‘We need to help them’: Clubs split on North’s case for priority picks

Club bosses are divided on whether North Melbourne’s imminent bid for a priority pick should be approved by the AFL as part of a plan to lift the struggling Kangaroos back to being competitive.

Several clubs have expressed concern for North’s future in Melbourne and feel they need to revisit Tasmania as an option given the extensive problems they face on the field, but one senior figure has said relocation would not benefit the club or the state.

As Geoff Walsh continues his review into the club’s football department, The Age canvassed presidents or chiefs from 11 clubs on whether the Kangaroos should receive a priority pick, with opinions split. They spoke on a condition of anonymity.

Five were against any assistance, primarily because North should not be rewarded for mismanagement, having traded or delisted senior players such as Robbie Tarrant, Trent Dumont, Ben Brown, Mason Wood and Shaun Higgins as part of an overhaul of their list in the past two years.

Four were in favour of a priority pick being awarded as North’s performances were so bad they warranted draft assistance, and it was not good for the league to have a non-competitive club.

Exacerbating North’s woes, they do not hold a second- or third-round selection in this year’s draft, having traded away those selections last year. Their next pick after No.1 is 55, based on current ladder positions.

North Melbourne have won eight of their past 54 games.Credit:AFL Photos

Should North receive a priority pick, clubs have called for it to come at the end of the first round instead of at the start.

North’s record of one win and 14 losses and percentage of 49.5 is marginally better than Greater Western Sydney’s (1-14, 43.0) in their inaugural season, when they fielded predominantly teenagers, and worse than Fitzroy’s (1-14, 51.8) in their last year. The Roos have won just eight of their past 54 games.

“If it’s a rebuild there is no strategy to it. They just got rid of players. Maybe there’s a scenario where it’s a pick at 25 or something, but I can’t see the competition agreeing to a pick after their first,” the head of one club said.

Brisbane and Gold Coast have been awarded priority picks since the AFL changed the system from a premiership points threshold to a discretionary basis in 2012.

The Lions were given pick 19 in 2016 after finishes of 17th, 17th and 15th and 14 wins in the previous three seasons. The Suns received a suite of priority picks, including one at the start of the first round in 2019, after finishing in the bottom four from 2015-19 with 23 wins from 110 games.

Another club supremo in favour of a priority selection said, “they have to get a pick, frankly, because they are that bad”.

One club president said they could not “imagine a better case for a priority pick than North Melbourne”.

“They are non-competitive and that is not good for the competition.

“We have to do something to help them unless they do something about going to Tasmania [and tie it in with other measures of help].

“It is of their making but is it deliberately of their making? Did they deliberately try to get to the bottom for picks? No.”

The chief of another club in favour of a priority pick for North said the bottom two teams needed more assistance at the expense of those in the top four.

“We need to help them. I think broadly we need to be more generous to the bottom two sides, especially the bottom side, and I think we need to be less generous to the top four teams.

“I think if you are able to get to a prelim final you have a good list, and you should not need the same generosity as the rest,” the chief said.

“For instance I don’t think the top four should have access to the best free agents. Sydney won a flag and got ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Richmond won a flag and got Tom Lynch. I don’t think that is right.”

Another club president said it was hard to see North surviving in Victoria, and that one extra player would not solve the many problems they had created.

“I would not be surprised if relocation came back on the table for them,” the club president said.

“Their problems are extensive and not just on the field. I don’t see how they survive to be honest. They improved their financial position, but that will take a hit again this year and if they lose the Tasmanian money that will be extremely damaging.

“It’s hard to see what is going to get them out of it and it won’t be one extra pick.”

But another club boss in favour of a priority pick said moving North south would not help the club or Tasmania.

“I feel for them. Everyone has had their turn being down, but when North does people come for them,” the club chief said. “They have a bad month and it brings out skeletons about Tasmania.

“They should have gone to Gold Coast, but they didn’t, you can’t revisit that now and say go to Tasmania. That doesn’t fix anything for either of them [North or Tasmania].

“I think there is no quick fix, you need good people, from the top down and it takes time.”

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