Punters from Down Under, pt. 2 — continued success

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Nathan Chapman admits that it took awhile for his Aussie punting experiment to catch on with American coaches. With limited resources and plenty of logistical challenges, there was a laundry list of reasons why Chapman’s idea of putting Australians into American college football was a far-fetched idea.

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, several prominent Australian rules footballers shocked the world by trading in a pudgy Sherrin for an American pigskin. Ben Graham, Sav Rocca, Darren Bennett, and others all had stints in the NFL, using their impressive leg strength to become star punters. Inspired by them, Chapman decided to take the same route to the NFL following an injury-marred eight-year stint in the AFL.

Chapman’s NFL aspirations didn’t pan out — he spent the 2005 preseason with the Green Bay Packers before getting cut and going back home to Melbourne. In the years since, the direct AFL-to-NFL pipeline has slowed down considerably.

But the NFL’s temporary loss has been Chapman’s gain.

In 2006, he started ProKick Australia — a unique training academy that would take young Aussie footballers, retrain their natural kicking abilities to American football, and send them off to US colleges. Based on his own experiences in the States, Chapman believed that college football could be an ideal conduit for young Aussies whose AFL dreams hadn’t worked out and who were looking for something new.

Fast-forward over a decade, and ProKick currently has over 40 athletes punting at various levels of the NCAA, the junior college system, and even three in the NFL. The past four Ray Guy Award winners have been Aussies, and more ProKick punters are on the way each year. It’s become a lucrative deal for Chapman and his business partner, John Smith, who train athletes not just how to kick an American ball, but the finer mechanics of kicking, NCAA eligibility rules, the daily grind of balancing academics and athletics, etc.

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Part of Chapman’s instructions are not just learning about American college football and adjusting to a smaller, pointier ball, but about knowing when to release, getting the hangtime right, knowing when to roll out and kick it, or simply drop-kick it. This has sometimes caused issues with the ultra-traditional NFL, where special teams structures are different from college, and where roll-out punts aren’t viewed as particularly effective. Therefore, ProKick athletes must be adept at both styles and execute them to perfection.

The punt has long been considered a boring play in football. While every team appreciates a good one, most fans use the punt play itself to grab a new beer from the fridge or text back a friend. It’s become Chapman’s task to take that one “boring” play and turn it into an art form.

“There are analytics for everything, but punting might be the last frontier in terms of gaining that extra edge that coaches want,” Chapman explains. “Punting, if it is done at an elite, expert level, can dramatically influence the outcome of a game.”

Quite frankly, it’s a win-win situation for most of Chapman’s students. Many of them are older than the average college freshman, and the majority have a background in Aussie rules from a young age, giving them the raw talent to punt an American ball. It’s relatively easy for Chapman to visit a kid and recruit him to play a completely different sport in a completely different country, with the added opportunity to get noticed by the NFL, play for roaring home crowds, and get a degree. Some of the athletes in question are coming off injuries and/or disappointing Aussie rules careers and are inherently intrigued by the possibilities of college football.

However, with that comes added wrinkles, like the fact that in the US, the vast majority of college punters are walk-ons. It’s rare for a high school punter, even if he’s nationally ranked, to get multiple scholarship offers.

“We realize that if we want to get a scholarship offer, we need to be better than a thousand kids in America each year. We’ve got to have that X factor,” Chapman says.

The ProKick alums themselves have amazing stories. No two are alike:

  • Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky won the 2016 Ray Guy Award in his first season as a Ute, but he was once a high school dropout who apprenticed as a glass-installation specialist in his hometown of Perth.
  • Jack Sheldon was recruited to ProKick after suffering a foot injury in Aussie rules; despite not having kicked for 10 weeks, Sheldon impressed Chapman with his raw talent. Four months later, in August 2016, Sheldon earned a scholarship to Central Michigan and is now playing for head coach John Bonamego — who once coached Chapman himself with the Packers!
  • Indiana’s Haydon Whitehead only found out about ProKick because his older brother played in an amateur gridiron league in Melbourne.
  • Oregon State punter Nick Porebski was recruited by Chapman when he was still a teenager playing Aussie rules in Melbourne. After Porebski suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, he decided to give punting a try, landing for a year at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah before heading north to Oregon State in the fall of 2015.
  • Cameron Johnston grew up in the footy-obsessed city of Geelong and made it to the AFL’s Melbourne Demons, but never played a senior level game for them. Eventually, he found ProKick and earned a scholarship to Ohio State, where he started all four years and left second in school history in punting average. Johnston now punts for the Philadelphia Eagles and his cousin, Michael Sleep-Dalton, also went through ProKick and is currently a sophomore at Arizona State.
  • Houston punter Dane Roy worked the phones as a customer service rep at a Melbourne ice cream factory and was recruited by Chapman after winning a “biggest kick” competition in Aussie rules. Roy landed at Houston last year as a 28-year-old freshman.

