While the defection of Lance Franklin shook the footy world, it was the recruitment of Nick Dal Santo which had North Melbourne fans daring to dream about the season ahead.
After a season which promised so much but delivered so little, North went after the St Kilda star and got their man. It was a statement of intent from a side who many believe to be the most likely to be on the up in 2014.
On paper, Dal Santo looks to be an incredibly handy acquisition on his own accord. He finished second in the Brownlow Medal in 2011, and is a three time All-Australian. However, what could be even more telling is the big game experience he brings.
One of the most prominent stories of 2013 was the late fade outs by North Melbourne: they lost by less than 10 points on six occasions. These narrow losses undeniably cost North a finals berth, with these results so often coming from North players going missing and unable to stem the flow of the opposition.
Despite never winning a premiership, Dal Santo offers valuable experience for a North side which seemed bereft of it late in games. North aim to take the next step and push into finals this season: big game experience and leadership is critical in September, which is exactly what Dal Santo offers.
Apart from his leadership credentials, Dal Santo’s style of play complements the grunt work of North’s midfield. While the likes of Jack Ziebell, Andrew Swallow and Ben Cunnington are by no means butchers by foot, Dal Santo offers silk on the outside which their abundance of key forwards will love.
Additionally, he adds to the midfield rotations for North, which is so important given the instalment of the interchange cap. With the ability to play in the middle or even play a defensive role, he has the ability to give North midfielders a reprieve, as well as allowing the likes of Shaun Atley to have spurts through the middle.
If North are to take the next step in 2014, they – for the most part – need to replicate the form they showed last season. However, the key component towards their progression is stopping the concession of late goals: Dal Santo’s experience could prove the difference late in games.
And, as such, he could very well prove to be North’s missing link in 2014.