On the road again with no firm return date in the face of ongoing COVID-19 trouble at home, improving North Melbourne have their sights firmly set on another AFL scalp as part of their evolution under David Noble.
The Kangaroos take on finals hopefuls Essendon at Gold Coast's Metricon Stadium on Sunday, buoyed by a season-best triumph over West Coast in Perth six days prior.
They will be without their toughest midfielder and best contested ball winner against the Bombers after Ben Cunnington opted to remain in Victoria for family reasons.
But Noble believes his side is capable of building on a strong run of form, which has garnered two wins and a draw from five outings since the bye.
"The boys have worked really hard physically and in regards to game education as well, so it's been a culmination of that," Noble said.
"We've probably had a few more players available as well, but it's been really encouraging to see what our last month's produced so far."
The Kangaroos need no reminding of Essendon's capabilities, having been on the end of a 72-point thrashing in round 10.
The Bombers are one win outside the top eight and pushing hard for a finals spot.
"They've got some real run off that halfback area and we know that if we're not accountable in the midfield they can really hurt you and get the ball moving in that forward end really quickly," Noble said.
"We need to be on our mettle and we certainly think we've got some better layers of our offence and defence in position now to maybe deal with that and give them a better run for their money."
Jy Simpkin and young guns Luke Davies-Uniacke and Tarryn Thomas will be crucial to North's chances of getting on top of a Bombers engine room led by prolific ball winners Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish.
Essendon have lost Kyle Langfored (hamstring) but regained captain Dyson Heppell after a week off following thumb surgery, while mid-season draftee Sam Durham is set to make his debut.
The 20-year-old impressed in Richmond's VFL side this year and will play across half-back and on a wing.
"He's a really athletic, versatile player," Essendon coach Ben Rutten said.
"He'll be really good around the ball, he's got great balance, uses the ball well and pressures the ball carrier well.
"I think he's going to be a long-term player for our footy club and it's great for him to get a chance this week."