BEN Cunnington has starred for an undermanned North Melbourne who have staged a classic second-half fightback to overrun St Kilda in a stirring two-point win.
The Kangaroos were three men down before halftime on Sunday afternoon at an empty Marvel Stadium after losing Jack Ziebell (knee), Paul Ahern (hamstring) and Josh Walker (concussion) to injury.
They trailed by 29 points at the main break before tough midfielder Cunnington led the turnaround in the third quarter.
North piled on the next five goals and took the lead early in a see-sawing final term before debutant Max King put the Saints back in front.
But Cunnington bobbed up in unfamiliar territory deep in attack to claim a clever contested mark and kick the final goal of the match to give the Kangaroos an 8.8 (56) to 7.12 (54) win.
St Kilda still had chances to pinch it at the death, but Rowan Marshall missed a late set shot and Roos defender Jamie Macmillan laid a brilliant diving smother on Paddy Ryder in the defensive goal square.
Cunnington finished with 25 disposals, six clearances and two goals and had plenty of support from Shaun Higgins, Jye Simpkin and Todd Goldtein, who was superb in the ruck opposed to Saints twin towers Marshall and Ryder.
The revamped St Kilda line-up featured all five recruits from last October’s boom trade period and another three existing senior players who didn’t manage more than five games last year.
It clicked early, with the Saints piling on six goals to two before halftime.
King kicked an early goal and finished with two as trade acquisitions Brad Hill and Zak Jones helped to steer the Saints into a strong position.
Dan Hannebery and Jack Steele were also strong contributors.
North’s Jasper Pittard will face scrutiny on Monday from the match review officer for appearing to trip Dan Butler by sticking out his right leg during the second quarter.
In a dirty few minutes, Pittard gave away a 50m penalty by shoving Jack Lonie to the ground off the ball, handing Ryder an easy goal from point-blank range.
Majak Daw was a late withdrawal pre-match through illness, meaning the North Melbourne defender’s remarkable comeback was put on hold for at least another week.
The 29-year-old had been selected to make his first AFL appearance since 2018, after suffering serious hip and pelvic injuries in a fall from the Bolte Bridge.
He was replaced in the team by Tom Murphy.
© AAP 2020
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.1 2.2 6.7 8.8 (56)
ST KILDA 3.3 6.7 6.11 7.12 (54)
Goals: North Melbourne: B Cunnington 2 A Hall B Brown C Taylor J Simpkin N Larkey T Goldstein. St Kilda: J Billings 2 M King 2 J Steele P Ryder T Membrey.
Umpires: Ray Chamberlain, Andrew Stephens, Nick Brown.
Venue: Marvel Stadium.