But the Kangaroos absorbed the onslaught, settled and proceeded to dominate play. On the back of some strong clearance work, repeat inside-50s and contested ball dominance, North hit back hard to boot nine of the next 12 goals, including three to Ben Brown, to open up a 15-point lead late in the third quarter. Brown would end up with a game-high four majors to play a pivotal role in their comeback and soundly defeat in-form Hawthorn defender James Frawley.
To their credit, the Hawks kept coming, and were still in the game late, but three behinds in a row to them followed by a goal to North Melbourne skipper Jack Ziebell iced the game.
The 12.14 (86) to 9.10 (64) result saw the Kangaroos draw level with the Hawks on eight wins for the year, but both sides have a huge fight on their hands to feature in September now given the likelihood that they will be two games outside the top eight with just three games left. However, where there’s life, there’s hope and it was a fitting result for North who used the game to celebrate their 150-year anniversary.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, they weren’t able to cap off veteran Shaun Burgoyne’s big night in appropriate style as he became the all-time Indigenous games record-holder with 373 games – surpassing Sydney champion Adam Goodes.
Early in the third quarter, Brown assumed the role of rover and collected the crumbs from the pack before snapping spectacularly from 50 metres out off one step without even looking at the goal face. Only minutes earlier he flew high over James Sicily’s shoulders to take the mark of the night.
The heartwarming moment of the night occurred five minutes into the game when Birchall loaded up from 49 metres out directly in front to boot his first goal in three years, which coincidentally was also kicked against North Melbourne.
It’s been a long road back for Birchall and he was duly mobbed by teammates shortly afterwards in what was probably the most celebrated of his 34 career goals.
But unfortunately he ended the night on the bench with a hamstring injury.
Hawthorn small forward Paul Puopolo headed into the game on a six-game goalless run – his worst drought since his debut 2011 season. But opportunity finally knocked for him in the opening seconds of the second quarter and he made no mistake as he pounced on the loose ball and soccered through a textbook crumber’s goal from the goal square in front of Marley Williams to put the Hawks up by 26 points.
NORTH MELBOURNE 1.2 5.6 9.11 12.14 (86)
HAWTHORN 4.4 6.5 8.7 9.10 (64)
GOALS North Melbourne: Brown 4, Ziebell 3, Wood 2, Higgins 2, Zurhaar.
Hawthorn: Lewis 3, Gunston 2, Birchall, Breust, Puopolo, O’Brien.
BEST North Melbourne: Brown, Higgins, Ziebell, Cunnington, Ahern, Pittard, Goldstein.
Hawthorn: Worpel, Lewis, Wingard, O’Meara, Gunston, Burgoyne, Shiels.
INJURIES Hawthorn: Birchall (hamstring).
UMPIRES Ryan, Hosking, Deboy.
CROWD 33,226 at Marvel Stadium.