Essendon are nothing more than a pretender

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    Essendon were pathetic on Sunday against a Western Bulldogs outfit that had looked barely VFL level over the first two rounds.

    The standard of football being played in the early rounds is high, which only emphasizes the ineptness of teams not up to the mark.

    The heat must now be on the Bombers.

    Their win against an understrength and underdone Adelaide in Round 1 had merit enough given they lost Zach Merrett to a concussion in the first term, even if they were outplayed for three quarters.

    But Essendon’s performances since, against Fremantle and the Dogs, have been inadequate at best and deplorable at worst, especially for a club that considers themselves a finals lock and genuine top four contender. That’s the stuff of dreams right now.

    The Bombers have won three individual quarters across the first three rounds, and only one in the last two weeks against a couple of sides that are unlikely to feature in September.

    Essendon’s problem is they’re not covering the ground, which was most evident as the Dogs were running rings around them on the outside. This is either through desire, fitness, system, or a combination of all three.

    Desire is player driven, and is unacceptable, especially at a club that has not won a final since 2004. The Bomber train has been stopping all stations on the way to mediocrity for 14 years.

    Fitness and system are coaching issues. It’s hard to believe aerobic fitness could be an issue at AFL level for any club in this day and age.

    As for coaching, John Worsfold has just last week signed a contract extension until the end of 2020, following the current league trend of tying up coaches no-one is chasing. Club hierarchy is obviously convinced there is no flaw there.

    John Worsfold

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    The Dons conceded 101 more uncontested possessions against the Bulldogs, the second worst of any team this year. They conceded 140 uncontested marks, the worst this season by a long way when conceding 100 is considered poor.

    Essendon also allowed Fremantle to do as they liked on the outside, as the Dockers kicked and marked their way to victory largely untroubled in the second half, save for a few late goals when the game was over.

    The Bombers only laid 43 tackles, the second least behind only the Bulldogs themselves in their limp Round 2 performance.

    Only four forward 50 tackles was also the second lowest recorded this year. The league average per team per game is 9.5. The Dons rank 16th.

    Interestingly, the bottom four in this stat, the Dogs, Dons, Saints and Cats, have won only one game apiece, and three of them have already been in the media gun for repulsive showings.

    Also worth noting is that the last three pairs of grand finalists all ranked top five for inside 50 tackles in the years they played off for the flag. We have also visually seen the game trending the way of pressure in the forward half.

    But don’t worry, as written previously Worsfold’s contract has been extended. He obviously knows what he’s doing, despite concerns about him being out of touch with the modern game even in his later years at West Coast.

    The losses to Freo and the Dogs looked a respectable enough 16 and 21 points on the scoreboard, but on each occasion, the Dons were down by 33 points in the last term, which is a fairer reflection.

    They had best not be thinking they are closer than they are. The internal reviews should be savage.

    Looking at who needs to lift, our eyes should go straight to Essendon’s two best players, Joe Daniher and Zach Merrett. It was no coincidence that these two kicked three goals between them in quick time in the third quarter to get the Bombers back in the match.

    Daniher took a big step forward last year and was expected to make a bigger leap in 2018. His stats through three games look just okay on paper, but his impact has been negligible.

    He’s shown his best in patches only, and small ones at that.

    Daniher is 24 years old and has played almost 100 games. The time for inconsistency is over. If he wants to take Lance Franklin’s mantle as the league’s best forward, he should learn from his Sydney counterpart.

    Joe Daniher Essendon Bombers AFL 2017

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Buddy has the spectacular covered, we all know that, but it has been his ultra-consistency that has truly set him apart as the best forward in the competition for over a decade.

    Merrett is by far the most damaging outside player at the Bombers and is at his best either breaking lines with speed or breaking up defences with pinpoint passing.

    Disregarding Round 1 when he was forced out of the game with a concussion, Merrett has had uncontested possession counts of nine against Fremantle and eight against the Bulldogs.

    The last time he failed to reach double figures was Round 14 of 2015, which is 50 games ago for him. Across 2016-17 he averaged 20 uncontested possessions a game.

    Taggers aren’t dead, but they are only targeted towards players they can beat. Merrett is currently one of them, and it is costing his team dearly. If he can’t find a way through, with or without the help of teammates, Essendon won’t play finals. You can take that to the bank.

    The AFL wheel turns quickly.

    A fortnight ago, the Bombers had just beaten a 2017 grand finalist, which appeared to solidify predictions and expectations of a 2018 finals berth.

