For much of the 2021 season, Jaidyn Stephenson was the name on the lips of all North Melbourne fans.
He was the club’s highest profile recruit heading into 2021, wearing the famous number two jumper of Doug Wade, Wayne Schwass and Noel Teasdale.
After his debut performance against Port Adelaide, where he collected 33 disposals, it was obvious North had acquired an immense talent.
However, at the culmination of the season, an ill-thought biking incident left the midfielder with a fractured hip, throwing his pre-season into doubt.
While the incident occurred early in the off-season, the nature and duration of the injury meant there was no clear timeframe on his return.
North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell says while Stephenson still isn’t fully fit, he’s progressing well.
“He’s (Stephenson) not going to be quite ready to go by the start of, pre-season. He has been moving well, he’s walking well on the AlterG and his rehab is progressing well,” Ziebell told The Herald Sun.
“Ideally, the situation doesn’t occur, but we understand young men make mistakes. He’s made a mistake and I’m sure he’s learnt from it.
“It wouldn’t be very nice to go through the public eye like he had to, but he’s a good character and a good guy and he’s helped our club in the 12 months he’s been here.
“Our support will be unwavering and we look forward to having him at his best.”
After that initial performance against Port Adelaide, Stephenson showed signs through the season of being more than deserving of the midfield time he craved.
While his performance in Round 19’s victory over Carlton, where he collected 24 disposals and kicked 3 goals, was brilliant, it was his contribution to Round 17’s victory over West Coast that set tongues wagging.
Ziebell says if Stephenson can deliver those kinds of performances on a consistent basis, he could be one of the best players around.
“You could see in his games late in the year, over against West Coast, he had 38 touches and kicked a crucial goal,” Ziebell said.
“He was unbelievable.
“His challenge as a player is to be consistently in the game. If we can get that out of him he’ll be bloody hard to stop, so teams will be very wary of him.”
While North’s young forward line delivered in spades last season, the question of which tall to partner Nick Larkey was often raised.
Todd Goldstein was effective when resting in attack, Tristan Xerri was immense at VFL level and earned his place later in the season, Tom Campbell played well when called upon, and young forward Charlie Comben made his debut in Round 22.
Ziebell says a pair of North’s young talls could be set for huge improvement across 2022.
“Jake Edwards is a massive unit, but he’s very raw, so for him to play a couple of VFL games you could just tell he had talent,” he added.
“Charlie (Comben) got reward for effort making his debut, then he broke his collarbone at training the next week, so he will be champing at the bit to be fit and play a lot of footy.”