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One of ProKick’s best known alums is former Utah punter and two-time Ray Guy winner Tom Hackett. Perhaps more so than anyone else, Hackett may have been the one who proved to the entire country that Aussies had staying power in the American game.

Standing at only 5’10”, 180 pounds, Hackett came to Salt Lake City as an unheralded walk-on. Four years later, he was a back-to-back Ray Guy winner and was even on the Pac-12 All-Century Team. In addition to his uncanny punting accuracy, Hackett was also well-known for his dry Aussie humor and unique bond with a fellow former walk-on, Utes placekicker Andy Phillips. Hackett’s NFL dream didn’t pan out, but he’s found steady work hosting ESPN radio shows in the Salt Lake City region since then. He paved the way for his successor, Wishnowsky, and many, many others.

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The coaches who are in contact with Chapman have been convinced to keep looking Down Under. One of them, former LSU boss Les Miles, once quipped that “if the guy can’t speak Australian, I don’t want him.”

Another ProKick convert is Virginia Tech special teams coordinator James Shibest.

Shibest and Hokies coach Justin Fuente worked together at Memphis for several years and both recruited 2013 Ray Guy winner Tom Hornsey. So when Fuente moved to Blacksburg to take over in December 2015, he took Shibest with him. This past February, Shibest recruited and signed another ProKick alum — Oscar Bradburn, a 19-year-old Sydneysider.

“They’re extremely competitive, No. 1. Just through the way they’re brought up playing Australian rules football — that’s what I’ve liked the most and we’ve had success with it, so we’re excited about him,” Shibest said of Bradburn on National Signing Day.

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Another believer in the Aussie tradition is former NFL coach and current Illinois head man Lovie Smith. Earlier this year, Smith used a scholarship on ProKick’s Blake Hayes, who stands at an imposing 6’6″, 220 pounds and landed in Champaign over the summer. “He has a strong leg. He’s calm. He’s a confident player. We’re going to call on him a lot,” Smith said of Hayes.

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Hayes, another Melbourne native, admitted that he was amazed at the recruiting process that some of his freshman teammates had to endure. In today’s social media-obsessed world, Chapman is acutely aware of how many young kids de-commit, commit, then de-commit again from high-profile programs. To avoid any potential flakiness, the ProKick coaches handle the entire recruiting process for their students and use their best judgment to determine which school(s) are the best fit for them athletically and academically. It could be seen as a risky move, but Chapman wants ProKick’s reputation to remain good and for his pupils to make a firm decision when the time is right.

“Our coaches try not to tell us a huge amount on what schools are interested,” Hayes explains. “It can boost confidence too much and we get ahead of ourselves. Coaches can’t see us in person. Basically when a coach starts speaking to my coach first, and then once they display genuine interest, they’ll call the player. I think it’s a good thing. I don’t know how these guys do it with multiple offers. I think it keeps us level-headed.”

In addition to a steady group of coaches who are consistently interested in new Aussie faces, Chapman’s program has benefitted from positive PR in their own backyard; they’ve fostered a loyal group of Aussie coaches, families, and the like that have sustained them. With college coaches in the States requesting tape from ProKick athletes nearly every month, they’ve become a veritable football factory in a country that doesn’t even play the American version of the sport. Friends and family of ProKick athletes stay up to ungodly hours to watch the games live.

“They don’t really grasp it yet, but with guys coming over and having success, Australians are starting to see college football is a really big deal,” says Penn State senior punter Daniel Pasquariello.

Parents of ProKick athletes have also been able to provide glowing reviews:

We couldn’t be happier with the way this has turned out and thoroughly recommend ProKick Australia to any future participant….this has been a fantastic, life-changing experience and once again we thank you for all your help and encouragement — in not just the boys’ college aspirations, but also in generating a great bond between all concerned. We wish all the boys in the USA the best of luck.

