AFL preview series: Essendon Bombers – 8th

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    Okay. So we’ve left the stragglers for dead in this AFL 2018 preview series, and now we’re getting into the serious stuff.

    The bottom ten are behind us. The top eight are in front. Any one of the teams left could finish top four this season, and quite easily at that.

    Essendon were the biggest mystery heading into 2017, for obvious reasons. Their 2016 season had been skewered by ASADA, and we didn’t know how the returning players would go, or how long it would take for the old and the new to gel together.

    The Bombers proved to be a high octane side – high risk, high reward, arguably the most watchable team when on song. They ranked third in points for, but 12th in points against, a combination that told us everything we need to know about their attacking bent.

    Can they find more balance this season, to rise up the ladder?

    B: Martin Gleeson Michael Hartley Mark Baguley
    HB: Connor McKenna Michael Hurley Adam Saad
    C: David Zaharakis Zach Merrett Brendon Goddard
    HF: Jake Stringer Joe Daniher Devon Smith
    F: Orazio Fantasia Cale Hooker Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
    Foll: Tom Bellchambers Dyson Heppell Andrew McGrath
    Int: James Stewart Darcy Parish Travis Colyer Josh Green
    Em: David Myers Patrick Ambrose Matthew Leuenberger

    Essendon were renowned for their sizzling ball movement last year, something which is hardly going to slow down with the addition of Adam Saad to go with Connor McKenna out of the back half, Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti up forward, and Travis Colyer floating around too.

    The backline has a potent mix of lock-down and attack.

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    Michael Hartley takes the big jobs, and Martin Gleeson the small. McKenna and Saad will cause headaches breaking the lines. Yes, they’ll run themselves into trouble from time to time, but it will be exciting to watch. Michael Hurley is the gun that holds it all together, equally comfortable defending or setting up the counter.

    They could perhaps become even more attacking though, if they want to double down on their strengths. Does someone like Mark Baguley come under pressure from an extra runner like David Myers or an interceptor like Matt Dea?

    The midfield itself looks to lack a little dynamism, but the mooted move of Andrew McGrath through there should add a spark. The arguments over whether the Bombers really deserved the number one pick in the 2016 draft will no doubt continue.

    David Zaharakis is a nice player but nothing more. Dyson Heppell is a solid player, but does not belong in the upper echelon as some would have you believe. Neither of these two are match-winners, but not everyone can be.

    Zach Merrett is well on the way to becoming one of the best players in the AFL, and in truth is already there as an All-Australian last year. He’ll shoulder a big load again, and could do with taking more risks. Brendon Goddard will continue to provide good service.

    David Zaharakis Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    Devon Smith is sure to add to the midfield mix, and has been crying out for more opportunity through the guts. He does everything well, and knows where the goals are too. We can expect 25 touches and a goal a game from him, as well as being a physical presence inside the contest. His pressure should also be a key factor in helping out the Bombers defence. Durability is his weakness.

    The Dons forward-line caused big problems for opposition sides last year, and will again. What a beautiful blend they have up there.

    Joe Daniher is a top ten player in the AFL and climbing (literally, when it comes to the shoulders of backmen). Watch him go to another level (again, quite literally when he takes his hangers).

    Cale Hooker has been a remarkable forward given what a gun defender he was, and he gives the Bombers great flexibility as one of the top two swingmen in the competition. James Stewart was a handy surprise packet in the second half of last year, and should be better for the experience.

    With Fantasia, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Colyer and Josh Green nipping around the heels, it doesn’t matter whether the ball comes in high or low to the forward-line – Essendon are set.

    And then we get to Jake Stringer. Is he the missing link that can take the Dons to the next level, if he can get back to his 2015 form? For him, it’s all attitudinal. The talk is of him playing midfield-forward as opposed to a forward pinch-hitting in the middle, and this will hopefully bring out his aggressive best.

    There’s nothing worse than a physical bull that plays like a squib, and too often Stringer does. When he chooses to attack the ball with gusto and accelerate through it, opponents bounce off him like ten pins. Instead, we see him flirting around the edges, letting others make the play.

