Essendon underwent a major list overhaul in the off season. In all, 19 spots on the list are different from the 2016 season.
The ASADA ten return, seven draft picks and two other players come in through free agency and trades. It is going to be tough for John Worsfold to pull everything together, however, regardless of all the changes, the Essendon’s looks strong on paper.
In this series, we will be looking at each club’s best 22 for round one of 2017, analysing the ins and outs of each club and assessing their list. Working our way up the ladder; the first club is Essendon.
Ins: James Stewart, Josh Green, Andrew McGrath, Jordan Ridley, Josh Begley, Kobe Mutch, Dylan Clarke, Sam Draper, Shaun Mckernan. Returning: Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley, Brent Stanton, Heath Hocking, David Myers, Tom Bellchambers, Travis Coyler and Ben Howlett.
Outs: Adam Cooney, Mathew Stokes, James Gwilt, Jason Ashby, Shaun Edwards, Tom Wallis, Ryan Crowley, Nathan Grima, Sam Grimley, Mark Jamar, Sam Michael, Tayte Pears, James Polkinghorne, Jonathan Simpkin, Michael Hibberd, Nick Kommer, Courtenay Dempsey, Will Hams, Gach Nyuon, Shaun Mckernan.
Zero Hanger 2017 ladder prediction: 9th
The obvious strength for Essendon is the key position players and midfield. Michael Hartley proved in 2016 that he is an AFL quality full back, he should partner up with Michael Hurley as the key position defenders, with either Matt Dea or Mitch Brown filling in the third tall role.
Joe Daniher is on track and will keep improving, while all the talk surrounding Cale Hooker is that he will start forward in 2017. Hooker is undoubtedly a better defender, it says a lot about him that he is willing to fill the role most needed by the club despite being an All-Australian defender. Aaron Francis spent the year developing in the VFL and from what I saw of him in the VFL finals he is ready to play a role in Essendon’s forward line.
The midfield has genuine guns in Dyson Heppell, Jobe Watson and Zach Merrett, and some good depth. In my best 22, I have identified 12 players who can rotate on-ball. Having those extra numbers rotate through the midfield has become an important aspect of the modern game.
Neither Matthew Leuenberger or Tom Bellchambers have proven themselves at AFL level and it was hard to choose which was the starting ruck. Unless one of them manages to have a breakout year in 2017 it could pose a major problem for the Bombers. The game seems to be moving towards favoring more mobile ruckmen, perhaps Shaun Mckernan or James Stewart could be trialed in that role if things go badly.
Essendon also aren’t strong in the rebound defender position and it’s arguably the most important role in modern day football. Losing Michael Hibberd and Courtney Dempsey in one off season means they lose a lot of rebound from defence, this is likely why Andrew McGrath was their number one choice on draft day. James Kelly should be able to pinch hit in that role for a season, while the Dons also have Mcdonald-Tipungwuti and Myers who can help out in that role.
In all, Essendon have a very strong looking first 22 on paper, although there are major question marks over the ten players returning from the ASADA suspension.
Projected Essendon Round 1, 2017 best 22:
FB: Mark Baguley, Michael Hartley, Matt Dea
HB: Andrew McGrath, Michael Hurley, James Kelly
C: David Zaharakis, Dyson Heppell, Brent Stanton
HF: Brendan Goddard, Cale Hooker, Aaron Francis
FOLL: Matthew Leuenberger, Zach Merrett, Jobe Watson
Emg: Kyle Langford, Heath Hocking, Tom Bellchambers.