Goals win football games. It’s as simple as that.
With the game on the line, having players who can thrive under pressure to kick the game sealing goal is an absolute necessity.
North Melbourne heads into 2021 with a similar forward group to 2020, however much has changed from the beginning of last season.
With the high-profile departure of Ben Brown in the off-season, eyes will be on Nick Larkey to see if he can adjust to being the primary marking target up forward from the get go.
Cameron Zurhaar finished as North’s leading goal kicker in 2020, but with Josh Walker and Tristan Xerri capable of playing centre half forward, could 'The Bull' be set for a change of role?
Another year of development could see the likes of Tarryn Thomas and Curtis Taylor take off in 2021, while a returning Kayne Turner could add some much welcome grit and leadership to a young forward group.
Players to watch
It took Larkey two full seasons to start winning consistent game time at North, but since cementing himself in the side he hasn’t looked back.
With 40 goals in 27 games, Larkey possesses a strong contested mark and a consistent, settled set shot.
Still only 22 years of age, he shows maturity beyond his years and usually competes with the opposition’s primary key defender, often capably bringing the ball to ground for the small forwards to mop up.
In 2020 Larkey, showed the ability to step up and be the main marking target up forward. With a full pre-season to hone his skills in this role, Larkey could thrive should he be delivered quality service from the midfield.
With injury and circumstance often leading to Zurhaar playing the unfamiliar role of centre half forward last season, you could be forgiven for expecting him to struggle.
Zurhaar, however, made the role his own and finished with 18 goals in 16 games, including two bags of three majors, to finish as the club’s leading goal kicker.
Whether Zurhaar’s role changes in 2021 or he remains at centre half forward, he never gives opponents an inch in the contest as he aggressively attacks the football and competes at all costs.
Recruited as a key-defender in 2020, Walker played in the back half to great effect last season, resulting in a seventh-place finish in the Syd Barker Medal.
However, the emergence of Ben McKay and recruitment of Aidan Corr could lead to Walker being thrown into the forward line for much of 2021.
Walker is no stranger to playing in the attacking half of the ground, having initially been drafted as a forward by Geelong before moving down back in his time at Brisbane.
His three goals in the AAMI Community Series game against Hawthorn showcased the best of Walker’s forward abilities, with his one-on-one marking prowess defining his playing style.
He is capable of taking huge pack marks when the opportunity presents itself, and could cause major matchup headaches for opposition key defenders should he be used in tandem with Nick Larkey.
Forward or back? @walkerjosh14 is happy to play wherever the team needs him.— North Melbourne (@NMFCOfficial) March 15, 2021
Playing nine games in 2020, Taylor showcased his talents as a high-flying excitement machine, resulting in a NAB Rising Star nomination in Round 5.
At 187 centimetres, tall but gifted with speed and agility, Taylor has the potential to give headaches to defenders of all sizes.
Looking more confident and comfortable with every passing game he plays at AFL level, Taylor will be hoping to gain more consistent game time in 2021, and after a solid pre-season he looks primed to excite fans going forward.