“He has been outstanding, all through pre-season,” Saints forward Tim Membrey said of Higgins. “Very selfless player, can kick goals himself and set up guys in positions [to kick goals].”
Stephenson shows glimpses
North’s boom off-season recruit from Collingwood Jaidyn Stephenson, the No.6 pick in the same draft as Higgins and a Rising Star winner, also made his first appearance for his new club.
Despite time in the midfield in North’s intra-club hit outs he played almost exclusively as a forward, with a couple of forays on a wing.
Stephenson kicked a lovely goal from the pocket in the second quarter and drifted in and out of the game, although with the Saints dominating it was tough for any Kangaroos player to stand out.
“He played really well. He has fitted in seamlessly and has been impressive the whole way through,” North’s Jy Simpkin said of Stephenson.
“I don’t think the scoreboard reflected the actual game itself, we were very undisciplined at times and we gave away goals [via free kicks and 50 metre penalties].”
Mason Wood enjoyed his first game as a Saint after leaving North kicking four goals and James Frawley looked very solid in defence for St Kilda after his decision to come out of retirement and move from Hawthorn to Moorabbin.
St Kilda also sent Seb Ross for brief spells at half back while Brad Crouch slotted into their midfield.
Ziebell’s new role suits
North’s captain Jack Ziebell has battled injury the past couple of seasons, while his side has battled for consistent form, and this probably contributed to him never looking settled as a forward.
But after a move to defence was flagged earlier in pre-season Ziebell took his spot in the backline at Arden Street on Wednesday and looked completely at ease.
The way he played somewhat mirrored what Luke Hodge did at Brisbane in his career twilight. Ziebell was great at leaving his man to provide an extra body in a big contest, and he used the ball calmly when he had it.
He also took a nice mark running back with the flight in the first term. Looks like he will be a great bit of ballast in North’s defence for 2021 and beyond.
New North look?
It was only one pre-season game of course, and their two midfield guns Todd Goldstein and Ben Cunnington didn’t play, but the early signs are good for the Kangaroos in terms of their ball movement.
Under Rhyce Shaw that often looked slow and one-dimensional but with new coach David Noble at the helm there seemed to be more of a willingness to play fast, and to attack through the corridor or the open side of the ground.
Pace was a key factor in North’s off-season recruiting efforts and they added some of it at all spots on the ground.
Stephenson is lightning quick as a forward, Aiden Corr is fast for his size in defence while No.13 draft pick midfielder Tom Powell has a good change of pace.
Cam Zurhaar also pinch hit in the midfield and his bursts of speed through stoppages – a bit like Jordan De Goey when he is hitting ball ups at pace – was a good point of difference.
Along with Goldstein and Cunnington the game was without Jed Anderson, Jared Polec, Dan Hannebery, Shaun McKernan, Trent Dumont, Zak Jones, Jarryn Geary and Rowan Marshall.
Hannebery is targeting round one after a calf injury while Jade Gresham will return next week after a lengthy back injury, Membrey said.
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.
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