    After Round 3, they’re 13th on the ladder at 1-2, having lost to teams that aren’t currently in the eight, and may not appear there all season. Not only that, they’ve lost both games in the same way, which better teams are even more highly equipped to exploit.

    Essendon’s stars are out of form. The coach is unimaginative and behind the times. The team is shaping up as a pretender.

    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 (123)

    • April 10th 2018 @ 7:13am
      I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      Essendon are pretenders. They are a pack of show pony downhill skiers. I said that before the season, and was roundly critcised by Essendon fans, but I stand by that assessment. They just don’t have the grunt to be a contender.
      I’m bloody glad they took Jake ‘one quarter a game’ Stringer off our hands though.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2018 @ 9:37am
        JamesH said | April 10th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        Before the Stringer trade you were adamant he would stay and become a quality player again. Funny how your tune changed as soon as he left. If you watched the game you’d know he was comfortably one of Essendon’s best (not hard, admittedly) and played an excellent first half, with his third quarter ruined by an eye injury.

        As for this article, I’m not surprised it’s Essendon’s turn for a hit piece. If you play like they did on Sunday then you’re going to cop criticism and rightly so. But let’s be honest – no one but the most rabid fans thought they were a top 4 contender. I had them at or just outside the bottom of the eight, which is still a realistic spot for them if they get back to what they were doing at the start of the season.

        The issue is 100% the players’ work rate. Look back at the Crows game – they chased, harassed and ran Adelaide ragged (and were the better side for three quarters, Cam, not one). When the Crows came at them they responded in kind. It seems to me they’ve been drinking their own bathwater since then and hopefully this loss will serve as a reality check.

        The lack of effort from Daniher is a concern. Merrett has had two concussions recently and I suspect that’s affecting him more than the club is letting on. The guy they really need more from though is Heppell – he’s the big body in the middle and has to win more footy, like he did in round one.

        The one plus from Sunday’s shambles is that Hooker finally went back and instantly started taking clutch intercept marks. He was a major reason we actually got close in the last term and he needs to stay there.

        And FFS, get Langford back into the side. His output is going to be better than a few of the others in there and he’s got far more upside. Play him as a defensive forward if necessary – at least he chases and tackles.

        • April 10th 2018 @ 9:48am
          I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          I don’t remember saying any of that. I might have, but that’s how footy commentary works – we only evaluate this week, and then we forget about it next week. That’s why Essendon are copping the wrath; one bad game is all it takes.
          I’ve watched Stringer at the Dogs plenty of times – he’s always faded in and out of games. This hasn’t changed. He got the ball a few times in the first quarter on Sunday and then disappeared. Keep believing that he’ll change if you like, but he won’t. He doesn’t have the tank or willpower to run out a game.

          • Roar Rookie

            April 10th 2018 @ 10:43am
            Mattician6x6 said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

            And that is why Jack Darling was always superior to him.

            • April 10th 2018 @ 12:47pm
              I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

              He probably is Matt, but I do reckon he hasn’t fulfilled his potential.

          • Roar Guru

            April 10th 2018 @ 10:58am
            Dalgety Carrington said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

            I think you should replace “…that’s how footy commentary works…” with “…that’s how lazy and shallow footy commentary works…”

            • April 10th 2018 @ 12:46pm
              I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

              No, that’s how all footy commentary works at the moment.

          • Roar Guru

            April 10th 2018 @ 1:07pm
            JamesH said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

            I don’t think Stringer will ever be a 30-touch player or anything like that. Doesn’t mean he can’t develop some consistency. The guy is only 24 and has had a pretty unsettled couple of years (mostly of his own making).

            A bit of stability on and off the field will go a long way. And if it doesn’t out, well… we gave up two mid-second round picks for him in a shallow draft year. C’est la vie.

        • April 10th 2018 @ 9:56am
          Birdman said | April 10th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          David King tipped them for a flag so the Dons went into 2018 with no hope.

          • Roar Guru

            April 10th 2018 @ 10:14am
            Peter the Scribe said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            David King is seriously the biggest goose in the media, slightly ahead of Kane Cornes. Everyone knows it now with his grand predictions that never happen. I’ve stopped listening or reading anything the goose spouts out.

            • April 10th 2018 @ 10:39am
              I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

              Sorry Peter, but Barrett gets that mantle, followed closely by Slobbo. King is full of it, but at least he has some knowledge of the game and isn’t just a muckraking gossip columnist.

              • Roar Guru

                April 10th 2018 @ 1:08pm
                JamesH said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

                That makes his predictions worse, IAP. How anyone with intimate knowledge of the game can say some of the tripe he comes out with beggars belief.

