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Opinion

Archie Perkins is the hope that Bombers fans need right now

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5th April, 2021
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It’s an unnerving time to be a Bombers fan right now.

First-year coach. Players leaving. Zach Merrett’s contract up in the air. Injuries galore.

And after the first two weeks their vulnerabilities have been on show: the Bombers squandered a 40-point lead against the Hawks and capitulated by 54 against a rampaging Port Adelaide. Both losses put a blowtorch on shaky defence and contested ball deficiencies.

A win in 2021 was beginning to seem like an impossible task.

But over the weekend a different Essendon emerged. They intensely pressed and squeezed St Kilda for four quarters, which resulted in a hulking 75-point demolition job. They kicked 22.11. 143, which was their highest score since 2013.

Cale Hooker kicked five. Jordan Ridley grabbed 35 touches and ten marks. Harry Jones and Alec Waterman kicked their first goals for the club.

Amid the torrent of wound-up Essendon players who collectively tormented the Saints, a glimpse of the future subtly emerged, too: Archie Perkins.

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The expectations of the 18-year-old have been doused with a wait-and-see approach: the talent is there but who knows how quickly he can evolve into more than just a draft buzz player.

Comparisons to unbelievably great players in Dustin Martin and Patrick Dangerfield are yet to be seen during Perkins’ rather short shifts in AFL practice matches and two full stints in the VFL.

Internally, though, there’s a belief that Perkins will grow into something special in the same way Andrew McGrath evolved from a back pocket run-and-gun type to a contested ball pig who is starting to add goalkicking to his repertoire.

Perhaps, though, Perkins is destined to greater. Adrian Dodoro, Essendon’s list stalwart, described the rookie’s athleticism as “off the charts” and said, “He might just have that little thing inside that makes you super special.”

During the win over Saints – Essendon’s first for the year – Perkins’ work rate was on full display.

Archie Perkins of the Bombers

Essendon’s Archie Perkins (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Five minutes into the second quarter the debutant was on the receiving end of a Will Snelling handball, shrugged off big-bodied Jake Carlisle like he’d been playing the game for years, accelerated and hit the post from 45-metres out.

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Had he goaled, the roof of Marvel Stadium would have shattered from the fans’ cheers.

Just before halftime, with the Bombers up by 44-points, we saw another glimpse into the future.

Play had evolved on centre wing. Devon Smith dished out a handball into space and Perkins beat Nick Coffield to it. Perkins was tackled to the ground but he was able to free his hands enough to squeeze out a handball to Matt Guelfi.

The debutant got up, kept running and eventually received the handball from Andrew McGrath at full throttle with a trio of Saints defenders diving at him. Perkins was able to steady and hit Harry Jones arms out for a set shot.

For now, the highlight reels are few and far between but his small body-of-work and samplings tells us he has poise and looks just as explosive as a Christian Petracca or a Connor Rozee.

Let’s be real here: Archie Perkins isn’t a sensation yet nor is he taking the AFL by storm. In fact, we’re only clinging to minuscule flashes.

This is what we do with first-year players. We stitch together tiny elements of their game to piece together a vision of what the future might hold.

On Saturday, Perkins collected 14 touches, spent 68 per cent of his time on the ground and gained 324 metres. Rest assured, with more time on the ground those numbers will get more eye-catching.

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As he matures, so too will Essendon’s brand of football.

It’s hard to make anything of the Bombers form right now. They’re a hard bet. Young teams are hard to read, so there’s going to be games where the kids don’t get it right.

When they get fatigued, they make mistakes, which lead to losses – sometimes big losses. But the evolution of Archie Perkins as a genuine X-factor will help ease those losses for Bombers fans.

Zach Merrett of the Bombers handballs

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Perkins appeal is undeniable: he’s a sizeable body – 87 kilos, six-foot-tall, with a fluid running style with speed and endurance.

The scratch notes from Essendon’s VFL hit outs provide a look into what he’s building toward.

In the two games against Footscray and Box Hill reports said he’s been “strong in the contest, tackled well, ran hard, won his clearances as a midfielder and set us up when he was forward.”

Bombers fans would have seen Perkins do those things against the Saints. And also: “He made good decisions, was very explosive”, and “got tagged after halftime, but still found lots of the ball in the second half.”

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These are signs of a ready-made kid who just needs time enough to get settled and get more repetitions in.

When Perkins was drafted, almost immediately, fans dubbed him the fourth Hanson brother. They also suggested he could be the new lead actor for a Heartbreak High reboot.

Since December, it’s become apparent that Perkins is a popular Bomber. He’s already something of a cult hero.

As he starts delivering and expands his game, his off-field appeal will only go viral as he morphs into one of the many faces of the new era Bombers. Think Nik Cox, Zach Reid, Harry Jones, Sam Draper, Andrew McGrath.

This isn’t a boom or bust discussion for Perkins. His talent is real, and the only way is up.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Bombers brought the best of what they can do to the table. Everyone saw it. It was full of thrill-seeking highs and an intensity around the ball that has been missing for years.

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In the same breath, the week before against the Power, they looked like shoddy wooden-spoon fancies; couldn’t defend and never looked like kicking a goal. The swings in form will be the new norm for now.

But what will get Bombers fans through it all is Perkins – raw, authentic breakaway power, a breakout candidate. Now that he’s played his first game of AFL football, Perkins is steadily going to win the hearts and minds of Bombers fans.

He’ll make them think about the possibilities of what’s to come but more importantly his presence will give them hope.