North Melbourne survived a scare from Essendon before grinding out a dour 25-point win on Friday night.
Harassed by the Bombers in the first half, the Kangaroos struggled to find their rhythm, but kept working to come from behind and post the 14.9 (93) to 9.14 (68) win at Etihad Stadium.
North giant Todd Goldstein proved unstoppable in the ruck, with his 27 possessions and 55 hitouts pivotal to his side’s eighth win of the season.
Ben Brown finished with four goals but the Roos’ forward line didn’t function well in the absence of suspended full-forward Drew Petrie.
With Dyson Heppell quiet, Brent Stanton and Brendon Goddard worked hard for 30 and 27 touches respectively, while Michael Hurley did his All-Australian chances no harm with another polished display.
Beset by injuries to veterans – including Jobe Watson, Paul Chapman, Adam Cooney and Heath Hocking – the Bombers were again forced to field an inexperienced side.
Eleven of James Hird’s 22 players had played 40 games or fewer but what Essendon lacked in experience they made up for with work rate and intensity in the first half.
But they didn’t reward their hard work inside 50 in the first quarter and were left to rue missed opportunities after a bright patch from the Roos put them up by five points at the first break.
Undeterred, the Dons came out firing with the first three goals of a second term when it was the Kangaroos’ turn to struggle to find reliable avenues to goal.
A lacklustre North trailed by eight points when an all-in melee erupted as the players were leaving the field for halftime.
Perhaps it was the spark the Kangaroos needed because a horror Heppell turnover soon after the restart allowed Brown in for his second goal of the night as North put on a three-goal burst.
Brad Scott’s side looked to have the game in their keeping when they bounded away to a 26-point lead in the final term but were again made to scrap hard by Essendon, who sliced the margin to 13 points before Jack Ziebell kicked his third goal for the quarter to seal the result.