North Melbourne's struggling playing group has been given a brutal reality check after their 2020 campaign lurched from one disappointment to the next.
The Kangaroos have lost 13 of their past 14 games to crash to 17th on the ladder, leaving them just 5.5 per cent ahead of an Adelaide outfit that have hit a purple patch with three wins in a row.
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If North Melbourne loses to West Coast on Thursday night and Adelaide upsets Richmond on Saturday, the Kangaroos will be lumped with their first wooden spoon since 1972.
The Roos players and coach Rhyce Shaw have all come in for their fair share of criticism, with the club's massive rebuild job highlighted by the fact that 20 players will be off-contract by the season's end.
While questions will undoubtedly be posed about whether Shaw is the right man to lead that project, AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson has accused the current crop of players of "failing" their coach in 2020.
In a stunning swipe at the Kangaroos' playing group, Robinson said most of them weren't even close to justifying their lofty price tags.
“Rhyce has got a responsibility as coach to get those players to come together and play football in a manner that gives them an opportunity to be in the game and compete and fight. That hasn’t happened,” Robinson said.
“Is it this group of players – that are getting paid close to $14 million a year under the salary cap – is it partly their responsibility? Of course it is. Is it the responsibility of Rhyce as coach to get the best out of the players? Yes it is.
“Are they rebuilding? Should they have done it earlier? Probably – they haven’t. Now they are.
“In the next two weeks, we’ll be sitting here talking about some of the decisions that the North Melbourne Football Club are going to make. We’ll sit here and go ‘whoa’ – that’s how big some of those decisions will be.
“Have they failed? The whole club’s failed this year.
“I don’t often go at the players but, fair dinkum, some of those players, they should be embarrassed getting paid – and I don’t say that ever, but their performances in recent weeks have been poor.”
Despite their awful form, Shaw remains "bullish" about what his group can achieve next season.
Roos’ coach optimistic for 2021
The North Melbourne coach entered 2020 full of hope that his side could give the finals a shake, especially after leading the Kangaroos to wins over Richmond, Collingwood, and Port Adelaide as caretaker coach last year.
But crippling injuries combined with the Kangaroos being forced to play most of their season interstate converted North Melbourne into easy beats.
"This year there's been so many obstacles thrown our way, it's been a perfect storm in one sense," Shaw said.
"It's been a disappointment, and it's not one that I envisaged at the start of the year.
"But we've made gains. I know that sounds strange, but we've made gains in areas.
"We've exposed players to the AFL level and seen if they've been up to it or not. We've got a clear picture of where we're going."
Shaw was reluctant to set any specific targets for next year. But he's confident the Kangaroos will be on the upward trend with a bit of luck on the injury front.
"I'm really bullish about what we can achieve," he said.
"We've had no luck this year with injury to some of our really good players and some of our really good young players.
Shaw says season 2020 has been a struggle for him personally given the team's poor results.