The quality of Ben Cunnington has never been doubted by North Melbourne fans, and his reintegration into the side after an injury-riddled 2020 has reminded the rest of the competition of his quality.
Arguably one of the AFL’s most underrated players, Cunnington’s full arsenal of weapons was on full display last week against Hawthorn, as he dominated the opposition side in the contest.
After his 37 disposals, 13 clearances and 23 contested possessions catapulted him into the conversation of the AFL’s best inside midfielders once more, David Noble says Cunnington’s quality rivals some of the best player’s he’s worked with.
“I’ve had experience with a few really good mids … (Patrick) Dangerfield, Lachie Neale, and Ben’s right up there no doubt,’ Noble said.
“The last stoppage where Cam (Zurhaar) kicked a point. He was pressured from behind [and] falling to the ground, clean take, release the ball, Cam has a shot and we score an extra point.
“When you get to see the close review in video and elements of what he does, his body position, his cleanliness with the ball … he’s certainly a star, no doubt.”
Cunnington wasn’t the only player to stand up and be counted against Hawthorn, with a number of North’s young stars elevating their game to pull the side to victory.
Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Tarryn Thomas all put in close to career-best personal performances, while the likes of Curtis Taylor and Charlie Lazzaro continue to improve and impress.
Noble says despite the frustrations that accompany injuries to key players, the silver-lining is the added responsibility that has been placed on the shoulders of his young group.
“What we work with is the group we’ve got … if you make it an issue it becomes more of an issue internally,” he said.
“What we’ve looked on is the opportunity … it’s allowed us to play those [young] guys and experience, against some really good teams, some key roles where we see them in the future.
“We’ve been really pleased as a bunch of coaches as to what the players have delivered, and that’s correlated into games … they’ve played some pretty key roles in a lot of that.”
With the challenge of taking on a youthful yet inconsistent Bombers side looming on Sunday, another entertaining chapter looks set to be written in one of the AFL’s most storied rivalries.
While there’s been conversations about the legitimacy of the rivalry in the current AFL landscape, Noble says he is aware of how much beating this bunch means to fans and members.
“I’ve sort of sat back and understood rivalries. When I was in Adelaide I understood that one, and Brisbane [too],” he said.
“I’ve got a clear understanding of the history, it runs really deep … and it means a lot to us.
“We know where we sit with it and we have respect for that rivalry, that’s how we’ll approach it. You’ll have to wait and see on game day.”