-Paul & Joanne Johnston, parents of Cameron Johnston (formerly of Ohio State, now with the Philadelphia Eagles)

Nathan is extremely personable and patient and has a wealth of knowledge about the technical aspects of punting.  Nathan and John both relate well to their students and have a very effective teaching manner….we are deeply indebted to the ProKick team who delivered exactly what they promised. 

Steve & Sally Gleeson, parents of Tim (Rutgers) and Will Gleeson (Ole Miss)

Nathan is personable and enthusiastic; he did not pressure us, but patiently explained to us what was available and how he could assist and train Alex….we found Nathan and John to be genuine and sincere….ProKick Australia doesn’t just get positions for the boys, they re-train their kicking abilities and they continue to support them, even three years after placement, and they match the boys to an area in which they feel they will thrive.

Ken & Gillian Dunnachie, parents of Alex Dunnachie (Hawaii)

As of the 2017 season, there are currently over 40 ProKick punters in the FBS, the FCS, the NFL, CFL, Division 2, and the junior college system. How many more will come each year? Good question. Chapman just wants to focus on the process year by year and continue to foster lasting relationships with athletes and coaches alike. Still, the man remains confident:

“You will see that our punters will dominate as they’re given more scope and more opportunities to do what they do best.”

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Synecdoche, New York (2008)

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An ailing theatre director’s world becomes increasingly surreal as he obsessively tries to re-create a life-size version of New York City for his upcoming play.

Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a depressed theatre director who is increasingly distant from his artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener) and young daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein). Caden directs a well-received production of Death of a Salesman and unexpectedly receives a MacArthur Fellowship, which he uses to stage an extremely complicated and elaborate production of his own making. Adele eventually leaves Caden and takes Olive with her, settling in Berlin and pursuing her art career full-time. Meanwhile, Caden begins to experience a variety of health problems, which adds to his own paranoia and hypochondria.

As Caden’s theatrical world becomes increasingly larger — both physically and metaphysically — his health begins to decline and the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly vague.

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This film’s title is based upon the concept of synecdoche, in which something represents part of a whole, or vice versa, and is also a play on words of Schenectady, New York, where most of the film takes place. Synecdoche, New York is the brainchild — and directorial debut — of Charlie Kaufman, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter of such surrealist fare as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

For what it’s worth, I had heard from various friends, cinephiles, and film industry colleagues that Synecdoche, New York was an underrated masterpiece that didn’t get enough credit when it came out. I also knew that the movie had developed a greater appreciation in recent years, particularly following the tragic death of leading man Philip Seymour Hoffman back in February 2014.

Synecdoche, New York premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 and was a polarizing film, to say the least. It bombed at the box office, generating only $4.4 million on a $20 million budget. The late Roger Ebert called the film the best of the decade and claimed he knew from the get-go that it was a masterpiece. Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times also raved about Synecdoche, New York, calling it “sprawling, awe-inspiring, and heartbreaking” and “extravagantly conceptual”, respectively.

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman stated “I gave up making heads or tails of Synecdoche, New York, but I did get one message: the compulsion to stand outside of one’s life and observe it to this degree isn’t the mechanism of art — it’s the structure of psychosis.” The Washington Times also blasted the movie, claiming that it was “inaccessible and endlessly frustrating, replete with arthouse pomposity and the type of muddled profundity one sees in an introductory philosophy seminar.” Rex Reed of The New York Observer also panned Synecdoche, New York and named it one of the worst of 2008, while Jonathan Rosenbaum claimed it was more of an illustration of a script than an actual narrative film.

Kaufman repeatedly stated in interviews that he did not want to explain anything about the film, and refused to record a director’s commentary on the DVD, believing that Synecdoche, New York should stand entirely on its own merits.

Fair play, Mr. Kaufman. Now let me explain what I thought of your film.

Synecdoche, New York is 10% an actually intriguing character study and 90% pretentious, self-indulgent drivel. Kaufman is an extremely philosophical writer, throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Anyone who has seen the previous films that he’s written will know this.

