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North joeys' big jump

Although North Melbourne sits 13th after 13 rounds of the 2019 AFL season, there has still been plenty to be excited about for Roos' fans. 

One of the main reasons for this has been the emergence of a crop of young Joeys. 

North has fielded eight players aged 21 or under in 2019, with five of them establishing themselves as best 22 members by the bye rounds. 

Before 2019, the combined total number of games between Luke Davies-Uniacke (7) Nick Larkey (2), Ben McKay (1), Curtis Taylor (0), Tarryn Thomas (0), Bailey Scott (0), Jy Simpkin (35), and Cam Zurhaar (9) was 54 games, with Simpkin’s total making up 64 per cent of that. 

After Round 13 in 2019, the same group has combined for 113 games. 

The extra exposure to AFL football has seen the youngsters reap the rewards, with Scott (Round 1), Zurhaar (Round 7) and Thomas (Round 12) all nominated for the NAB Rising Star award.

Most promising for the Roos, is that Nick Larkey, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Curtis Taylor are all still eligible for the award as well. 

And this group of youngsters aren’t just making up the numbers in the team, or being given games due to their age. 

Larkey, Thomas, and Zurhaar have all been critical parts of a new look forward line for North, with fellow forwards Ben Brown and Mason Wood reaping the rewards. 

Despite North's relatively low standing on the ladder, the energetic new forward line has seen it score the fifth-most points in the AFL.

Thomas and Zurhaar have come into the team as pressure forwards, and have performed that role admirably.

Zurhaar averages more than a goal a game (1.3), as well as ranking in the top five Roos for tackles and tackles inside 50.

His 68.4 per cent goal kicking accuracy is also the highest of any North forward.

Thomas’ forward pressure and class on the ball have been standout features of his game, with both of these qualities on display in one moment in Round 10, when he smothered the Bulldogs’ Marcus Bontempelli, before sidestepping him and converting with a checkside.

 

Thomas leads the Roos for tackles inside 50 (1.1), and averages just under a goal a game (0.9). 

Larkey has brought an added target inside 50, with his emergence coinciding with Ben Brown hitting form, with the number 50 now sitting third in the race for the Coleman Medal after a slow start.

The number 20 sits only behind his forward partner Brown in average goals (1.4) and contested marks (1.1).

The other two Joeys to have established themselves in the best 22 have been Davies-Uniacke and Simpkin, who form part of the Roos' next generation of on-ballers. 

Davies-Uniacke is the first to admit he had a tough first season, but this year has begun to show just why he was taken with the fourth pick in 2017. 

The 20-year-old has increased his numbers across the board in 2019, and they compare very favorably to other Rising Star eligible players. 

Davies-Uniacke ranks in the top five in this category for contested possessions, clearances, and goal assists per game. 

Simpkin is by far the most experienced of the Roos’ youngsters, having notched up 47 games. 

Although he started the season slowly, which saw him drop back to the VFL for a week, the number 12 another to be enjoying career-best numbers. 

A 27-disposal, 2-goal performance in Round 7 showed exactly what he is capable of when on song, while he was one of the Roos’ best in the Round 9 loss to Sydney with 24 disposals and 5 tackles.

The future is bright at North Melbourne.