    Outside of their best 22, Essendon probably has more jobbers than any other team in the league. Think of Myers, Dea, Patrick Ambrose, Matthew Leuenberger, Kyle Langford, Mitch Brown and Jackson Merrett. This is no bad thing, because any one of them can come in and fill a hole. They don’t want too many of them in the same side though.

    Essendon have been handed a fixture that gives them a chance. If they can get to Round 11 with a 6-5 record, which is eminently achievable, they then face Brisbane, West Coast, North, Collingwood, Gold Coast, Fremantle – this is a run of games just begging to be swept through at least 5-1, and their top four assault can take place from there.

    Can we trust the Bombers to take care of business though? This is a team that lost to Carlton, Fremantle and Brisbane last year, and unforgivably threw away a game to Sydney after leading by 12 points with 1:25 left on the clock. They also led by six points with 35 seconds to go, and didn’t just draw, but lost the match. They must learn to put those sort of games to bed.

    Whatever happens with the Dons this year, it’s sure to be entertaining. I’d watch.

    Prediction – eighth

    Cam Rose’s AFL ladder prediction
    Eighth: Essendon Bombers
    Ninth: Hawthorn Hawks
    10th: Collingwood Magpies
    11th: Western Bulldogs
    12th: St Kilda Saints
    13th: West Coast Eagles
    14th: North Melbourne Kangaroos
    15th: Fremantle Dockers
    16th: Brisbane Lions
    17th: Carlton Blues
    18th: Gold Coast Suns

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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    The Crowd Says (132)

    • March 8th 2018 @ 7:20am
      JustAnotherVoiceOnTheInternet said | March 8th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      You’ve got to be kidding me. I originally had the Bombers higher – top 4 higher, but after placing the Eagles in 13th it felt hypocritical to turn around and pump up the Don’s. For I see huge similarities between the two sides, albeit with Essendon a better model.

      It’s been said time and time again, but for me it’s all about that midfield. The rest of the side is great, but the mids don’t inspire much confidence, and other top sides will bully them into submission.

      But like you said, it really feels like those in the top 8 could finish in any order, and I predict there will be barely anything separating them come the end of the season.

      My predictions:

      8th: Essendon
      9th: Hawthorn
      10. Collingwood
      11. Western Bulldogs
      12. St Kilda
      13. West Coast
      14. Fremantle
      15. Brisbane
      16. Carlton
      17. North Melbourne
      18. Gold Coast

      Ps: These are honestly my predictions, I have absolutely zero to gain as some random on the internet by copying you, at this stage it is quite intriguing though.

      • Columnist

        March 8th 2018 @ 2:40pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

        Hehehe.

        I would like to have had them higher given I feel they will improve on last year, but I guess I just think others around them will improve more.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 8th 2018 @ 7:41am
      Simon Brown said | March 8th 2018 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      Completely agree with your list so far Cam!

      • Columnist

        March 8th 2018 @ 2:41pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

        And I’m sure you will for every day that Port doesn’t appear!

    • March 8th 2018 @ 7:44am
      1DER said | March 8th 2018 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Cam, solid analysis.
      The Bombers would be the most likely of the eight teams to miss the finals. Big job for Worsfold and the coaching staff to build on the contested side as they are coming from a long way back in the field in that department.
      The midfield structure will be crucial to above as I don’t think they have the personnel and are missing that big bodied midfielder now the Watson has retired. Would appear that the midfield rotation group will all be required to build to the 10 -12 contested possession mark. No one is capable of Martin, Dangerfield type level in the contested area.

      The goup certainly has the depth, age component and experience makeup to surprise.

      • Columnist

        March 8th 2018 @ 2:43pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

        Thanks, and yeah, I agree with your first line, I feel others are a bit more solid, but they could easily surprise.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 8th 2018 @ 8:09am
      Mattician6x6 said | March 8th 2018 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Pretty spot in cam, for me essendon could easily make top four but also may only scrape into 8 they’re very difficult to predict.
      Love the brand Woosha has them playing and when up and going last year I don’t think there was a more exciting team to watch.
      A lack of injuries is key as they don’t have much going on in past the best 25 but a nice amount of games at etihad will see them play finals.

