FOLLOWING four consecutive bottom-two finishes, North Melbourne co-captain Jy Simpkin is confident of a spike in improvement from the Kangaroos this AFL season.
North Melbourne arrived in Bendigo on Monday for a two-day community camp.
It's the second year in a row the Kangaroos have visited Bendigo, with Simpkin - himself a country lad from Mooroopna - relishing the chance to get back to grassroots level.
"I love getting back up to the country," Simpkin said following Monday's civic welcome at Ulumbarra Theatre.
"Growing up in Mooroopna you didn't get to see a lot of AFL players, but I remember as an Essendon fan having the Essendon boys come to primary school one year and you'd be just up and about for the next week thinking how good it was to ask a few questions, have a kick and interact with them.
"A lot of the boys on the list are from the country and know how important it is to give back, so it should be a good couple of days up here in Bendigo.
"And pre-season training can be tough at times with a fairly rigorous routine, so it's good to come up here for a couple of days to break it up a bit, spend time with team-mates and interact with the community."
GAMES JUST AROUND THE CORNER
North Melbourne's community camp visit to Bendigo comes just over a week before the Kangaroos take to the field for the first time in the pre-season.
North Melbourne will play reigning premier Collingwood next Wednesday in the first of the AFL's match simulations between clubs as preparations for the season continue to ramp up and get to the pointy end.
"We haven't been great over the past couple of years, so we set ourselves the task of getting back into pre-season a couple of weeks earlier," Simpkin said.
"I feel this pre-season has been our best in my time at the footy club (drafted in 2016) and to come up against some real opposition next week is going to be exciting.
"There's no better opportunity than to come straight up against the reigning premiers; even if it is just a practice match they aren't going to roll over and whenever anyone steps on the footy field there is always that pride in your performance.
"We're a young group and still learning how each other plays, but I've got no doubt we're going to improve immensely this year."
CONFIDENT OF IMPROVEMENT
As the saying goes, the only way is up for North Melbourne.
Over the past four years the Kangaroos have won just 12 of 84 games and finished 17th, 18th, 18th and 17th.
However, midfielder Simpkin - a dual North Melbourne best and fairest in 2021 and 2022 - is confident the Kangaroos are assembling the talent that will begin to bear fruit this season.
"If you don't see a spike out of us this year then I'd be very surprised," Simpkin said.
"I'm very confident in the group and the direction that we're all heading in. Some of the younger guys we've brought in like Colby McKercher, Zane Duursma, Will Dawson and Riley Hardeman (all first-year draftees) have been so impressive in their training.
"Then we've got guys like Harry Sheezel (last year's AFL Rising Star) and George Wardlaw who are going into their second year now; Nick Larkey is coming off an All-Australian season... everyone has just improved so much in terms of fitness and strength.
"You name it, everyone has gotten better at it, so I'm very confident in the direction we're headed.
"Now we're looking forward to the pre-season being over with and being able to start getting stuck into games and coming up against some real opposition and having a crack."
North Melbourne opens its 2024 AFL season on Saturday, March 16, against last year's beaten preliminary finalists, the GWS Giants.
"They were very good last year, so it's going to be tough, but we're looking forward to the challenge," Simpkin said of the round one clash with GWS.
Simpkin, who is heading into his second season as co-captain of the Kangaroos with Luke McDonald, has played 134 games with the club.