Much like its senior side, North Melbourne's VFL program has endured mixed fortunes so far in 2022.
The Kangaroos started strongly with two wins in their opening three games, brushing aside a competitive Williamstown side in Round 1 before overcoming Footscray in an absolute classic on Good Friday in Round 4.
Since then, however, North has found wins hard to come by and enter their second bye of the season on an eight game losing run.
The Kangaroos have one more bye in Round 18, but with eight games to go in the campaign there's plenty of time to turn results around and finish strong.
The top performers (in alphabetical order)
When Charlie Comben has been running through the VFL side this season the team has looked far more efficient and dangerous in the forward 50. A niggling knee issue looks to be the only thing to have kept him from earning a senior call-up in 2022.
A consistently strong marking forward who can pinch-hit in the ruck, Comben has excelled when given the opportunity this season. After almost two full seasons on the sidelines, he's finally giving North fans a taste of what he can do.
He's hit the scoreboard in all six of his appearances this season and has kicked multiple goals in four of those contests.
2022 statistics: Six games, 13 goals; 10.2 disposals, 5 marks, 2.3 tackles per game
Some Charlie Comben Content™️ to brighten a gloomy Monday in Melbourne 🍯 pic.twitter.com/G2Bj06s4E9— North Melbourne FC (@NMFCOfficial) May 30, 2022
After being a train-on player for much of the 2022 AFL pre-season, Marty Hore agreed terms with North's VFL side at the start of the campaign and has grasped the role of defensive general with both hands.
The former Demon is the experienced head amongst a group of young and excited AFL-listed defenders, and his input has been crucial to the development of the likes of Miller Bergman, Jackson Archer, Josh Goater and Matt McGuinness.
Hore is a presence who exudes calmness when the ball is in his hands, and he's been racking up the disposals all season as the team's primary ball-user out of the back half of the ground.
2022 statistics: Nine games, 1 goal; 26.9 disposals, 7.2 marks, 0.9 tackles per game
The versatility Matt McGuinness possesses has made it hard for him to find a home within North Melbourne's system in his time on the senior list, and after an injury-curtailed season as a forward in 2021, the rangy Tasmanian has made the move back to his traditional defensive position this season.
McGuinness is a player who flourishes when the ball is in his hands, and what he may give up in size in the key positions due to his slender but athletic frame, he makes up for with smart positioning and good decision-making on both sides of the ball.
He earned a one year contract extension at the end of last year and it looks to have been a good decision given the near breakout nature of his campaign so far. He's been close to a maiden senior call-up and deservingly so due to his strong performances at VFL-level so far this season.
2022 statistics: 9 games, 1 goal; 17.4 disposals, 6.2 marks, 1.3 tackles per game
After being delisted from North's AFL side at the end of last season, Dom Tyson has returned to the club in a player-coach role with the reserves and is thriving.
Tyson's time at North has been plagued with injury, but this season he's managed to stay fit and firing and he's often looked a class above his opposition as he effortlessly glides through the midfield.
He hasn't dropped below 20 disposals at any point this season despite his role often changing to accomodate the revolving door of AFL talent that rotates through the side, and he has kicked some important goals from the middle of the park at crucial moments.
2022 statistics: 9 games, 3 goals; 26.2 disposals, 5.8 marks, 3.2 tackles per game
After an injury-riddled 2021 campaign that ended with a dislocated shoulder, Mat Walker has returned to North Melbourne with a point to prove in 2022, and boy is he proving it.
He's the team's leading goalkicker so far this campaign and has been a brutally effective marking target inside 50, often leaping over and around multiple defenders to get his hands on the football.
Previously a member of Hawthorn's senior list, Walker has consistently shown flashes of AFL quality in his game this year and, in a difficult few weeks, has been a consistent shining light in the team.