      • Columnist

        March 8th 2018 @ 2:44pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:44pm | ! Report

        All very fair. They are basically unstoppable when it’s played on their terms, but can they grind it out against good sides when it’s not?

    • March 8th 2018 @ 8:21am
      I ate pies said | March 8th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      They could have pulled their socks up for the photo…Essendon won’t make the eight. They’re too pretty and not hard enough. Plus, their midfield isn’t good enough. I’d expect them to finish around 10th.

      • Columnist

        March 8th 2018 @ 2:45pm
        Cameron Rose said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

        I can see that as a criticism, but they made the finals last year…

    • March 8th 2018 @ 8:40am
      Ditto said | March 8th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Their run and carry gamestyle is not going to match up against the top teams. They have no play makers in their midfield so they can’t set up a reliable system, every game becomes a roll of the dice, which is why they lose to bottom clubs, it’s almost the perfect recipe to finish in the middle. Now they’ve added a bloke with blinkers on and expecting him to be a team player. Pegged 9th. Range 8 to 12.

      • March 8th 2018 @ 9:10am
        truetigerfan said | March 8th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        Absolutely nailed it, Ditto!

      • Roar Guru

        March 8th 2018 @ 9:43am
        JamesH said | March 8th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

        People keep making these sorts of claims, and yet the Bombers matched up pretty well against the top sides last year. They cut up Geelong and Port, should have beaten Sydney (in Sydney) and pushed Richmond and GWS (again, in Sydney) deep into the last term. The only top side they couldn’t go with either time they played them was Adelaide, because their precise ball use didn’t allow Essendon to play their rebounding game. The final against Sydney was a tough lesson in what it takes to play September footy.

        Cam, I think your overall ranking for Essendon is fair enough but you’ve severely underrated Heppell. He was an All Australian before the supplements saga hit and did ok last season for a first year captain who had been out of the game 12 months. It’s a brave person who would bet against him stepping up this year. At 25, his best 3-5 years of footy should be ahead of him.

        Myers and Langford are question marks – they both have talent but one has had a horror run with injuries while the other needs a big injection of confidence. Either of them could come in for Josh Green, who I like, but probably won’t get much game time now that Smith and Stringer are on board. That, or they could play Begley, Mutch, Laverde, Ridley or another youngster. If Francis ever gets his head in the right space it will be an absolute bonus.

        • March 8th 2018 @ 10:05am
          I ate pies said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          Port weren’t a top side last year; they didn’t beat anyone in the 8. The only team of note that they beat was Geelong. They lost to the rest of them.

        • March 8th 2018 @ 10:30am
          truetigerfan said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

          Blinkers on, James? Essendon ‘pushed Richmond’. Essendon were the most inept team I’d seen last season on watching that game! Only Richmond’s poor finishing made the scoreline so ‘close’. As soft a win as you’d ever see.

          • March 8th 2018 @ 11:12am
            Aflisagoodgame said | March 8th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            Dons are top 4 side. No logic behind it but makes sense. This year I predict is the year when sides with weak midfields and amazing forward lines do well.(Dons,Eagles) Hopefully woosha can win a premiership at dons then come back home to the dockers or eagles. He’d turn freo into a top 4 side.

          • Roar Guru

            March 8th 2018 @ 2:04pm
            JamesH said | March 8th 2018 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

            Lol, if you want to see blinkers, look in the mirror TTT.

        • March 8th 2018 @ 11:29am
          DeanM said | March 8th 2018 @ 11:29am | ! Report

          First thing Heppell needs is a haircut if he wants to get better, 2kg of shiitlocks hanging off his head doesnt help him.

      • March 8th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Harsh Truth Harry said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        No playmakers?????? Blimey bloke grade 3 mustve been the best ten years of your life! two name says it all. Heppell and Merrett – not only playmakers but by the end of this year will clearly be top ten players in the AFL. This is a beautifully balanced side now ready to strike and Stringer, under Woosha will become the next Dusty Martin.

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