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Ziebell looking forward

Jack Ziebell is relishing playing predominantly as a forward for the first time in his AFL career, but says staying there depends on if North Melbourne's midfield can afford to be without him.

The Roos' tough-as-nails skipper has always fared well as a forward and even kicked 20 goals from nine TAC Cup games in his draft year a decade ago.

The constant cries for Ziebell to play inside 50 more often grew louder when he booted five second-half goals against Collingwood in round 20 last year, after breaking his ribs earlier in the game.

But the 27-year-old has only once averaged more than a goal a game – when he kicked 20 from 18 games in 2013 – with his importance in the midfield meaning only limited time up forward.

That has changed dramatically this season, with coach Brad Scott more willing to release Ziebell from his onball duties to partner him with Ben Brown, Jarrad Waite and co.

Ziebell has spent a career-high 63 per cent of his playing time as a forward in 2018, marking the first time he was in attack more than the midfield (admittedly in a small sample size).

The most he had been up forward across a season in the past four years was 30 per cent two years ago, and that figure was as low as 18 per cent in 2015.

The results this year are predictably good: eight goals in five matches, including three games with multiple majors.

"I've played a fair bit of football as a junior up forward and to be able to go up there with some sort of impact over the last few weeks has been good," Ziebell said.

"I can only probably do that with the emergence of a few guys through our midfield, who have been outstanding.

"Ben Cunnington's taken his game to another level this year.

"The introduction of Jed Anderson and Trent Dumont, (as well as) Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke, along with Shaun Higgins and these guys going through there has allowed our flexibility to grow.

"And (it's) allowed myself to go forward a bit more and play a supporting role to our big fella in Ben Brown."

North's surprising 3-2 start to the season has it sitting third ahead of the two remaining round five matches, but Ziebell was hesitant to respond too enthusiastically to the club's critics.

The Roos' second-year captain is still unsure how good his team is in a competition that is tougher to read by the week.

"It's only round five, so there's a long way to go this year," he said.

"To be truthful, probably the last three or four years everyone's been writing North Melbourne off, so it's something we're a bit used to, in a sense.

"But it's more important our young guys and guys inside the footy club understand whose opinions matter and that's people we respect at the club.

"The game we played yesterday was what we've been trying to put together for a while and now the challenge is trying to get that consistency in our performance."