Cast your mind back to round one. North Melbourne faced their greatest rival in Essendon, suffering a demoralising loss in which they let the likes of Jobe Watson and Dyson Heppell run rampant.
While they’ve gone on to finish a successful season in sixth place, it’ll leave a bitter taste in Brad Scott’s mouth if the fruits of their labour aren’t realised in this crucial elimination final.
As the 15th year anniversary passes in 2014 since the ‘marshmallow game’, where Kevin Sheedy was pelted with marshmallows by North fans in response to him labelling Kangaroos executives Greg Miller and Mark Dawson soft in the days before the game, it’s a poignant reminder that this rivalry means so much to so many.
With the stakes being raised in the bright lights of September football, this is a game they simply cannot afford to drop.
With the build-up to one of footy’s most underrated rivalries continuing once more, it’s worth looking at how this game may be run and won for the boys from Arden Street. Instead of the elder statesmen dragging the younger generation over the line, a new crop of North Melbourne talent has emerged and is primed for finals success on Saturday night.
Much has been made about Brent Harvey’s three-game ban for his errant forearm into Liam Picken’s throat, but the harsh reality is the veteran is most likely not going to be a part of North Melbourne’s next premiership. What his absence provides is an opportunity for the next generation to make their mark in a final.
Many players have faltered in the finals furnace – Leon Davis for one – but in North Melbourne’s first home final since 2007, the time couldn’t be better for another player to make a name for themselves on footy’s great stage.
Maybe it’ll be Kayne Turner? You’ll be hard pressed to find a better story this season. The youngest player in the competition and still juggling his debut year with his Year 12 studies, he’s burst onto the scene and provides North with an x-factor – something that will be so crucial in the pressure-cooker environment of an elimination final against a great rival.
In an age where footballers are drafted purely for their running speed or vertical leap, Turner is a pure footballer. A footballer’s footballer, if you will. He attacks the ball like his life depends on it and while slightly built, he has become a weapon going forward in the latter part of the Kangaroos’ season.
In his three games of AFL football thus far, he’s amassed 12 tackles while the elder statesman in Brent Harvey has averaged a tick under three tackles in 2014. In fact, in all three of his games, he’s had more tackles than handballs, something rare for a player in his first year of senior football.
Admittedly it’s a smaller sample size but it’s just a glimpse of what the 179-centimetre kid from Maribyrnong College brings to North Melbourne’s line up. It is that trait which has earned him a spot in North’s senior side from the reserves at Werribee. and one that should hold him in good stead as he grows out of his younger years.
While he’s got a long pre-season in the gym ahead of him, his tackling pressure and attack on the ball is something to behold and on form has most likely earned himself a spot in North’s finals team.
Turner will soon begin his VCE exams but before then he’ll be tested in football’s biggest exam. Class almost always shines through as September hits, and you get the sense he’s the sort of player who will thrive on the big stage.
Already a cult hero at Arden Street, Ben Brown is also poised to shine on Saturday night. While a little older at 21 years of age, he stands at 200cm making him an imposing target. On top of that, even after eight games, his selection at pick 47 in the 2013 national draft looks a steal.
Harvey’s absence is Brown’s gain as he becomes one of North Melbourne’s prime targets going inside 50. Essendon’s backline is widely regarded as one of the best in the league and he may be the sort of player who could break the game open: a player they so dearly lacked in the opening round clash, with Aaron Black and Drew Petrie virtually non-existent.
As for Essendon, this game means more than many at the club will care to admit. There isn’t a day that’s gone by since that now infamous press conference on an innocent February afternoon in 2013 that this club hasn’t been embroiled in controversy.
The simple fact of the matter is they haven’t won a final in 10 years, and for so long the club has over-promised yet under-delivered. Despite their inconsistent couple of weeks, the Bombers should be at their best come Saturday night.
If one thing is for certain, it is North will have to be on right from the opening bounce. Besides Essendon’s final home match against Carlton, they’ve started well at the MCG and if the Roos are to win, they’ll have to overcome their now notorious fluctuating form between quarters.
It remains to be seen whether Scott throws Turner and Brown into a final but on their body of work thus far, they both deserve their opportunity to thrive. North Melbourne has only made the finals once in his four year tenure – a 96-point hammering at the hands of West Coast in 2012 – and this game offers an opportunity to close that sorry chapter.
The Roos have learned plenty in the 44 games they’ve played since and the time seems right for them to take the next step and win a final. Will they finally take the next step in football’s rocky road to ultimate glory?
We’ll have to wait and see.