AT the moment it's no Ben Cunnington, no North Melbourne.
The importance of the Princetown export, who played for both Warrnambool and District league club Timboon Demons and Hampden outfit Cobden, cannot be understated.
Cunnington is now back training with the Arden Street-based club after completing treatment for a testicular cancer but there's no time frame on his return to AFL action.
With what he's been through, footy is put in perspective as not so important in the grand scheme of life.
The Kangaroos' midfield - packed with young talent on paper - misses his 26-odd disposals each week but his biggest influence might just be in what he brings structurally.
North Melbourne coach David Noble told The Standard in 2021 that Cunnington had become a master of "directing help".
Good stoppage craft is so dependent on having a general to steer traffic and that's exactly what the 30-year-old does.
So just how important is his presence? In North's four victories this past season, Cunnington was huge.
He gathered 27, 25, 28 and 37 disposals respectively and clocked up an incredible 33 clearances.
The quality of Cunnington's clearances in those games cannot be understated either.
His style of play - so reliant on high-quality handpassing - is to find a runner in more space so teammates can break away from opposition and hit a target on the lead and get a clean shot at goal.
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His direct replacement in 2022 has been recruit Hugh Greenwood, who like Cunnington enjoys winning contested footy. But the major difference?
Greenwood is prone to just rushing the ball forward with a high, bomb kick in which intercept defenders relish.
So often the clearance will be attributed his way, but they just aren't of the same quality as Cunnington's as more are resulting in turnovers.
That's why Ben Cunnington is still arguably the most important part of the Kangaroos' rebuild.
Two-time premiership player David King often says key forward Nick Larkey is a key pillar and while he's important, Cunnington's experience and guidance cannot be replaced.
Kangaroos captain Jack Ziebell said it was a priority for Cunnington to enjoy life and there was no pressure from a club perspective to return to the field.
"The priority for him is just to enjoy life, be healthy and spend some time with his three beautiful kids. He's missed that probably for the last few months over Christmas," Ziebell said earlier in the season.
"Hopefully we can see him in the last few months at the back end of the year but there's absolutely no pressure from the club's point of view, or from myself as a friend or a teammate. We just want to make sure he's healthy and happy.
"He's finished his treatment block and thankfully he's starting to feel himself again."
You'd imagine Cunnington - when ready - will be welcomed back to the field with open arms in 2022. The Roos need his class.
The club has attracted scrutiny in recent weeks after lacklustre performances and has just one win - against a COVID-19 depleted West Coast - to its name this season.
There are questions swirling about the potential for a priority pick after just eight wins from 45 games.
They've suffered defeats by 60, 68, and 108 points and things aren't looking overly promising ahead of a bout with Carlton on Saturday night.
What lies ahead is uncertain except Cunnington's return - whenever it may be - will make North Melbourne a better side immediately.
And on the field that's what the blue and white absolutely need.
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