A seemingly finals bound Essendon used its “Get Out of Jail Free” card to steal four vital points from a gallant Gold Coast. In a controversial and poorly-umpired contest, the Suns showed tremendous heart to almost kill their 13 match losing streak, only to come unstuck from a lack of experience in the dying stages.
The Bombers overcame a plucky underdog opponent to continue their impressive mid-season revival and keep themselves in the hunt for a premiership that will kill the drug saga demons once and for all. Here is the Mongrel’s Good and Not So Good from the Bombers tenacious 10-point victory over the Suns. And don’t worry, we’ll get to that Zaharakis goal.
After round eight of this season, and with the Bombers suffering a fifth defeat of the season, Essendon fans would’ve been feeling a case of déjà vu from the slow start of 2018. With some in the media calling for John Worsfold’s head, Essendon’s playing group have responded brilliantly, and the Bombers are now well and truly on their way to another finals series. While their win on Sunday night was largely unconvincing, the toughness Essendon showed to grind out a win will please Worsfold, who must now expect a fresh contract to land on his desk any week now.
Playing a brand of football that can stand up in September, the Bombers look the most likely team outside the top four to make a run at a premiership. Tom Bellchambers, Orazio Fantasia, Dyson Heppell and Michael Hurley should all be back on the field at some stage this season (although Hurley is facing the toughest race against the clock), and the current reinforcements are playing with confidence and dash, with certain fringe making a compelling case for selection when the superstars return.
The scars from the supplement saga are still hanging around ever so slightly, and in John Worsfold’s hands, this Essendon squad has the capabilities of re-writing its past and finally putting the darkest depths of their storied history behind them.
STUART DEW’S COACHING OF HIS YOUNG KEY FORWARDS
Drafted at pick two as an athletic key forward, Jack Lukosius has often found himself behind the ball this season. Using his elite ability to read the ball, Suns’ coach Stuart Dew has opted not to throw both his young forwards into the fire, and has chosen to develop Ben King forward, and move Lukosius to defence to get some football under his belt without the pressure of being the focal point of a team that kicks goals only on rare occasions.
Perhaps using the debut and subsequent career of Jack Watts as an example, Dew knows that he has a couple of genuine stars in his locker room, and exposing them to the opposition’s best key defenders’ week in-week out will only hurt the development of Lukosius and King in the long run. By moving Lukosius to half back, King has the space to learn the standards required to be a key forward at AFL level, and with a full season under his belt, Lukosius will have the same opportunity once he switches back to the other end of the ground.
THE NOT SO GOOD
DAVID ZAHARAKIS’S “GOAL”
Gillon McLachlan and the AFL are so very lucky that Essendon emerged from Metricon Stadium victorious, because had the Suns won the game, and especially if they’d got up by less than a goal, McLachlan would’ve had hell to pay. After the umpires reviewed a score that wasn’t in the Port Adelaide vs. GWS game, calling play on and not going to the replays is an insult to Essendon, its fans and the AFL community that puts its trust in an executive team that continually lets everyone down.
At the time of writing, there has been no comment from any of the AFL’s powerbrokers, but that almost seem moot at this point. Everybody knows the horrible error that was made, and if we’re all being honest, anything McLachlan said would’ve only added fuel to the fire. There has not been a season in recent memory that there has been such unease with the state of the game, and I am struggling to think of a decision the AFL has made that has had a positive outcome.
From AFLX that no one wants, the introduction of rules that restrict the use of runners, the continued crowd violence and subsequent over correction of policing anything and everything, to the league’s lack of support for Adam Goodes, McLachlan’s standing as the leader of the AFL has never been in more jeopardy if the fans had their way, and with the Suns still years away from being a premiership threat, it seems Gill need to right the ship and quickly, or heads will need to roll. The AFL, and by extension the executive team itself, is fast becoming an embarrassment.
GOLD COAST’S IMMEDIATE FUTURE
While this was a performance of pure grit and emotion, the fact remains that the Gold Coast Suns have not won a game since April 14. All three of their victories this season were by a combined 10 points, and they are destined for the number one pick in the 2019 draft, as well as pick two if Tony Cochrane gets his way.
But is that what the Suns need? At its most basic, this should be considered a complete restart for Gold Coast, with the McKenna/Ablett era failing on so many levels. It can be argued that the talent is already in Stuart Dew’s arsenal, and adding more youth is perhaps unnecessary. They are clearly the AFL’s worst team, and need pick 1, but unless it is given with provisions, a priority pick seems unlikely to be handed over. Picking up ready-made players will help the Suns, but only if they have AFL experience and not just a fringe player from a previous club. Stuart Dew’s coaching career, like his players, is in its infancy, and it is obvious that more time and patience is needed before the Suns will be a finals and eventually a premiership threat.
