Historically speaking, teams in the initial 'development' phase of a long-term quest for AFL premiership glory tend to drop off the longer a home-and-away season drags on.
It's not so for North Melbourne, who are bucking the trend this season under first-year coach David Noble.
The Kangaroos have snared two wins and a draw from six matches since the bye and are edging closer to their goal of climbing off the bottom of the ladder, playing a far more competitive brand of football than they displayed early in the campaign.
"We've maintained our internal process in continuing to chase incremental improvements and go hard after those," Noble said ahead of Saturday's meeting with Geelong in Hobart.
"We've celebrated those as we've seen them and they've continued to escalate over the last five or six weeks particularly.
"Post the bye we did a lot of education in regards to our game plan and how we wanted guys to play.
"To the players' credit, they've been full of energy and a willingness and a want to continue to improve."
Noble said North are "bullish" about continuing their improvement over the final month of the season.
But the task gets tougher when they take on the high-flying Cats at Blundstone Arena, before finishing the season against Richmond, Sydney and Adelaide.
"Geelong are a hardened team, they play a great brand of footy and they've played in finals for a long period of time," Noble said.
"They're a hard nut to crack and we'll certainly need to bring our best with the way that we want to play.
"They're not going to let the game go onto our terms very easily.
"We put up not a bad fight last time when we played them down there (in Geelong) and we think we've advanced our game in a few areas since that time."
North will be without Ben Cunnington indefinitely after the experienced midfielder had surgery to remove a testicular tumour this week, while Tarryn Thomas (concussion) and Cameron Zurhaar (shoulder) are sidelined for at least one match.
Jack Mahony (shoulder) and Robbie Tarrant (adductor) return from injuries alongside youngster Eddie Ford.
Geelong have recalled Shaun Higgins for his 250th AFL game against one of his former clubs after a knee issue kept him out last week.
The Cats have lost Lachie Henderson and Gryan Miers to injury but will start hot favourites to extend their winning streak to five matches despite never having played in Hobart.
It will be the Kangaroos' fifth game at their second home this season after missing out last year because of COVID-19 issues.
"The last month or so (North Melbourne) have been well and truly in the top half of the ladder on a lot of key indicators and they know the ground down there at Hobart well," Cats coach Chris Scott said.
"Their self-talk is that they play well there and I think they've got enough evidence to support that assertion.
"They've got some players back over the second half of the year, which obviously makes a difference, so they're going to be a challenge."
Australian Associated Press