Brown enjoying being focal point for Roos
BEN Brown had a clear plan on Sunday afternoon.
Stay deep, exploit an undersized Demons defence and help the Kangaroos secure an upset.
Given Melbourne's susceptibility to rival key forwards this year - the Dees had already conceded big bags to Nick Riewoldt, Tom Hawkins, Jack Riewoldt and Jarryd Roughead among others earlier in the season - it was a cunning plan from North Melbourne coach Brad Scott.
But it was also a plan that fully encapsulated the trust the club has in Brown - a player who has become one of the game's premier young forwards since his debut in 2014.
Now the focal point of a flexible and dangerous Kangaroos forward line following Drew Petrie's departure at the end of last year, Brown has continued to add impressive new strings to his bow.
All of which were evidenced in North Melbourne's 14-point victory over Melbourne on Sunday afternoon, where the 24-year-old kicked five goals from 13 disposals and six marks.
The haul, his second big bag this year after booting six majors in a victory over Gold Coast, took Brown to sixth in the race for the Coleman Medal - only behind established names like Jeremy Cameron, Josh Kennedy, Eddie Betts, Lance Franklin and Tom Hawkins.
It's credit to a player who has flourished in a leadership position in the wake of the club's drastic list overhaul last year - and who has given the Roos an imposing forward target.
Brown's most significant and noticeable improvement throughout the first nine games has come in terms of his one-on-one work inside 50. On Sunday, he was able to overpower a number of young Melbourne defenders, but that should not have come as a surprise.
While he won only 18 of 50 one-on-one contests last year, Champion Data notes he has improved that record to 14-8 this season - inside the top 25 per cent of all key forwards.
Furthermore, Champion Data statistics reveal North Melbourne retains the ball 59 per cent of the time when targeting Brown - an important feature of his game, considering he has been targeted exactly 100 times inside 50 this year, the second most of any player in the league.
Such a marked improvement has further enhanced the reputation of a player overlooked in three consecutive national drafts and someone who earned his way on an AFL list at the age of 21 through hard work at VFL level with Werribee.
His consistent development has also enabled him to become the main man inside North Melbourne's forward line, taking on the role held by Petrie for so long.
"We've all done our jobs," Brown told foxfooty.com.au.
"It's probably meant that I've had to play a little bit deeper and be a target a little bit more.
"But Jarrad Waite's been out of the side for the majority of the year, Mason Wood has been in and out as well, so once we've got those guys there it'll take a little bit of the weight off me.
"We have guys like Taylor Garner as well - he's a ripping mark of the footy - so it means I don't always have to always fly, which is nice."
Being the main man is nothing new to Brown, though.
In his final season with Werribee, he kicked 28 goals from 18 games and combined his output on the scoreboard with an ability to rotate through the ruck all season.
His 39 contested marks were the second most taken in the VFL in that campaign and led to a push from then-Werribee coach Scott West to have him drafted onto the senior list.
Now, surrounded by a better quality of teammate at the Kangaroos, it's no surprise to see the young forward leap from strength to strength across his first 64 senior games.
On Sunday, for the first time this season, North Melbourne was able to trial a forward line consisting of Brown, Waite, Wood and Garner in the same game.
And the benefit of such a dangerous unit was clear to see.
Although Waite - the most senior of the group - was held goalless, his presence enabled the others to shine, with Brown, Wood and Garner combining for 10 goals between them.
"It doesn't matter what Jarrad does on game day as far as scoreboard output, it's his defensive pressure and him bringing it to ground that matters," Brown said.
"When he does get the opportunity, he finishes off well, so it's good to have him back in the side."
For the Kangaroos, Sunday's victory was reward for effort.
Having endured narrow losses to Geelong, the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle in recent weeks, another close match appeared to be slipping from their grasp.
But thanks to Brown's heroics - he kicked two in an impressive first quarter and three more in a third term where North Melbourne re-established its dominance - the Kangaroos held firm.
Now 3-6 on the season, Scott's outfit has kept fears over its demise at arm's length.
"The way we shut it down in the last few minutes and managed to come away with a solid win, it's really satisfying for us," Brown said.
"We've obviously had a few difficulties down the stretch in the past, so it was good to get over the line and get the win.
"We've shown patches this year of really good, solid football and that we can match it with anyone.
"But we haven't managed to put it together for four quarters and we've probably shot ourselves in the foot towards the end of some last quarters.
"To get a win on Sunday that was really solid, we're really happy with it."