AFL pundits have been left surprised by North Melbourne’s decision to drop No. 1 pick Jason Horne Francis for Saturday’s clash against the Crows in Adelaide.
The Kangaroos have named three inclusions for the match against Adelaide, with star veteran Ben Cunnington to make his highly-anticipated AFL return after beating cancer. Cunnington is joined on the side by key defender Ben McKay and father-son draftee Jackson Archer.
But the Roos also made a statement with their exclusions, dropping Horne-Francis, recruit Hugh Greenwood and key defender Josh Walker, while Flynn Perez was the club’s unused medical sub against Sydney last Sunday.
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Horne-Francis also wasn’t named in the emergencies, which is made up of Walker, Greenwood Atu Bosenavulagi and Josh Goater.
The 2021 No. 1 draft pick played in 12 of North’s first 13 games this season before copping a two-match suspension and returning via the VFL. But in his past four AFL games, Horne-Francis has kicked one goal and averaged 14.3 disposals.
Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 Plus on Thursday night, St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt thought the call to drop Horne-Francis was “strange”.
“There’s two games to go in the year, I would think you’re trying to get games into these guys to expose them as much as you possibly can, give a potential coach like Alastair Clarkson a look at the young players and the game’s in Adelaide – that’s where all his family and friends (are). He was desperate to get back there earlier in the year, which created some issue,” Riewoldt told Fox Footy.
Dual premiership Kangaroo David King was also surprised by the decision.
“Why would you drop Horne-Francis? He’s going back to Adelaide to play in front of family and friends, why wouldn’t you give him that opportunity? I don’t understand that,” King told SEN.
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“Just put him there in front of his friends and family because he’ll want to perform.”
Brownlow Medalist Gerard Healy told 3AW’s sports day that Horne-Francis’ non-selection for the Crows game was “a bookend to a pretty disappointing season”.
As well as reports Horne-Francis flew home to South Australia without the club’s awareness earlier this season, he also copped criticism for liking a ‘fake trade’ post on social media that involved him heading to Port Adelaide, while an on-field interaction with club great Todd Goldstein was also picked apart by footy commentators.
There’s also been speculation around Horne-Francis’ future and talk he could return to South Australia after putting off contract talks with the Kangaroos on a new deal beyond 2023.
While dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna thought it was an “unusual” selection move, he told AFL 360 Plus “tough love can hold you in better stead in the long term”.
“I think that’s the general consensus, ‘why not just play them’, but we’ve seen with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan sometimes some tough love in the short-term can actually hold players in better stead in the long-term,” Montagna told Fox Footy.
“Maybe there are still elements in his game that we don’t know about that he’s working on or he’s not buying into some goals that they want.”