North Melbourne will bring extra heat to their clash with the Western Bulldogs after a week of commentary questioning the club’s place in the AFL’s Good Friday timeslot.
The Kangaroos have taken offence to suggestions they should be stripped of the marquee game, as they continue to struggle amid the biggest rebuild in the club’s history.
North led the push for years to play a match on the traditionally football-free Easter holiday and were finally rewarded by the AFL in 2017.
Captain Jack Ziebell says the chatter would give the players added motivation when they run out on Marvel Stadium against the red-hot Bulldogs, who have shot into premiership calculations.
“I’ll echo what our coach (David Noble) said and the fact that this is a marquee game and no other marquee games around the league are up for grabs,” Ziebell said.
“I think it’s important that we pioneered this game of footy on Good Friday and we’re rapt to be able to share it with the Western Bulldogs.
“We’d love to be able to build that rivalry going forward, knowing that the last few times we’ve played each other it’s been bloody close.
“It’s really important for us as a footy club that we maintain this game.”
North went through an “honest” review after going down to Gold Coast by 59 points last Saturday, leaving them bottom of the ladder after two heavy defeats.
It has already led to Noble, who will coach just his third AFL game, declaring No.3 draft pick Will Phillips will debut on the big stage.
The gritty midfielder will step out in AFL games record-holder Brent Harvey’s No.29 guernsey, which was previously retired when the Kangaroos legend called it quits in 2016.
“He’s been really impressive in the pre-season so it’s exciting he gets an opportunity,” Ziebell said.
“I know he was made to wait a couple of rounds, with some of his first-year mates (Tom Powell) Charlie Lazarro) debuting in round one.”
Ziebell has had a light week on the track after spraining his ankle against the Suns, but has declared himself right to play.
He will relish the return of grunt midfielder Ben Cunnington, with the veteran to make his first appearance for North since round five last year.
“You can tell he’s (Cunnington) bloody excited. Hasn’t stopped smiling all week and actually talked to a few people for a change,” Ziebell joked.
The Kangaroos lost Aidan Corr to a foot infection, while an adductor injury has sidelined Aidan Bonar.
The Bulldogs pulled a selection shock by axing forward Mitch Wallis, who was the club’s leading goalkicker last season but is yet to kick a major this year.
The Bulldogs welcome back captain Easton Wood and Jason Johannisen, who was an unused medical substitute last week.