There are all sorts of leaders on the football field, and there are all sorts of leaders at North Melbourne.
When you think of Ben Cunnington, you see someone who leads by example. When you think of Aaron Hall, you see someone who gets around the young players. When you think of Jack Ziebell, you see a vocal leader ready to do anything for the team.
At the age of just 23, Jy Simpkin looks to have pulled together a holistic and well-rounded approach to leadership, and what’s more the added responsibility of the co-vice-captaincy seems to have improved his game.
Averaging 26.5 disposals, 5 clearances and 3.9 tackles per game, Simpkin is setting a new career benchmark in most metrics that are imperative to quality midfield play.
His 38 disposal, 9 tackle, 13 clearance effort against Hawthorn offered some insight into his huge level of talent, helping force the team to victory through a dynamic midfield showing.
Simpkin says the added responsibility of leadership has changed his outlook not just on football, but also life outside the game.
“It’s definitely made me think a lot more outside of myself, which has then forced me to play better footy due to not just worrying about my own performance out on the field,” Simpkin told North Media.
“I’m getting on with life more now and not just worrying about football. I’ve got a bit more to worry about with the young players … I like to check in with the younger boys during the week and see how they’re travelling
“Helping those younger guys is something I really enjoy doing … in some ways it’s probably helped my footy.”
Due to the levelled maturity and exceptional decision-making in Simpkin’s game, it can be easy to forget that he himself is just 90 games into what is hopefully a long and successful North career.
“It is funny, I think a lot of times even within the club people might think I’m a bit older, but I’m still only 23 so I’m actually not that old,” he said.
“We’re all starting to work together a lot more with these younger boys getting more midfield time, with ‘LDU’ (Luke Davies-Uniacke), Tarryn Thomas and now with Will Phillips and these guys coming through.
“It’s going to be a pretty exciting couple of years I think if these boys stay fit and healthy. We’ve all seen they can do some pretty special things so anything can happen.”
With Ben Cunnington missing much of the 2020 season, Simpkin was somewhat thrown into the deep end of midfield leadership, becoming the main man under the most difficult of circumstances.
Any midfield in the AFL would be improved by the presence of a player like Cunnington, and his return has allowed the North number 12 more freedom to play his natural game.
“Having him (Cunnington) being able to do the inside work, what he does so well, it helps my outside game just massively,” Simpkin said.
“I think last year if you looked at my contested possessions against my uncontested possessions it was more favoured towards being contested, whereas this year I can sit on the outside a little bit more.
“Obviously when it’s my turn to go, I’ll go, but I can rely on ‘Cunners’ and the superstar he is that he can get inside, do the hard work and feed the ball out to us younger guys.”