Kangaroos bounce back from tanking claims
AUSSIE RULES: What was that about tanking? All week, North Melbourne had been at the centre of a sensational 'T-word' controversy, as the odds for the Kangaroos to collect the wooden spoon shortened with every loss.
All year, the Kangaroos' close-game troubles had also been closely scrutinised, especially when it came to the side's actions and structures in the dying stages.
But on Saturday afternoon, Brad Scott's men defied both external doubts in an epic show of defiance by a club that "wants to win”, according to star goalkicker Ben Brown.
In the wake of tanking claims, the Kangaroos produced arguably their best and most inspired win of 2017 at a blustery Blundstone Arena, producing a four-point win over Melbourne in what turned out to be a sour afternoon for the Demons.
Not only did the Demons' top-four hopes take a serious hit, they also suffered a major injury blow, with Jesse Hogan's availability for the rest of 2017 now unclear.
Demons coach Simon Goodwin confirmed after the game that Hogan had broken his collarbone during a third-term collision and was to undergo surgery on Sunday.
Prior to Saturday afternoon, North had lost all of its five games this season decided by less than a goal, yet had won every game against Melbourne since Round 20, 2006.
Much to the relief of Kangaroos fans, the former streak ended and the latter continued to make it 17 straight wins for the Roos over Melbourne.
Holding a narrow six-point lead at three-quarter time and with the Demons to kick with a solid breeze in the final term, the Kangas were up against it. But a lift in intensity and telling efforts from Brown (four goals), Shaun Higgins (28 disposals) and Jack Ziebell (25 disposals, six final-term clearances) helped the Roos silence their critics, while a couple of clutch plays from Jy Simpkin helped seal a memorable win.
After the game, Brown had a strong message to those that had any doubts over the club's late-season intentions.
"We want to win,” Brown told Fox Footy.
"That's what 'Scotty' has been saying to us from when we were out of finals calculations. We are not going to improve as a team and have these young guys come in to a culture if we are not looking to win.
"We're trying to get as many wins on the board as we can and build that momentum for next year.”
If the four-point loss wasn't hard enough to take for the Dees, the broken collarbone to Hogan looms as a crucial blow to Melbourne's finals hopes.
Hogan suffered the injury following a seemingly innocuous bump with young Kangaroo Luke McDonald inside the Demons' forward 50.
Hogan came off the ground at the start of the third term and went straight down to the rooms for further assessment before being quickly ruled out for the rest of the game.
While the Dees have yet to put a timeframe on Hogan's return, Fox Footy analyst Gerard Healy believes a return within three to four weeks is the best-case scenario.
"It's a savage blow to the Demons,” Healy said.
"Given that they ruled him out so quickly and took him down (to the rooms), it was always a potential (for a broken collarbone).
"That's a really bad blow and a bad blow for him because he's had such a terrible year all-round on many fronts.”
The only sour note for North was a calf injury to Jarrad Waite, with the veteran wrapped in cotton wool during the second half.
But Waite was right among his teammates as the Roos belted out their theme song post-game for the first time since May.