2022 statistics: 9 games, 16 goals; 10.8 disposals, 5.7 marks, 1.2 tackles per game
Players to watch (in alphabetical order)
There aren't many players who embody the fearlessness and courage of the Shinboner like Sam Collins has this season. He backs into every contest, takes every hard hit, makes every stinging tackle and always gets up for more. He puts his body on the line and his efforts rub off on his teammates.
His form has been inconsistent this season, but at his best he's an incredibly effective and versatile influence on proceedings.
He possesses a penetrating kick that is often used effectively to open up play, and should the North Hobart product continue to be exposed to the standard of VFL football he'll only improve.
2022 stats: 7 games; 11.6 disposals, 3 marks, 1.3 tackles
Brought into the VFL program as a defender at the start of the season, injury and unavailability to North's AFL-listed talls has seen Max Mitchell-Russell make the most of his opportunity as a versatile forward option who can compete with far bigger bodies in the ruck.
He has some serious competition at both ends of the ground though, competing with Marty Hore, Matt McGuinness and Hamish Murphy for time in defence, and Callum Coleman-Jones, Jacob Edwards, Charlie Comben and Zach Monkhorst at the forward end.
When he's been called upon he's been a strong performer, and should he be afforded more of an opportunity in the last few games of the season, let's hope he can grab it with both hands.
2022 statistics: 5 games, 6 goals; 8.6 disposals, 2.8 marks per game
The second-year senior forward lit up the 2021 pre-season and showed strong signs in the VFL last year before a hamstring injury halted his progress. He returned and debuted in the seniors in Round 23, but Spicer has struggled to get on the park so far in 2022.
It's been his hamstring again this year, and numerous setbacks across his recovery has seen him only take to the field twice this season, but those two performances have been full of excitement and promise.
He only returned to a full game's worth of playing time last week and every time the found the football he looked like making something from nothing. Spicer is a player who oozes x-factor.
Let's hope he can get a strong run of games together in the back half of the year to really press his case for another game with the seniors.
2022 statistics: 2 games; 10 disposals, 2.5 marks, 2.5 tackles per game
A natural forward who knows where the goals are, Bode Stevens has been an impressive influence since coming into the side against Casey in Round 8.
In a team that has often struggled to find goals, Stevens' inclusion in the side seems to have been a masterstroke by the coaching staff. Whether he's kicking goals or laying tackles, the Kangaroos are starting to look far more dangerous when he's on the field.
He's developed strongly over the first half of the season to earn his chance, and more exposure to the standard in the second half of the season will take his game to new heights.
2022 statistics: 4 games, 3 goals; 11.5 disposals, 1.8 marks, 2.5 tackles per game
The games so far…
North Melbourne 15.12.102 defeated Williamstown 11.12.78
Best: Eddie Ford, Callum Coleman-Jones, Harry Jones
Brisbane 25.6.156 defeated North Melbourne 7.10.52
Best: Kade Answerth, Dom Tyson, Harry Jones
North Melbourne 13.7.85 defeated Footscray 10.19.79
Best: Charlie Comben, Paul Curtis, Dom Tyson
Frankston 15.14.104 defeated North Melbourne 8.12.60
Best: Tom Powell, Jack Watkins, Callum Coleman-Jones
Carlton 17.12.114 defeated North Melbourne 9.5.59
Best: Mat Walker, Jed Anderson, Marty Hore
Geelong 10.17.77 defeated North Melbourne 8.10.58
Best: Mat Walker, Marty Hore, Charlie Comben
Casey 26.21.177 defeated North Melbourne 10.7.67
Best: Bode Stevens, Max Mitchell-Russell, Harry Jones
Sandringham Zebras 16.10.106 defeated North Melbourne 11.6.72
Best: Charlie Comben, Dom Tyson, Matt McGuinness
Box Hill Hawks 15.17.107 defeated North Melbourne 4.12.36
Best: Charlie Lazzaro, Mat Walker, Jaidyn Stephenson
GWS 13.17.95 defeated North Melbourne 7.13.55
Best: Mat Walker, Eddie Ford, Pat Walker