Kangaroos' season review: Young and hungry team challenges comp's best

DESPITE having an especially tough fixture, North Melbourne reached finals for the fourth time in five seasons, all while debuting eight players. 

The Roos may have faltered at the preliminary final stage against eventual premier Melbourne, but arguably built more for the long-term future in the space of one season than they ever have before. 

womens.afl is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Head coach: Darren Crocker  

Leadership group: Emma Kearney (captain), Jasmine Garner, Emma King (co-vice captains), Nicole Bresnehan, Ellie Gavalas, Ash Riddell, Sarah Wright 

Ladder position after home & away season: 8th, six wins, three losses and a draw, 166.8 per cent

Ladder position after finals: 4th, eight wins, four losses and a draw, 155.4 per cent

Footy Feed: What Roos lack, how Cats clicked

09:33 Jan 3. 2023. 12:00 PM

Sarah Black, Gemma Bastiani and Lucy Watkin review North Melbourne and Geelong's AFLW season seven performances

Debutants: Hannah Bowey, Taylah Gatt, Charli Granville, Ella Maurer, Sophia McCarthy, Erika O'Shea, Zoe Savarirayan, Vikki Wall  

Milestones: Jasmine Garner (50 games, 50 goals), Emma Kearney, Emma King, Jenna Bruton (50 games), Mia King, Bella Eddey, Sarah Wright (25 games)  

Rising Star nominations: Nil 

Retirements: TBC 

Ellie McKenzie is tackled by Hannah Bowey during round 10, season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance 

Ahead of North Melbourne's semi-final against Richmond there were plenty of external distractions. Discussions about the host venue - Punt Road Oval - and its capacity swirled, all the while the Kangaroos were focused squarely on keeping their record at the Tigers' home ground perfect. 

A tight, tense opening quarter suggested something close to the sides' round 10 draw might be on the cards, but a dominant second quarter from the Roos put an end to that theory, kicking five goals to Richmond's one for the term. 

North Melbourne kicked its second highest score, 74 points, and took 65 marks for the match, indicating the control they enjoyed for the bulk of the game. Star midfielder Jasmine Garner broke past the tag that Richmond's Meg Macdonald had so expertly applied just two weeks prior and patrolled the corridor in a commanding performance. 

AFLW S7 Highlights: Richmond v North Melbourne

05:59 Nov 12. 2022. 3:41 PM

The Tigers and Kangaroos clash in the semi finals of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance 

In a season of great performances from Jasmine Garner, it was her showing against Port Adelaide in round eight that stood tallest. 

Playing more of an outside role and pushing to the half forward line, Garner won 27 disposals and used the ball at 77.8 per cent efficiency, while also registering six inside 50s, seven score involvements and kicking two goals. 

On top of it all, Garner gained 717m with her disposal, the second-most in AFLW history and became just the second player to crack the 700m mark in one game.  

AFLW top five: Best individual performances

02:02 Jan 6. 2023. 6:00 AM

The standout individual performances from season seven

Most improved 

Brooke Brown was given a license to roam higher up the ground this season, playing an aggressive, attacking rebound role out of defence, and her game went to a new level because of it. 

Averaging 13.5 disposals and 4.1 marks per game, Brown's best performance of the season came in North Melbourne's semi-final against Richmond. She used her 20 disposals at 75 per cent efficiency, won eight intercepts and took 10 marks in a really proactive defensive performance. 

Brown also slotted her first career goal in round four against Geelong in a key moment. 

Brooke Brown kicks the ball during North Melbourne's clash against the Western Bulldogs in round five, S7, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Star recruit 

North Melbourne brought two Irishwomen, Vikki Wall and Erika O'Shea, to the club during the off-season, both of whom played vital roles for the club, but it was Wall's efforts that shone that little bit brighter. 

Her presence up forward was an important addition after losing both Daria Bannister and Daisy Bateman during the off-season. She brought a physicality that few Irish players are able to immediately add to their game, laying an average of four tackles per game, while also kicking six goals and averaging 3.2 inside 50s. 

Above all, Wall's competitiveness and speed at the contest added a new dimension to the Kangaroos' forward half. 

Wall launches a booming, running ripper

00:48 Oct 22. 2022. 2:03 PM

Vikki Wall slams through a powerful goal on the run

Unsung hero 

In a midfield that boasts Jasmine Garner and Ash Riddell, inaugural North Melbourne best and fairest winner Jenna Bruton regularly slips under the radar. 

With Ellie Gavalas struck down with a long-term hamstring injury, Bruton was required to spend more time inside the contest, an adjustment after she had spent most of her recent seasons out on the wing. What Bruton showed, however, is a rare knack of moving efficiently from inside the contest, where she would win the ball, to outside space, where she would set up teammates beautifully.

Ultimately, Bruton's ability to transition from inside to outside was vital to North Melbourne's push deep into finals. 

Jenna Bruton in action for North Melbourne against Brisbane in R7, S7 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well 

The Kangaroos underwent reasonably significant, albeit unexpected list turnover during the off season, and in replacing players they lost they recruited plenty of fresh faces. Eight players made their debut at the club, none of whom had previously played an AFLW game and three of whom were teenagers. 

Irish duo Vikki Wall and Erika O'Shea added plenty at each end of the ground, Taylah Gatt played the whole season on the wing, while Zoe Savarirayan, Charli Granville and Hannah Bowey played crucial roles both in attack and defence.

Added to this, Bella Eddey settled into a new role as a dangerous small forward, and Tess Craven offered plenty at half forward. With such a young and changing playing group they also had the hurdle of being the only team to play every fellow finalist throughout the home and away season. 

Despite all of this, the Roos pushed to a preliminary final and showed they could challenge the best teams. 

Footy Feed: Irish gun on life lessons, tribalism and facing the Tigers

05:13 Nov 11. 2022. 4:00 PM

Sarah Olle goes one-on-one with Kangaroos forward Vikki Wall

What needs improvement 

The connection between midfield and forward lines was still lacking at times throughout the season, and this was never more evident than the third quarter of the preliminary final against Melbourne. The Kangaroos sent the ball inside 50 18 times for the term - 16 more times than the Demons were able to achieve - yet scored just two points in the process. 

Finding that composure and calmness when winning the ball 70 or so metres out from goal will do more for the forward line than any player addition could. It is important they fix those repetitive issues where the Roos persist with something that isn't working, for example kicking inside 50 to a pack from the same angle over again. 

Jenna Bruton gets a kick away during North Melbourne's preliminary final against Melbourne on November 19, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Off season focus

The Roos should look to further refine their forward craft, meaning all ball movement in the forward half, not just inside the 50m arc. Becoming better at creating space for their key forward targets like Tahlia Randall and working off her, rather than crowding the 50 and not allowing any kind of predictable patterns to emerge.