The entire point(?) of Synecdoche, New York is to show a theatre director’s natural fears of death and aging, and to visualize how his world is blurring the lines of fantasy and reality. While there are some decent enough emotional beats in the film, nothing is coherent enough to care about and the characters lose their appeal pretty quickly. The film is melancholy and extremely self-serious, to its detriment, and doesn’t have enough interesting elements or characters to do anything with all of its (admittedly weighty) themes. At the end of the day, Hoffman’s character is just a lonely, increasingly frail guy with wildly ambitious visions for an otherwise-straightforward play — no more, no less.

I have nothing against arthouse cinema or post-modern drama films; in fact, I can safely say that it’s a genre that had definitely grown on me in the past few years. Some of my favorite films are surreal and abstract movies that don’t immediately make sense — such as Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the majority of Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography, the early films of David Lynch, etc. Some might call those types of movies pretentious or plodding, but they actually have a lot more going on than meets the eye and definitely improve upon repeat viewings. And even if said films aren’t your cup of tea, at the very least, most people can respect the details and vision of them and acknowledge what the director in question was attempting to say.

With Synecdoche, New York, however, I constantly felt like there was little to no depth in the storyline, despite my digging into the deeper meaning of the film after I watched it. I read critics’ interpretations of Synecdoche, New York and wracked my brain to no end after the credits rolled, but there was still no real point to it all. Again, the film does touch on a handful of valuable themes, but it misses the mark nine times out of 10.

I alluded to how self-serious Synecdoche, New York is earlier in this review, and that’s part of what takes the wind out of its unusually ambitious sails. This film is plodding and humorless, offering tantalizing moments of clarity and emotional weight that end up being nothing but philosophical mush in the end. So much of the surrealist moments and underlying tones of the film just doesn’t hit the audience the way it should, and even if it does hit you, you’re too busy scratching your head and trying to make heads or tails out of anything in it.

In addition, Synecdoche, New York is barely over two hours long, and it felt like four hours long when I watched it. The film’s only saving graces are A) a couple of genuine moments towards the end that were actually somewhat thought-provoking, and B) a tour-de-force performance from Hoffman, who, too often, is the only real thing giving Synecdoche, New York any forward momentum.

Grade: D

  • Released 2008
  • Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman
  • Produced by Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Sidney Kimmel, and Anthony Bregman
  • Director of Photography — Frederick Elmes
  • Music by Jon Brion
  • Edited by Robert Frazen
  • Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.

2017 AFL season review: St Kilda Saints

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  • 2017 RECORD: 11-11
  • COACH: Alan Richardson, 4th year (32-52-1)
  • RETIREMENTS: Sean Dempster, Leigh Montagna, Nick Riewoldt
  • DELISTINGS: Joe Baker-Thomas, Nick Coughlan
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: None

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Nathan Freeman (ankle) should be ready to go for preseason action, and the same goes for Paddy McCartin (concussion problems). Midfielder David Armitage is slowly recovering from a groin issue.

POSITIVES: The Saints showed good signs of growth most of the year, buoyed by some young talent up front and through the midfield. After Armitage went down, Koby Stevens and Jack Steele stepped up and played very well, while Seb Ross is an emerging youngster in that midfield group, too. Jake Carlisle and Nathan Brown are veteran defenders who made strides in 2017. St Kilda scored some nice upset wins along the way, too, beating Richmond, GWS, and West Coast convincingly.

NEGATIVES: St Kilda’s kicking inaccuracy cost them in 2017. The Saints had plenty of big bodies but were maddeningly inconsistent up front, even among normally reliable playmakers like Josh Bruce and Jack Billings. There’s no question that the Saints have a better nucleus of young talent than they’ve had in the past, but the pressure will be on in 2018 after missing the Finals yet again and saying goodbye to retiring club stalwarts Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna.

SEASON OVERVIEW: The Saints should be disappointed in themselves overall after a season filled with promise eventually went downhill. While St Kilda broke even with an 11-11 year and showed flashes of elite play, missing the Finals again hurt, especially since the club wanted to send Montagna and Riewoldt out on a good note. Alan Richardson’s club needs to regroup and address offensive concerns heading into the offseason. Another year of “what ifs” won’t be acceptable.

