Essendon takes on arch-rival Carlton at the MCG in a Sunday afternoon clash. With heavy rain predicted, expect a slippery physical game with the two team's beating the living oxygen out of each other. No matter the state of each of the clubs, there tends to be a surprise in the result from time to time. Essendon with a depleted side in 2016 defeated Carlton in Round 23; surely leaving Carlton with a grudge after the Bombers went into the contest without being claimed as favourites.
To spark up the love fest rivalry between Essendon and Carlton, the Bombers hired a specialist coach in Greg ‘Diesel' Williams: A once dual Brownlow medallist for Carlton now claiming himself as a Bomber now. Williams spoke on Bomber radio during the week about his new role at the club and his thoughts on the upcoming clash:
"It'll be a big game; I'm sure there will be a huge crowd and 'our boys' the Bombers … it's hard to say I'm a Bomber but I really am committed here, and I really hope the Bombers kick their arse."
These comments revved up Williams’ former teammate David Rhys-Jones who spoke on afl.com.au: "Now I know he's involved with it I'll be barracking twice as hard for Carlton." (What an off-field spectacle for the 90's campaigner's ay!) Not that the players will be affected at all by these comments, but it should bring more bragging rights and garbage talk between the two clubs for future clashes. Keep talking Diesel!
Changes and Impacts
After a successful interstate trip, Essendon has made three changes to their line-up. Matthew Leuenberger returns from his hamstring strain to play his first game of the year. Heath ‘Buddha' Hocking is playing his first game since his suspension, and Mitch Brown comes into the Dons backline also for his first hit-out of the year. Michael Hartley and Shaun McKernan have been strategically left out of the Bombers game, while Ben Howlett (Bobcat) pulled up tight with his hamstrings in his comeback game and is likely to miss a couple of games.
The inclusion of Leuenberger is massive, and the Bombers' midfield will be pleased after missing his presence in the first couple of games. It's important for the Dons to get Leuenberger out on the park to build his relationship with his new crop of midfielders. A forecast of rain most likely hindered McKernan's chance of playing third tall in the forward line. After fighting gallantly in the opening rounds, McKernan's omission has left him in an awkward position, and he will probably have to play solid VFL games and compete with an injury-free Thomas Bellchambers to earn a recall. Don't be surprised to see John Worsfold (Woosha) call McKernan or Bellchambers sooner rather than later. Woosha will be happy to explore his tall options in this early stage of the season.
The Buddha returns (hooray!). A favourite of mine! Woosha would have had no hesitation bringing this man back in for a slip and slide contest. Buddha will bring a hard-hitting game on Sunday, and I suspect will get the clamping job on Marc Murphy after his flying start to the year. Hocking's inclusion shouldn't structurally change too much for the Dons, especially with Howlett's omission. A midfielder like Darcy Parish or Jobe Watson will probably spend more time forward instead of centre to allow Buddha's 'run with' role. I love Buddha Hocking lining up for the Bombers; the fans will appreciate his pressure and physical side in the rough. We will likely see his name on top of tackle count after the game. Welcome back!
Mitch Brown has forced his way into the side this week bumping out the defensive rock in Hartley. The main reason I see Brown getting into this team is that there hasn't been a huge rate of intercept possessions for the Bombers in the backline. Brown is an excellent interceptor of the ball and possesses a versatility of playing forward that Woosha will like. With the support and form of the lock down positions of Michael Hurley and Patrick Ambrose, expect Brown to be more aggressive with the leather this game.
What needs to improve?
Worsfold will be asking his lads to complete a four-quarter game against Carlton, after letting Hawthorn and Brisbane threaten to take the game away from them in the last fortnight with one poor quarter. The contested possession count is just below par for a team wanting to claim a position in the eight this year, not that this stat is the pathway to finals, but it will certainly enhance the Dons' outside game (which is elite for finals). When the game becomes clogged up, and the pressure is intense, the Bombers will need to lift in this part of the contest. Especially with the like of Carlton midfielder Patrick Cripps hanging around the stoppages who can comfortably claim to be one of the masters of the game for his clearance and contested work; he will punish Essendon if the boys are not switched on. The Leuenberger inclusion will help boost the Bombers numbers in this department by giving his midfielders, such as Dyson Heppell and Heath Hocking, first touch of the footy and release the outside runners of Parish and Travis Colyer.
The Dons' would have reviewed the third quarter against the Lions many times this week after a collapse in team defence. The movement off half back will need to be more pro-active after many flat-footed midfielders stood ground minding space instead of focusing on their rebound from the opposition's 50. Returning to the MCG which features more grass than the GABBA should naturally bring the offensive ball movement back into Essendon's game, hopefully not feeling restricted for as long as they did in Brisbane.
Marc Murphy's form has suggested that he is back to his old tricks. The captain won't be backing down as he leads his navy blues on a mission to earn their first win of the season. Murphy has averaged 33 disposals and over five tackles in his first two outings this year, returning him back in the elite company. If Murphy and Cripps get a roll on (which the competition hasn't seen yet), it could be a scary proposition for the Dons. We might be seeing a new form of ‘Danger/Wood' coming through. I'm expecting Worsfold's coaching crew has done their homework and will have plans to limit Murphy's influence on Sunday.
It's a big game for
Entering his eighth season, David Zaharakis notches up his 150th game for the club he grew up following. Zaharakis loves the MCG: he kicks many of his trademark goals on this turf (storming into the 50 and kicking truly). Zaharakis enters Sunday's game with a fair patch of good form under his belt, kicking two goals against the Lions and setting up plenty of goals for his fellow tall forwards. He'll be enjoying not being tagged out of the games this year, but he hasn't had a massive influence in the wins so far this season. Zaharakis can rack up a huge amount of the ball and penalise opposition teams. He knows the Essendon and Carlton rivalry is still very alive and well. He is due for a big game! C'mon Zaka!
Who doesn't love this guy? Is there anyone? Give me a ring otherwise. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (Walla) kicked four goals against the Blues last time they met. That Essendon line-up was an undermanned as well, so imagine the damage Walla can do now. This guy is in super form, was involved in ten score involvements last week against the Lions and he's pressure never seems to fade. Walla is an excellent kick of the Sherrin, and his fellow Dons will be keen to off-load to him to ensure a shot for goal. Worried Blues!?
I can't comfortably say the Bombers will win this game as there's something weird about these Essendon and Carlton clashes. On paper the Bombers should have this game covered, their backline and forward structure are far more potent and reliable than Carlton's. I can't see the Blues kicking a huge score with their forward line, but if a wet weather game plays out, the Blues can definitely limit the Dons scoring output. Both teams are improving, but the Bombers are far better placed for this game. Fingers cross for a three and zip start.