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.
23. Ben McKay
22 games; 9.6 disposals, 88.6 per cent disposal efficiency, 4.3 marks, 1.4 tackles, 7 one percenters, 4.7 intercepts per game.
After a coming of age 2020 season, Ben McKay put himself in a strong position to take another leap forward in 2021 and was looking to establish himself as an integral member of North’s back six.
He certainly succeeded in that task, not only playing every game for the year, but also becoming David Noble’s go to enforcer to lock down the opposition’s most threatening key forward.
Whether it be Charlie Dixon, Tom Hawkins, or Josh Kennedy, McKay rose to his new challenges each and every week, with his off-field preparation a strong influence on his rapid improvement.
With Robbie Tarrant and Aidan Corr missing early in the season, and Jack Ziebell and Aaron Hall learning new roles, McKay became a leader in North’s defence, marshalling his troops with authority and conviction.
A no nonsense, traditional full back, fans were robbed of the chance to see him square up with Carlton full forward, and twin brother, Harry McKay in Round 19 due to Harry missing through injury.
‘Buckets’ was not fazed by his brother’s absence in the clash, registering 5 intercepts and 7 one percenters to lock down an undersized Blues forward unit and lead North to victory.
After signing a contract extension until the end of 2023, should McKay’s game elevate to the extent it did in 2021, it won’t be long before he’s putting his name amongst the competition’s best defenders.
Round 8 v Collingwood
17 disposals, 88.2 per cent disposal efficiency, 4 tackles, 2 contested marks, 8 intercepts, 7 one percenters.
The fans said:
Ben McKay has had a fine year. Impenetrable force. @NMFCOfficial— Tom Happell (@tcthama1) August 7, 2021
The coaches said:
“You have to remember Ben has only played 30 or 40 games, so he’s still very young in his AFL career. He’s certainly developing into a very good key defender. He had some huge roles on the best key forwards every week, and he handled those jobs extremely well. He’s developed again this year, and hopefully as he continues to work on his craft and gains more experience he can become one of the premium defenders in the competition.” - John Blakey (defensive coach).
24. Tom Powell
13 games, 4 goals; 16.7 disposals, 3.6 marks, 3.8 tackles, 1.7 clearances, 4.1 score involvements, 2.1 intercepts.
North Melbourne’s second selection in the 2020 NAB AFL Draft, no North draftee made an immediate impact quite like Tom Powell.
Playing the first 13 games of the season, a NAB Rising Star nomination somehow never came Powell’s way, but he consistently put his name amongst North’s leading performers during his stint in the side.
While his future seems to be at inside midfield, Powell’s still somewhat light frame saw him rotate through the wing and the forward line as well as at the coalface, and he impressed in a myriad of roles.
Whether it be providing outside run, incredible vision or forward x-factor, he thrived at AFL level from the word go, with his Round 1 debut against Port Adelaide offering perhaps the greatest insight into his versatility.
Sneaking forward to kick North’s first goal of the season, he also finished with 19 disposals and 6 score involvements.
His season was unfortunately ended after Round 14 though, with pubic overload seeing him spend the second half of the season on the sidelines, working in the gym to add size and strength heading into 2022.
Despite his early finish to the season, his season was still highly rated enough amongst his peers to see him finish fourth in the AFLPA Best First Year Player Award.
Now locked in at Arden Street until the end of 2024, if the 2021 campaign offered a taste into the future potential of Powell, hopefully 2022 will offer full insight into what he is truly capable of.
Round 7 v Melbourne
23 disposals, 6 tackles, 2 goal assists, 6 score involvements, 4 intercepts.
Tom Powell started the season with a bang, kicking North’s first goal of the season and, incidentally, the first of his career.
Tom Powell showed what he's all about on Sunday ?? pic.twitter.com/JGaoUADyPX— North Melbourne (@NMFCOfficial) March 22, 2021
The fans said:
Just wow.— Paul Robb (@PaulRobb1969) August 18, 2021
Tom Powell comes across as likeable, grateful, hardworking, ambitious and professional.
Can't wait to see him play next year, with a bit more bulk and a pre-season under his belt.
The coaches said:
“We have to remember Tom played footy last year in South Australia, so he wasn’t one of the Victorian boys that had no football. He hit the ground running and he was sensational, I thought he started the year very, very well. His training standards out on the track are very good, and he came straight in and made an impact for us which was fantastic. He probably needs to put on a little bit more weight and size to play inside mid, which is where he’s going to play a lot of his football. His first part of the season before he got injured was first class, and it was really enjoyable to sit back and watch a young boy make an immediate impact at our football club.” - Brent Harvey (development coach).
25. Robbie Tarrant
10 games; 14.5 disposals, 85.5 per cent disposal efficiency, 6.7 marks, 1 tackle, 4.5 one percenters, 5.4 intercepts per game.
Robbie Tarrant returning to AFL football was one of North Melbourne’s stories of the season, with the veteran defender making his first appearance of the year in Round 14.
Missing the start of the season with a groin injury, Tarrant then had a small mass removed from his kidney which left him sidelined until after the bye.
Upon his return though, it was business as usual. The all too familiar sight of Tarrant marshalling the defence saw an upturn in results after the bye.
After returning to the side, Tarrant only missed the Round 19 victory over Carlton due to an adductor injury, and was a model of consistency throughout the back end of the season.
It was Round 16 where North fans saw the best parts of Tarrant’s game in 2021, expertly and intelligently setting up his own side while cancelling out the Bulldogs’ dangerous forwards.
Tarrant’s return to North’s senior side was about more than just football, and offered a stark reminder than health always comes first.
However, seeing him pull on the royal blue and white stripes so expertly once again offered one of the most overwhelmingly positive experiences of the season.
Round 16 v Western Bulldogs
24 disposals, 91.7 per cent disposal efficiency, 15 marks, 7 intercepts.
After missing the first half of the year, Robbie Tarrant was a welcome inclusion to North’s 22 in Round 14.
The fans said:
Cmon @NMFCOfficial let’s take some more positive steps forward today. Great to see Robbie Tarrant back, go well champ, such a great key defender and bloke!!— paul (@ImPaul23) June 13, 2021
The coaches said:
“His experience shows though, he was able to really help Josh (Walker) and Benny (McKay) down there in playing on those key talls in defence. He’s a settling influence who’s been around for a long time, and when things aren’t going well it’s great to have a bloke like him down there able to have that calming influence to help reset things. We were very pleased with the way he came back into the side.” - John Blakey (defensive coach).