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2017 AFL season review: Hawthorn Hawks

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  • 2017 RECORD: 10-11-1
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson, 13th year (190-113-2)
  • DELISTINGS: TBD
  • RETIREES: Jack Fitzpatrick, Josh Gibson, Luke Hodge, Luke Surman
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Taylor Duryea

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Grant Birchall, James Cousins, and Mitch Lewis will be limited until January or so after surgeries, Ben Stratton and Cyril Rioli both struggled with knee injuries in 2017, but will be working their way back when preseason practices start in November. James Frawley was bothered by a turf toe injury, but should also be ready to go soon enough.

POSITIVES: The Hawks shook off an ugly 0-5 start which was marked by an avalanche of injuries. A number of Hawthorn’s young players showed a ton of promise in a disappointing year for the club, and while Clarkson shouldered a ton of blame for not kickstarting the youth movement earlier, he has a much better handle on his personnel heading into 2018.

Despite the retirements of club stalwarts like Hodge and Gibson, the Hawks have a solid baseline of talent remaining, including All-Australian midfielder Tom Mitchell, key defender Ryan Burton, the fiery and versatile James Sicily, and the speedy Conor Nash, a convert from Gaelic football. Hawthorn also got a nice surprise when veteran Shaun Burgoyne elected to play on after contemplating an early retirement.

NEGATIVES: Yeah, about that 0-5 start — sure, the injuries played a key role in Hawthorn’s inauspicious first month, but it still left fans dumbfounded that a club only two years removed from its last AFL Premiership would look so unorganized and lethargic on-field. Give Clarkson credit for righting the ship after such a horrific beginning to the season, but that alarming lack of focus and pressure can’t happen again at such a historic club. The Hawks’ big free agent additions, Ty Vickery and Jaeger O’Meara, did very little in 2017.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Clarkson got another contract extension in recent months and is in the process of re-shuffling his staff; the Hawks will presumably look to the AFL Draft and their VFL reserves side to develop players following last year’s disappointing free agent signings.

Give the 2017 Hawks credit: they improved dramatically as the year went on, and even when their Finals hopes were shot, they still made a consistent effort and developed a better work ethic at the contest, while also identifying a few budding stars. It’ll be interesting to see if Clarkson’s team can make another Finals push in 2018 with a younger lineup and a few key veterans returning from long-term injury woes.

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2017 AFL season review: Collingwood Magpies

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  • 2017 RECORD: 9-12-1
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley, 6th year (70-65-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Jesse White
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Tyson Goldsack, Lachlan Keeffe, Ben Sinclair, Josh Thomas

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Magpies had pretty bad luck on the injury front, but a number of those players should be ready to go for preseason, including captain Scott Pendlebury, Travis Varcoe, Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Daniel Wells.

POSITIVES: The Pies were able to pull off some big upsets along the way, including Geelong, Sydney, and West Coast. While it sometimes seemed that Collingwood would never have the same healthy players on the field as they had the previous week, the Pies showed some flashes. Players like forward Daniel Wells, ruckman Brodie Grundy, and halfback Jeremy Howe all stepped up and answered the bell when they were needed. Former Giant Will Hoskin-Elliott was one of the Pies’ more promising young free agent additions, and Steele Sidebottom also continued his classy form.

NEGATIVES: Collingwood continues to drop winnable games, as they can’t seem to play four quarters of footy when it counts the most — they were eliminated from Finals contention as early as Round 16. Touted free agent addition Chris Mayne barely did anything in his Magpie debut, and plenty of other players battled injuries and inconsistency, including Jordan De Goey, Alex Fasolo, and Travis Varcoe. De Goey also came under scrutiny after a bizarre early season suspension that called his character into question (he hurt his hand in a bar fight and then lied about it to club trainers).

SEASON OVERVIEW: While the Pies have been able to be competitive on a weekly basis, there’s no getting around the lack of enthusiasm and consistency around the historic club. Four seasons with Finals action seems like an eternity for faithful fans, and there are bound to be plenty of changes in the offseason. With embattled coach Nathan Buckley sticking around for at least two more years, the Pies need to take big steps forward in 2018, and that starts with a sense of urgency around the ball and better defensive pressure.

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2017 AFL season review: Fremantle Dockers

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  • 2017 RECORD: 8-14
  • COACH: Ross Lyon, 6th year (79-55-1)
  • DELISTINGS: None
  • RETIREES: Zac Dawson, Garrick Ibbotson, Shane Yarran
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Hayden Ballantyne, Zac Clarke, Michael Johnson, Nick Suban

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: Zac Clarke, Matthew Uebergang, and Alex Pearce all missed the 2017 season with various knee, leg, and hamstring issues and will be looking to make a preseason comeback. Michael Apeness and Lachie Neale will also be recovering from knee surgeries.

