MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 14: Acting captain Zach Merrett of the Bombers thanks fans during the 2016 AFL Round 21 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Gold Coast Suns at Etihad Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Essendon vice-captain Zach Merrett says the new-look Bombers can help the side challenge for a premiership this season.

10 players have returned from a season-long doping ban and will look to help the Bombers win their first final since 2004, but Merrett says he believes the club can challenge for the flag.

“I’m a bit nervous to have those guys back but very excited as well … that we genuinely could contend for a premiership this year,” Merrett told SEN on Thursday morning.

“I think we can (win the flag). I think we believed that before the Dogs did it, but now the Dogs have done it, it just gives everyone that real belief that if you get it right at the right time of the year, you can genuinely contend.”

Since making his debut in 2014, the 21-year-old has played in 59 games for the Bombers and has quickly made himself an integral part of this side, culminating in his elevation to vice-captain alongside Cale Hooker over the pre-season.

“When I walked into the place when I was 18, it was just about trying to influence the place and influence my teammates to try (to) win a premiership,” Merrett said.

“I didn’t really think about getting in the leadership group or being a captain or vice-captain of the club so early, but … hopefully I can influence my teammates towards success.”

Merrett also gave SEN a look into how the banned Bombers are feeling ahead of their comeback games, admitting the nerves are kicking in ahead of their round one clash against Hawthorn on Saturday night.

“Their first month through November they were probably super-excited and very eager, and then December and January they got back into pre-season mode and realised how much of a slog it really was,” he said.

“Now round one’s approaching, obviously guys are anxious (and there’s) a big unknown of what’s going to happen. There are a lot of unknowns but hopefully the fitness and conditioning staff have got them ready.”