.5 per game, Josh Walker - 4.24 per game
The rising star: Atu Bosenavulagi - 1.14 per game
Actions that can be classified as a one percenter are knock-ons, spoils, smothers and shepherds, so it’s no surprise to see key defenders dominate the metric.
Ben McKay’s breakout campaign largely became noticed thanks to his propensity to put in the hard yards, often nullifying the opposition’s top key forward.
Robbie Tarrant and Josh Walker acted as more than able deputies to McKay, impacting contests when called upon throughout the season.
While often a statistic that favours key position players, Atu Bosenavulagi showed defensive nous and courage to consistently put himself in the position to affect the opposition’s delivery.
The leader Nick Larkey - 42 (14th in AFL)
The podium: Cam Zurhaar - 31, Tarryn Thomas - 24
The rising star: Jack Mahony - 9 (14th amongst rising stars)
The most important statistic in football, goals win games, and arguably the most exciting part of North’s forward group is its youth.
Nick Larkey blossomed as the number one option in the forward 50 kicking 42 goals for the season, while also being one of the most efficient shots for goal in the AFL.
His partner in crime, Cam Zurhaar, endured a difficult start to the season, but took his game to another level in the second half of the campaign.
The pair proved to be one of the most lethal forward pairings in the competition in the second half of the season, kicking 50 goals between them between Round 12 and Round 23.
Tarryn Thomas’ move into the midfield didn’t limit his ability to hit the scoreboard, rather, it enhanced it, with the young midfielder kicking a career-high 24 goals for the season.
North’s leader for tackles inside 50 (1.26 per game), Jack Mahony also hit the scoreboard in 2021 after really kicking on in his second season at AFL level.