              • April 10th 2018 @ 2:29pm
                Cisco Kid said | April 10th 2018 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

                Agreed but Slobbo is the worst vermin of all , closely followed by tadpole head Tim Lane.

            • Roar Guru

              April 10th 2018 @ 11:03pm
              Paul D said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:03pm | ! Report

              If David King was content to stick to the tactics and aim to be the guru of what’s going on, out on the field – a sort of footballing Antony Green – then he’d have a career in the media for decades

              But he insists on trying to write stuff about off the field – and it’s dismal. Don’t do it David

        • April 10th 2018 @ 10:12am
          mattyb said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          James,I thought most bulldogs fans on here were a bit over Stringer and weren’t against trading him,while fearful though that he might somehow return to his best at another club. Not sure what was said on other websites but I’d be confident opinions would have been wide ranging.
          I agree Stinger was ok on the weekend,especially under the circumstances in a game that wouldn’t really have suited him.
          Stringer will be far better for the Bombers when he’s given a forward role. Not sure where you think he’s best lining up in your side but I think he’s only useful in the midfield for very,very short bursts.
          He’s strengths are his explosivness and his ability to win or turn a game off the back of a dozen or so possessions.

          • Roar Guru

            April 10th 2018 @ 10:31am
            JamesH said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

            Agreed. I think Langford and a couple of others are better long-term midfield prospects.

            • April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am
              I ate pies said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

              Yep, Stringer is a forward through and through. They should stick him in the middle maybe once a quarter and no more.

          • Columnist

            April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am
            Cameron Rose said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

            Agree with everyone that Stringer is a forward. Moving Hooker back would mean Stringer goes in as the medium behind Daniher and Stewart, and the backline would be so much better with Hurley and Hooker, with no need for Hartley or Brown.

            • Roar Guru

              April 10th 2018 @ 1:12pm
              JamesH said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:12pm | ! Report

              I think Hartley is worth persisting with, if only as an understudy to Hooker and a third tall where they come up against a big forward line (e.g. the Giants).

              But yeah, 2018 is quickly becoming the season where the trend of playing players out of position dies. The Dogs looked so much better with Wood and JJ in the backline.

              • Columnist

                April 10th 2018 @ 1:28pm
                Cameron Rose said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                Wood as a forward was the most embarrassing thing I’ve seen. Only needed a quarter to know it was never going to work. How they couldn’t see that is beyond me.

              • Roar Guru

                April 10th 2018 @ 11:04pm
                Paul D said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:04pm | ! Report

                I remember hearing that and thinking that was the sort of crap Leppa used to pull.

                It is terrible too – not just because of what they don’t get in the forward line but what they lose down back. Still not convinced Essendon wouldn’t have done better these past few years then if they’d just left Hooker’s magnet welded underneath ‘defenders’

        • April 10th 2018 @ 10:16am
          Aransan said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          Agree with you on Langford. Mark Harvey prefers Brown to Hartley and I can’t see it but what can be said is that Hartley and Brown can’t play together along with Hurley. We are missing Ambrose and Gleeson. Stringer played OK but is a work in progress, Essendon need to find an appropriate role for him.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 7:51am
      Rob said | April 10th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Its kind of funny that while the lack of finals success is often directed to a Melbourne team that has at times in the last 12 years been not even competitive… they have won a final more recently than Essendon…

      • April 10th 2018 @ 8:32am
        Reservoir Animal said | April 10th 2018 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        If the Dons don’t win a final in 2018 they’ll equal the all-time club record of 15 years. To think they once declared themselves the AFL’s Man United……..

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2018 @ 3:02pm
          Peppsy said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

          I think ever-present Hawthorn would have to be the closest to Man U now

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Peter the Scribe said | April 10th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      This is building as a classic Pies worst case scenario. The media start to get stuck into the Bombers, let’s say Port smash them on the weekend. More media feasting. Did you hear Mark Robinson get stuck into the Bombers last night on AFL360? The media vultures get so stuck into the Bombers they play above themselves on Anzac day. I can just see it building.

      • April 10th 2018 @ 10:09am
        sammy said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        They will bounce back this week. Port looked very iffy on the weekend and Essendon just need to get back to the fast footy they played in the last 1/4 V the crows and they will; win this weekend. Essendon will have a huge advantage in ruck and they have a fast team to profit from it

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2018 @ 2:10pm
          Joel Erickson said | April 10th 2018 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

          Port were victim of the best game a ruckman has put together in a very long time. If Stefan Martin played to his normal (still very good) level, it wouldn’t have been a one goal game.

