North Melbourne's dismal AFL season has taken another turn for the worse, with the Kangaroos slammed for dropping No.1 draft pick Jason Horne-Francis ahead of a potential homecoming game in Adelaide.
A gruelling 2022 season has culminated in just two wins for the Kangaroos so far and resulted in the mid-season departure of head coach David Noble.
The form of Horne-Francis has been a regular topic of conversation among AFL observers, with the teenager coming in and out of the side amidst various controversies this season.
After copping criticism for an unannounced trip back to South Australia earlier in the season, Horne-Francis has also been called out for his attitude towards teammates in certain moments.
As the Kangaroos look to regroup for next season, eyeing the potential signing of high-profile premiership coach Alistair Clarkson, interim coach Leigh Adams has sought to make his mark on this year's squad.
A heavier focus on the 'Monday to Friday' aspects of football was reportedly behind the decision to drop Horne-Francis for Saturday's match against the Crows.
The 19-year-old was 'called out' by Adams, with Channel 7's Mitch Cleary reporting that it was for 'disobeying his coach' last weekend.
“The star teenager was called out by interim coach Leigh Adams and senior players on Sunday for failing to complete his proper ice baths and recovery in front of their very eyes,” Cleary wrote.
“He spent this morning with a dozen teammates training in Melbourne (instead of travelling with the squad).”
It hasn't been a smooth transition to the AFL for Horne-Francis, who the Kangaroos were hoping could provide a shot in the arm for a side that hasn't played finals football for nearly a decade.
Jason Horne-Francis failing to complete his proper ice bath recovery in front of his coach and senior teammates led to him being dropped https://t.co/YEPIWkugYE
— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) August 12, 2022
Asked if denying Horne-Francis the chance to play in Adelaide might serve to push him out the door, club great Brent Harvey, who is a current development coach at North Melbourne, said it was a risk the club had to take to drive high standards.
"He hasn't gone out and robbed a bank, he hasn't done nothing bad, his teammates love him, the coaches love him ... this is just part of the development of a young boy to get his preparation right," he told RSN.
"You can't get held to ransom for these little things; you've got to make sure your culture is number one.
"That's what our coach is doing right now and I absolutely love it."
North Melbourne savaged for dropping AFL young gun Horne-Francis
Two-time premiership Kangaroo David King was bemused by the call to prevent him from playing in his home state.
"Why would you drop Horne-Francis ... he's going back to Adelaide to play in front of family and friends, why wouldn't you give him that opportunity?" he told SEN.
"Just put him there in front of his friends and family because he'll want to perform."
But Harvey said it was a continuation of Adams impressing himself on the side, pointing to fringe midfielder Kayne Turner as evidence good players can be left out.
"Kayne Turner would run through brick walls for every single one of his teammates, for every single one of his supporters ... he's playing in the reserves at the minute," he said.
"If you haven't got your Monday to Friday in order, that's just not good enough right now.
"Was it good enough in round three, round four and five? Maybe.
"But with Leigh Adams in charge, the standards have gone to another level and players have to play their part."
Meanwhile, veteran Kangaroos midfielder Ben Cunnington will make his long-awaited return to the AFL after overcoming a battle with testicular cancer.
Cunnington is a confirmed starter against Adelaide on Saturday, having returned to action through the VFL last weekend.
The 31-year-old's long-awaited senior recall was ticked off on Wednesday, when the two-time Kangaroos best-and-fairest winner and interim coach Adams addressed the playing group in an emotional announcement.
"I love my life outside of footy and you think you can finish up (playing) and be happy with that," Cunnington told his teammates.
"But until it sort of gets taken away from you and you've got no control over that, you soon realise that you're still loving it.
"I went through what I've had to go through and without the support I couldn't have got through.
"But I'm here now, hungry, and I feel I've worked hard to be in a position to hopefully help the boys out again. I'm keen as ever."
Cunnington tweaked a calf muscle and produced a positive COVID test as he neared a return in recent weeks.
He gathered 18 possessions - including the first clearance of the match - against Sydney in the VFL last Sunday and pulled up from his first match in 379 days with only some general soreness.
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