MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 14: Brendon Goddard of the Bombers runs during an Essendon Bombers AFL training session at True Value Solar Centre on January 14, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Club by club preview: 18th – Essendon

Premierhsip Odds: $101.00 (via TopSport)

Prediction: 18th

For three years the Bombers have had to deal with the ASADA supplements saga hanging over their heads and in 2016, it will be the toughest year yet. A dozen key players will miss the entire the year after being handed suspensions and this will severely affect the club even though they have signed a few decent players who finished up at other clubs.

Although the grunt of the ASADA headache is over, people will still be talking about it long into the season as with Essendon game comes the answer of what ‘could of been’.

Under a new coach in former West Coast Premiership player and coach, John Worsfold, Essendon have the chance to start afresh, with an entire new look coaching team. It is a welcome change from 2015 and Worsfold will be hoping to create a dynasty at the club, but it will take time.

They will have their moments, they may pick up a few wins, but they won’t finish higher than rock-bottom. Essendon need to look at this as a positive and take it as a re-building year, as much as that hurts supporters. The kids will go okay and they will gain invaluable experience from playing with the big boys.

Key Ins:

Matthew Leuenberger, Matthew Stokes, Ryan Crowley, Jonathan Simpkin, James Kelly, Mark Jamar

Key Outs:

Jake Carlisle, Jake Melksham, Dustin Fletcher, Paul Chapman, Jason Winderlich

Key Player: Brendon Goddard

Just one of the many players left to pick up the pieces at the club following the suspensions and has been made captain for 2016. At age 30, Goddard has performed strongly over his three years at the club thus far and it will be interesting to see how he leads the club into the future, considering he has been criticised in the past for being too demonstrative towards teammates.

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Goddard, along with being skipper will have to step up as he spends more time in the middle. He will be supported by Mark Baguley as vice-captain along with experienced players, James Kelly, Matthew Stokes and Ryan Crowley.

Rising Star: Kyle Langford

He was the club’s first pick in the 2014 national draft and broke through to play eight games last year in a floating forward role. He should benefit from a big pre-season and will be aiming to play more games in 2016.

He’s a quick mover and strong overhead, which will suit the Bombers considering their lack of talls this season.

Under the Pump: David Zaharakis

In 2015, Zaharakis averaged just 18 disposals per game, dropping off from his 20-plus disposals average in the years before.

At 25 years old, he should be in the prime of his career, so the fact that he is far off his best is a major concern. Voted out of the leadership group three times, Zaharakis could find himself looking for other clubs to join come the end of 2016.

Weakness: Midfield

The Bombers’ midfield takes a massive hit with Waston, Heppell and Hocking all banned. Heppell and Watson were the clearly the Bombers’ best and most important midfielders in 2015 and were ranked first and second for contested possessions at the club.

Take that away, and you are left with a gaping hole in the midfield, a midfield that actually still struggled in 2015, ranked 15th for average contested ball differential and 14th for average clearance differential.

Crowley is not known for being a ball winner and James Kelly may be past his prime so it is doubtful that the current midfield brigade will be able to improve the stats from 2015.

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Strength: Youth

With vital players suspended, Essendon are forced to turn to their younger players and this is where they might achieve some success in 2016.

A host of players will be aiming to prove themselves worthy of a place in 2017, meaning competition for places will be fierce. Remember, Essendon have nothing to lose, and they will be going out in every game looking to give their all.

By the end of the year we could be talking about players that were unheard of prior to this year. It is a long shot, but the Bombers will be looking to try and emulate the Bulldogs 2015 season where younger players stepped up and took their side to finals footy.

What the fixture looks like: Not bad

The Dons have a comfortable start to the year heading north to face the Suns in round one before facing Melbourne a week later. It does become more difficult with games against Port Adelaide, Geelong and the ANZAC day clash with Collingwood to follow.

Their finish sees them face Gold Coast, Western Bulldogs and Carlton all in Victoria with the latter potentially shaping up as a battle for the wooden spoon.

Due to their circumstances, no game is easy for Essendon and they will struggle against the stronger sides.

Best 22 (subject to change due to future top-up signings):

B: Mark Baguley, Michael Hartley, James Gwilt

HB: Matt Dea, Mitch Brown, Courtney Dempsey

C: Orazio Fantasia, Ryan Crowley, Brendon Goddard

HF: David Zaharakis, Shaun McKernan, Jackson Merrett

F: Matthew Stokes, Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett

R: Matthew Leuenberger, Adam Cooney, James Kelly

I: Shaun Edwards, Martin Gleeson, Craig Bird, Kyle Langford

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