          As comparison, I wouldn’t say Bellchambers is obviously better in the ruck than Sinclair, and we both know what Port did to Sydney in the second half.

          • April 10th 2018 @ 2:59pm
            sammy said | April 10th 2018 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

            Funnily enough Bellchambers had the better of Jacobs impact wise in the round 1 game V the crows and Jacobs belted Port’s no 1 ruck Ryder in both Showdowns last year – So I would have bellchambers up there in terms of impact and if it is against a makeshift ruck division, then Essendon should get the advantage. It will be whether Essendon bring their A game which if they do, they will win as they are very fast and will stretch port’s defence. If they don’t they will lose because their B game has looked ugly

            • Roar Guru

              April 10th 2018 @ 3:17pm
              Joel Erickson said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

              I get what you’re saying Sammy, but to expect Bellchambers to copy the output of Martin last weekend is unrealistic. They’ll definitely have an advantage in the ruck, but it won’t be as obvious.

              • April 10th 2018 @ 6:50pm
                Rob said | April 10th 2018 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

                All port need to do is what Melbourne did for 3 months last year – find someone at least competitive, conceed they’ll lose every hit out and plan appropriately… extras running in from the back of the square for example.

                I imagine sorting this out has been Ports week so far so i find it hard to beleive Essendon will have the same success the lions did.

      • April 10th 2018 @ 11:50am
        Slane said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        The Bombers wouldn’t really have to play ‘above themselves’ to beat the Pies.

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2018 @ 1:45pm
          Peter the Scribe said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          Really Slane? We should’ve beaten the Blues by 6-7 goals but for those last 2 goals without 4 of our starting best forwards. This week we have the option of De Goey, Elliott, Fasolo to come back. Soon we will have Wells. mayne played his best VFL game for the club and got 34 touches and is ready for another crack at AFL. Grundy has become a genuine bona fide star of the game. Things looking up for the Pies now.

          • April 10th 2018 @ 3:22pm
            Slane said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

            Essendon beat your mob twice last year didn’t they? Seems like they would have to play below themselves for the Pies to be in with a sniff.

          • April 10th 2018 @ 3:32pm
            truetigerfan said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

            When Peter?Saying this all the time won’t make it happen! While I think the Bombers are bog average I suspect they’ll have no probs overcoming a rudderless Magpie outfit.

            • Roar Guru

              April 10th 2018 @ 4:34pm
              Peter the Scribe said | April 10th 2018 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

              we will see soon enough truetiger! For me, I’m getting on the Pies now.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 8:34am
      truetigerfan said | April 10th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Very good article, Cameron. And very accurate to say the least. Bog average team the Bombers.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 8:51am
      Birdman said | April 10th 2018 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      I notice the Dons-centric media are turning on the club off the back of some audacious top 4 expectations that are miles from being met 3 rounds in.

      Not sure why anyone’s surprised when their midfield is bog average with Merrett and occasionally Heppell as their only A-graders

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2018 @ 8:57am
      DingoGray said | April 10th 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      When your recruitment is built on flaky players like Stringer and Saad you really can’t be surprised when you offer up inconsistent performances week to week.

      I think think it’s a bit earlier to put them in the Pretender basket. But i see where Cam is coming from. It’s now up to the Bombers leaders to respond. We will see what Woosha has up his sleeve.

      • April 10th 2018 @ 10:06am
        AD said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        Port are sitting top of the ladder and they recruited Motlop and Watts. Look up “flaky” in a dictionary and you’ll find a picture of either or both of those two players.

        • Columnist

          April 10th 2018 @ 10:46am
          Cameron Rose said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          It’s all about making it work for you isn’t it.

          Will Motlop and Watts be able to stem the tide when Power’s form dips?

          • April 10th 2018 @ 1:29pm
            Birdman said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

            good point, Cam.

            IMHO Hawks are best in the biz at targeting gettable quality at other clubs (Hale, Lake, Burrgoyne, Mitchell, Impey, etc) but even they stiffed up when they make a play for a potato like Vickery and we know how that played out.

            Even Liam Jones is starting to look like a one season wonder down back for Carlton.

            Not a good idea to recruit someone else’s whipping boys.

          • April 11th 2018 @ 1:28pm
            Brendon the 1st said | April 11th 2018 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

            When Port’s form dips? people keep on assuming it will, besides Port still have Motlop, Wingard, both Grays, Polec, Dixon and Marshall in their front half, I think they’ll be ok.

            • April 11th 2018 @ 4:19pm
              Don Freo said | April 11th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

              Not a lot of derenders in that lot Brendon. That’s the Port weakness…that and its ruck.

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