The Rise of Luke Davies-Uniacke

In a season of great difficulty, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for North Melbourne and Luke Davies-Uniacke is at the forefront of positive change.

Forget the detractors seeking to downplay the highly emotional second win of the season for the Kangaroos against Richmond, this was a superb result for a playing group that has worked its way to producing decent footy over the last fortnight.

And while the club has been under immense pressure for months, including the recent dismissal of David Noble shaking things up, Davies-Uniacke has emerged from a solid midfielder with potential, to a top-tier player in the position across the entire competition.

Results haven’t been forthcoming until this week, but it shouldn’t mean the 23-year-old’s exploits are ignored or overlooked due to team performance.

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Luke Davies-Uniacke's Immediate Impact

It has always felt as though Davies-Uniacke has been overlooked because of the club he is at.

In the same draft he was taken with the fourth pick in, there’s Brownlow contender Andrew Brayshaw, as well as Aaron Naughton, Sam Taylor, Zac Bailey, Noah Balta, Charlie Ballard and Adam Cerra.

Plus, the likes of Cam Rayner, Paddy Dow, Jaidyn Stephenson and Darcy Fogarty have had their ups and downs, as well as their fair share of headlines.

Davies-Uniacke was arguably the most unique midfield prospect in the draft and had a chance of being the best pick, with his combination of acceleration, contested ball winning and kicking matching his height and power to form a formidable player.

Yet as was the case throughout his junior career, Davies-Uniacke’s first few seasons were restricted by injury, which meant he flew under the radar.

Playing just 30 games in the first three seasons at North Melbourne, with a 10-20 record, the midfielder played over 70% game time in only 14 games and was very much eased into senior footy.

There were early signs though – in his ninth game, Davies-Uniacke had 26 disposals, 15 contested possessions and 2 goal assists against a resurgent Brisbane team. He posted similar numbers against eventual premiers Richmond just a month later too, but overall, it was an uninspiring start to his career.

In a league where midfielders have quickly become taller and stronger, Davies-Uniacke clearly fit the mould of an AFL player, but given his lack of exposure to senior footy, he couldn’t showcase his talents and subsequently got lost in all conversations.

Still, with a 45% contested possession rate in 2019 and 2020, as well as rating well above average for his kicking, the signs were there.

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Luke Davies-Uniacke 2022 Stats

Davies-Uniacke became a rock-solid midfielder in 2021, despite starting the season as a third midfielder in the centre rotation for a team finishing dead last in the competition.

The second half of 2021 saw more responsibility handed to LDU, a show of faith in his body more than anything to become a reliable contributor to the team.

Post-bye in 2021, Davies-Uniacke averaged 23.5 disposals, 5.7 clearances and 5 marks, which included an impressive 38-disposal effort against the Tigers.

Clearly, with more trust in his body, the development of the fifth-year midfielder focused on improving his endurance – both in the ability to run out games but also, cover more ground and occupy different spaces than ever before.

If it weren’t for an injury early in North's Round 2 win over West Coast that significantly impacted his season averages, even with the way the Kangaroos have gone this season, more would be spoken of Davies-Uniacke.

Removing that game, his 2022 season averages from 15 games are 24.8 disposals, five clearances, five inside 50s, 4.8 tackles and 4.7 marks per game.

There are career-highs across the board for Davies-Uniacke, but a significant development in his breakout season from 2021 is the rise in his kicking efficiency to 67.3%, a mark above league average for inside midfielders. 

Averaging 2.4 rebound 50s and 3.1 intercept possessions also has him ranked above average, as does the 45% contested possession rate. While his last two seasons have seen him average 4.6 marks per game – he averaged 2.4 marks per game in his first three years.

Yet it has been the last two months of footy that has seen Davies-Uniacke enter the upper echelon of league midfielders, clearly taking over as North Melbourne’s main man.

Since the Round 9 game against Port Adelaide, Davies-Uniacke has averaged 26.7 disposals, 5.9 clearances, 5.6 inside 50s, 5.4 tackles and 5.3 marks per game.

This period of time also includes the extraordinary “quadruple-double game” LDU had against Collingwood – 33 disposals, 14 inside 50s, 12 clearances and 11 tackles, to go along with 791 metres gained and two goal assists.

Despite playing for the lowest scoring outfit in the AFL, Davies-Uniacke is ranked above average for score launches and borders the same tier for score involvements, proving just how valuable he is to North Melbourne, despite the team’s results.

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Luke Davis-Uniacke Projections

When a bad team wins a game against the odds, we should be full of praise for the way they play and the players themselves.

Davies-Uniacke played a different type of game in North Melbourne's win over Richmond, finishing with 28 disposals and seven marks but using his newfound endurance to spread from the contest and be a target further on the outside. It dragged Richmond’s focus on him away from clearance situations and allowed Jy Simpkin to thrive.

Having a player with the ability to play multiple roles in the midfield is super valuable to a club, and Davies-Uniacke’s commitment to improving means that he has elevated the floor of his own game to be, at worst, an important part of midfield rotation.

The flipside to that is that we’re talking about a former fourth pick who has only just started completing full preseasons and has just turned 23, barely scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.

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As discussed, Davies-Uniacke already possesses the unique skillset of being an above average contested ball winner and an above average user by foot. His clearance work is equally as effective, emerging with power or extracting to his teammates with ball in hand, while he can now station himself at the back of contests or on a wing and demand attention from there.

The big swing set will come when North Melbourne are more established as a playing group and have the depth to allow Davies-Uniacke to spend more time forward.

With his work ethic to push into defence and attract the ball deep on the ground, allowing him time in attack to use his overhead strength and long-range kicking will allow him to become a dangerous threat for every minute he’s on the ground.

If North Melbourne improves in the coming seasons, we could be looking at a player averaging 27 disposals, six clearances, five tackles and one goal per game game - a profile fits in extremely well with those who tend to win Brownlow Medals.

In the mean-time though, we must acknowledge and commend Luke Davies-Uniacke on his emergence into a star midfielder in the competition, despite the struggles around him.

There are no signs of this breakout season slowing down and it will hold North Melbourne in good stead going forward, by putting all their current chips into the Davies-Uniacke basket.

(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Dem Panopoulos

Dem is a lover of sport with a keen eye for analytics. A passion for statistics that defies logic given his MyCricket numbers, you can see and hear him share his thoughts and views on Twitter @dempanopoulos

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