THE most conspicuous absentee from North Melbourne's stirring win over Essendon yesterday, Jack Ziebell, has hailed the result as the club's most significant of the season.
Ziebell yesterday served the the final match of his contentious four-match suspension for rough contact. He said being sidelined did not diminish his excitement.
"I was ecstatic after the game for the boys, as I'm sure everyone else in the rooms was," Ziebell said this morning at the Kangaroos' recovery session at Williamstown Beach.
"With a couple of our boys (Leigh Adams and Daniel Wells) going down early on some of the guys had to take up a fair bit of workload and I think they did that really well. It was a bit of a gutsy win and showed a bit of character. The boys grew up a bit."
While veteran Brent Harvey shifted the momentum of the match with three goals in as many minutes in the third quarter, Ziebell said the Kangaroos were now better equipped to cope when their best players such as Harvey and Drew Petrie were shackled.
"I think this year it's been good the younger guys have been standing up, not leaving 'Boomer' (Harvey) or 'Drewy' (Petrie) or 'Wellsy' (Daniel Wells) or 'Spitter' (Andrew Swallow) to do all the work. The younger guys are standing up and really taking it upon themselves to share that workload.
"On the weekend, Drew might not have had his best game personally but the work he does off the ball doesn't go unnoticed by the coaches and the players as well. He doesn't have to have a great influence on the game for us to still win. That's a real positive to come out of the second half of this year."
North's next opponent, Collingwood, has been its biggest nemesis. Since 2009 the Magpies have won all four matches, by an average of 80 points. In the teams' last meeting, in round 16 last year, the Kangaroos were humiliated by 117 points.
Ziebell, whose recall has been guaranteed by coach Brad Scott, agreed his club had a point to prove against Collingwood on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium.
"Since I've been at the club, which has been about four years, we haven't beaten Collingwood," he said.
"Coming off a few wins and knowing we're in good form is a good confidence-builder coming into the game."
The Kangaroos are now in sixth position and hold a one-game buffer over Essendon in eighth and Fremantle in ninth. With matches against the Dockers and GWS to end their home-and-away season they are now, arguably for the first time this season, more likely than not to earn a finals berth. Ziebell predicted he and his teammates would not be daunted by their new favoured status.
Midfielder Ziebell also said his enforced month-long absence for clattering into Carlton's Aaron Joseph, which included a fortnight training about five hours a day at high altitude in Utah, had been a blessing in disguise for him.
"Obviously it was not a great result, missing a month of footy, but you've got to take the positives out of every situation. Going to Utah and getting some more exposure at altitude is probably not a bad thing for me.
Hopefully it's going to hold me in good stead for the rest of the season," he said.
"I'm feeling fresh as a daisy and jumping out of my skin to get out there (against Collingwood)."