While some continue to argue that it in the Suns best interest to move down to Tasmania, with the current management that seems unlikely, as Gill is desperate to succeed in an environment where seemingly every other sporting code has tried and failed.
WHO WERE THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH?
An absolute marking machine on Sunday night, McKernan gave Gold Coast’s key defenders many headaches all night as his vice like grip was on show. Four goals from 15 disposals, McKernan plucked eight marks, six of which were contested, and took four grabs inside 50. With Joe Daniher out for the year, and Tom Bellchambers still in the medical room, McKernan’s talent both forward and in the ruck is of huge importance to Essendon’s charge towards September.
Gold Coast’s co-skipper was his brilliant best, and a major reason why the Suns were in the game for so long. Playing on the Gold Coast means that Witts often goes unmentioned when the conversation of the AFL’s best ruckmen surfaces, but it is obvious that Witts is as important to his team as any big man in the competition. Gathering 19 disposals (13 of which were contested) and hitting a staggering 60 hit outs, Witts absolutely dominated Bomber Zac Clarke, and did all he could to give his midfielders first use of the ball.
Back in round 13, Jake Stringer’s injury hit performance against Hawthorn was labelled worst on ground. Since his return in round 16, he has been a completely different player. Capable of the freakish, and playing with a confidence not seen since his 56-goal 2015, Stringer was John Worsfold’s emergency release against the Suns, thrown into the middle whenever the Bombers needed a clearance. “The Package” is quickly becoming the Bombers most important player in the locker room, as his leadership and enthusiasm is infectious on a talented young group with everything ahead of them.
Essendon’s prized recruit has been a more than handy acquisition this season, and stepped up in Dyson Heppell’s absence. With Jarrod Witts dominating in the ruck, it was up to Shiel to rove from a losing position, and he along with Zach Merrett ensured that regardless of who won the ruck contest, it would be Essendon’s key forwards being given the sliver service. When looking at Shiel’s statistics, a disposal efficiency of 71% would normally be criticized, keep in mind that over the season, Shiel averages just 65%, so it is pleasing to see Shiel improving in this category as it is the biggest weakness to his game.
In just his tenth senior game, Ben King announced himself to the AFL stage, with four crucial goals in clearly his best game to date. The Round 19 NAB Rising Star nominee looks a star of the future, and while it is clear that is still much improvement and body development to be made, King’s forward line partnership with Sam Day and eventually Jack Lukosius will be vital in the Gold Coast finally fulfilling the AFL’s wish for a successful team where all other sporting codes have failed.
WHO NEEDS TO IMPROVE?
Back in round seven, Alex Sexton had kicked 16 goals and was right in the hunt for the Mongrel All Australian team. But it seems that like the team around him, once the Suns hit the wall, Sexton’s influence plummeted, and he has been largely ineffective since then. With only 1 goal from nine disposals, Sexton was again unsighted for much of the contest on Sunday night, and as a 100-game AFL player, he needs to impact the game much more often that he does. His experience in the forward line will be a huge benefit to the young brigade, but only if he improves hit output considerably.
At 23 years of age, and with 38 games under his belt, it seems that Laverde is still suffering from horrible inconsistency. His best is brilliant, but it doesn’t come often enough to be of any use. Gathering a measly 7 disposals, Laverde’s efficiency of just 42% was clearly the worst of any Bomber. With no impact on the game to speak of, Laverde’s position in Essendon’s forward line appears on thin ice given there are players on the injured list that will come back into the team at any point.
GOLD COAST’S TALL DEFENDERS
Jack Hombsch and Chris Burgess are placed together in this category as they were both thoroughly outplayed by any big forward John Worsfold decided to deploy. Both Hombsch and Burgess are serviceable defenders at best, and it could be argued that they would be unable to break into the defensive group of any other team.
Largely at the mercy of their teammates further up the ground, Hombsch and Burgess gave everything they had to stop McKernan and Stringer, but it was ultimately no use, with the Bombers forward having a field day against their Gold Coast opponents.
Hombsch and Burgess’s place in the Suns back six is safe for now as there simply isn’t anyone else on the list capable of filling their position, but for Gold Coast to rise up the ladder, they will need to find a group of tall defenders that have the talent to give forwards nightmares, whether that is through the draft, or trading out some assets to land a ready-made superstar.