North Melbourne midfielder Ben Cunnington will miss their opening practice match against St Kilda on Thursday under the AFL’s new stringent concussion protocol.
The Kangaroos had hoped the veteran could line up against the Saints in their first hit-out under new coach David Noble, but he was diagnosed with concussion after copping an elbow to his head during an intra-club match on February 12.
Under the AFL’s concussion guidelines, “the earliest that an AFL or AFLW player can return to play after a concussion is on the 12th day after the day on which the concussion was suffered” with the league adding in their protocols that in some instances a longer period of recovery and rehabilitation will be needed.
While Cunnington is outside the required 12 days introduced by the AFL, Noble said he wasn’t ready to play in the Arden St clash.
“He won’t be out there. We’re on that new protocol from the AFL so it’s a lot more complicated than what it was previously,” Noble said on Wednesday.
“There’s a few more avenues that we need to go through to get guys to play again so we’re one of the first players to experience that.
“We just need to take our time with getting Ben through that.”
Cunnington played just three games last season because of a back issue but Noble said that the 29-year-old was otherwise in great shape and would be available to take on Hawthorn in Launceston in the AAMI Community Series on March 6.
With no Cunnington and skipper Jack Ziebell in his new role across half-back, North will field a very young midfield against the Saints.
Noble said fans could expect to see some changes, both positional as teams adjust to a reduction of interchange rotations from 90 to 75, and also in the style that he wants the Kangaroos to play.
“We’ve said publicly that we want to attack and score, we want to kick goals,” Noble said.
“We’ve got players in different spots and we’ve got a different game style, and we’re playing against a pretty fair opponent that played finals last year, so it’s a really good test for us to see the elements of our game that we’ve tried to put in in a condensed pre-season.
“From what we’ve reviewed our style is different and we’re hoping we can start to evolve that game against some quality opposition.”