Over the coming weeks, North Media will analyse the 2021 seasons of every player on the list.
To see all the reviews so far, click here.
9. Luke Davies-Uniacke
20 games, 6 goals; 21.9 disposals, 4.8 marks, 3.2 tackles, 4.5 clearances, 9.6 contested possessions, 2.3 intercepts per game.
The 2021 season saw Luke Davies-Uniacke produce the most consistent senior football of his young career, and the number nine has blossomed into an integral part of North Melbourne’s midfield as a result.
Over the course of the season, the young on-baller looks to have added an extra element of composure to his game, to go along with his bullocking, pack-breaking strength and twinkling toes.
With the likes of Jed Anderson and Ben Cunnington both missing from the side at various points in the year, all eyes were on ‘LDU’ to see if he could step up and take more responsibility in the middle of the park.
While North struggled in the early part of the season, Davies-Uniacke was a consistent performer, regularly floating around the 20 disposal mark, however it was from Round 9 onwards where he truly exploded.
24 touches and 11 clearances against Hawthorn saw him showcase his all-around midfield attributes, offering a glimpse into the game-breaking, match-winning player he is threatening to become.
Influential with 25 disposals and 9 intercepts in the win against Gold Coast, 24 disposals and 8 clearances in the win against West Coast, and 28 disposals in the win over Carlton, ‘LDU’ built quality into his consistency over the campaign.
While the Kangaroos suffered defeat in Round 21 against Richmond, Davies-Uniacke showcased another evolving aspect of his game, smashing his career-high disposal count as he accumulated 38 disposals, largely through finding space and uncontested football.
2021 looks to have been a real breakout year for Davies-Uniacke and only time will tell if he can once again evolve his game in the same manner next season.
Round 9 v Hawthorn
24 disposals, 83.3 per cent disposal efficiency, 14 contested possessions, 11 clearances, 1 goal.
With strong defensive pressure, a driving run through midfield and a long bomb goal, ‘LDU’ showcased every aspect of his elite midfield potential with the game in the balance.
The fans said:
I've got heaps of time for Luke Davies-Uniacke...— Benny Mc (@bennymc7) July 24, 2021
Oozes star quality ?
The coaches said:
“There were bits and pieces where ‘Cunners’ and Jed (Anderson) were in and out of the team, and we wanted to solidify those four to six inside midfielders. There was a bit more of an opportunity for him (Davies-Uniacke) to spend some more time in there, but what you don’t see on the TV screen is the ability for him to transition defensively. His work-rate to cover opposition midfielders really helped him generate some offence from that defensive run. He learned how to run patterns to keep himself involved in the game for longer periods, and to his credit he worked hard, he trained hard and he got the rewards for it. It’s not just about his bullocking work at stoppages, he then grew it out to his outside game as well which helped him generate more possessions.” - Jordan Russell (midfield coach).
10. Ben Cunnington
15 games, 9 goals; 26.8 disposals, 4.9 tackles, 7.5 clearances, 15.6 contested possessions, 5.8 score involvements, 4.4 intercepts per game.
Severely underrated outside the walls of Arden Street, it seems North Melbourne fans and players are running out of superlatives to describe the brilliance of Ben Cunnington.
After a back injury ruled him out for much of the 2020 season, Cunnington’s start to the 2021 campaign was cruelly halted by concussion issues that plagued the back end of his pre-season.
Once he found his way onto the park though, ‘Cunners’ was as elite as ever, capably leading North’s young midfield against, generally, vastly more experienced opposition.
35 disposals against the Demons in just his fifth game back offered a reminder into Cunnington’s quality, and his 38 disposal, 13 clearance performance against Hawthorn just two weeks later saw him lead from the front as the Kangaroos claimed their first win of the season.
Regularly amongst North’s best, his season was unfortunately ended by the removal of a testicular tumour following Round 19’s victory over Carlton.
This season represented far more than just Cunnington’s return to football though, with the indelible mark he is leaving on North’s young midfield brigade obvious for all to see.
Round 7 v Melbourne
35 disposals, 20 contested possessions, 8 clearances, 2 goals, 6 tackles, 5 intercepts
Arguably North’s moment of the season. Pure class and composure from the whole midfield before Cunnington nails the goal to put North in front.
LDU dances ??— North Melbourne (@NMFCOfficial) July 13, 2021
Stevo puts the jets on ??
Cunners off a step ??
Put this on repeat ?? pic.twitter.com/aGHv2ym39r
The fans said:
This primary school has a Ben Cunnington appreciation wall ???? pic.twitter.com/JoYbqCAUR3— 7AFL (@7AFL) July 16, 2021
The coaches said:
“Ben’s got a skillset that not many others in the competition have. He’s probably one of the best inside clearance players in terms of his clean hands and distribution there are in the game. What we’ve challenged him on and what he’s really taken on board again is, he’s learnt how to position himself around the ground to get more of that outside ball, and he’s running more efficient patterns that are allowing him to take a lot more uncontested marks. That’s helping him hit the scoreboard as a midfielder. The stuff you see when you think of ‘Cunners’ is obviously the inside stuff, but he’s now built the ability to impact in a different part of the game, and he’s come on in leaps and bounds in that area which just shows that regardless of how old you are, or how long you’ve been doing something at the highest level, you can still adapt and improve. It’s a real credit to him.” - Jordan Russell (midfield coach).