POSITIVES: It was an up-and-down season for Fremantle, but they began the rebuilding process around their known quantities, like superstar Nat Fyfe, as well as debuting several exciting players such as youngster Brennan Cox and free-agent addition Cam McCarthy. The Dockers shook off an ugly first month to notch a couple of notable wins, including big victories over Melbourne, Essendon, and the Western Bulldogs.

NEGATIVES: Injuries took their toll late in the year as the Dockers suffered three 100-point defeats and ultimately dropped 11 of their last 13 matches. Ruckman Aaron Sandilands was never 100 percent all year due to hamstring troubles, and while his replacement Sean Darcy did admirably, the Dockers are just a different team when Sandilands isn’t dominating the hit-outs in the middle. Hayden Ballantyne is one of the game’s most electric small forwards when healthy, but he frequently isn’t, leaving some to wonder if he’ll continue his career. (Coach Ross Lyon remains confident that the 30-year-old Ballantyne will elect to play on.)

SEASON OVERVIEW: It’s kind of a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full deal for the Dockers. While the fans have been grumbling about Lyon’s coaching methods and the general lack of consistency, there’s plenty to like about the young talent that was thrown into the fire this year. Docker supporters can also take solace in the fact that they still doubled their win total from 2016, locked in Fyfe for a long-term deal, and opened up a new state-of-the-art training facility.

We’ve seen that Freo can be a lethal side when they have the horses to pull it off, but a lack of depth and experience throughout the lineup hasn’t helped in some of their more humiliating losses. They were reasonably competitive most weekends, but they’ll need to show more grit, durability, and finesse if they’re to move up the ladder in 2018.

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2017 AFL season review: North Melbourne Kangaroos

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  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brad Scott, 8th year (94-90)
  • DELISTINGS: Will Fordham, Lachlan Hansen, Matthew Taylor
  • RETIREES: None
  • FREE AGENTS WHO HAVE YET TO SIGN: Scott Thompson

OFFSEASON INJURIES/SURGERIES: The Kangaroos were exceptionally unlucky on the injury front in the latter half of 2017, which played a large part in their stumbling to the finish line. Getting Nathan Hrovat and Marley Williams back from season-ending ailments will be key, and Jy Simpkin, Braydon Preuss, Sam Wright, Ben Brown, and Jack Ziebell will also have minor surgeries in the coming month or so.

POSITIVES: Ben Brown established himself as one of the AFL’s most consistent kicks and the Roos’ big target up front, booting 63 goals in the 2017 season. Key players such as Braydon Preuss and Jy Simpkin were able to be influential when they were healthy, and the Roos also got encouraging seasons from defender Robbie Tarrant and aggressive midfielder Luke Macdonald. The Roos also extended their winning streak over their crosstown rivals, beating the Melbourne Demons twice.

NEGATIVES: The Roos struggled right out of the gate and never recovered, starting 0-5 to match their worst start since 1972. A young team, North Melbourne struggled late in games and dropped four contests by 10 points or fewer, and there’s no excuse for them losing 10 out of their last 12 games, either. Former All-Australian ruckman Todd Goldstein suffered through a disappointing season, and fellow big man Majak Daw struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

SEASON OVERVIEW: Coach Brad Scott got a two-year contract extension following the season finale, but there’s no denying that his Roos need to take a major step forward after missing out on postseason play for the first time since 2013. When North was good, they were really good, but when they were bad, they were awful. The club has been linked to several potential free agents, including Richmond’s Dustin Martin, GWS’s Josh Kelly, and Geelong’s Steven Motlop, although it’s yet to be seen if the Roos will get any of them.

There’s still talent left on the list, although much of it is young — 11 players made their debut for North this year, and they could stand to grab a couple of classy midfielders via free agency or the AFL Draft. Quite frankly, following the retirements of club legends Nick Dal Santo and Brent Harvey this time last year, it was always assumed that 2017 would be a year of growing pains for North. Getting back to the Finals in 2018 would be a big first step if the Roos are to cement their standing as a relevant squad again.

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