In a game that showed where both these teams are at, we had the Bombers drop the hammer on North Melbourne in the first half to put the result beyond doubt.
It was a blistering display by Essendon, running in waves and crashing down over the Kangaroos defence, eroding their resolve and putting them up by 51 points at the main break.
There have been bigger halves, and bigger scores, but this was a team with all cylinders firing playing against a team that needed a jump start. It was Essendon at their best against the right opponent, and if you’re a Bombers fan, it was beautiful to watch.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
Back-to-back games for me this afternoon/evening, so I am bit worn out. I’m changing the format up slightly so I don’t go batty.
As the game was over by half time, I am looking at who performed the best up until that point for the Bombers. That was where the game was won and those players deserve the bulk of the credit. For the Roos, it is a different scenario entirely. Yes, they were whacked, but it is important to see which players dropped their head, and which players made an effort to stand up, so that’s where I’ll be concentrating for them.
Let’s jump in.
COULD ZACH MERRETT WIN THE BROWNLOW?
I don’t want to jinx the bloke, but he is the most noticeable of the Bombers, and looks like a million bucks when he gets the footy in any space. He is creative, hard-running, and always has a look before dropping the ball onto his boot.
In a game that saw the ball ping from end to end, Merrett’s run was unsurpassed. If you watch the replay, check out how many times he dishes the footy to a teammate and then simply runs past two or three players to create the next option, or at least make the opposition work to cover him. It’s incredible.
Of all the outside mids in the game right now, he would be the pick of the bunch. We saw him tagged last week and he still managed to collect plenty of the footy. Without the tag this week, he had a ball. His halftime numbers were the sort that plenty of the opposition players would take for the entire game.
He had 21 first half touches, as he continually worked between the arcs. He had plenty of support, but Merrett was the catalyst for the big lead at half time. He only added ten touches after the main break, but to me, that kind of adds to his appeal. The job was done and his efforts were a huge component in the Bombers’ substantial lead. I’ve got him as best on ground, even though there are others who racked them up after the break.
That was play time – Merrett did his work when the game was there to be won, and yes, he could well give the Brownlow a shake.
IS DARCY PARISH THE MIDFIELDER THE BOMBERS HAVE NEEDED ALL ALONG?
He is making a pretty bloody strong case to be that player, isn’t he?
The Bombers went after Josh Dunkley in the last off-season and it was a very astute move. Dunkley’s bash, crash and make some cash style fit perfectly into the Essendon system, but that was then. Now, is there the same temptation?
Parish has stamped his authority on this Essendon midfield. With another 36 touches in this game, including 11 clearances, he is thrusting his name into All-Australian contention and letting the Bombers’ selectors know that he is very capable of leading this midfield group over the coming years.
His first half, like Merrett, was outstanding, as he collected 20 touches and had six of his clearances. He was matched up quite often on Ben Cunnington, and whilst the North Melbourne bull, even when not entirely fit, is a formidable opponent, Parish was quicker, and got to the fall of the ball more often.
Parish added three direct goal assists for the game as his Bombers scored at will against the messy Kangaroos, who look as though they are confused about their structures at times.
At almost 30 touches per game, Parish is emerging as a star, and the way he is winning the footy may well influence Essendon list management decisions in October this year.
HOW DID KAYNE TURNER GO ON ANTHONY MCDONALD-TIPUNGWUTI?
Remembering that we’re concentrating on the first half for Bombers, Turner was excellent in stifling the Essendon tank.
AMT was held to just two first half touches, and given the amount of footy coming into his area, and the swiftness of which it was entering, the fact that Turner was able to limit his impact was quite impressive.
There was one moment when Turner elected not to take possession of the footy and elected to try a dainty little tap on to an opponent. The Bombers were onto it, as Kyle Langford sharked the tap and had a ping at goal. He missed, which let Turner off the hook, but if you’re going to be this defensive tagger and apply physical pressure, when it is your turn to go, take possession and take a hit, you have to go. Turner didn’t.
That said, Walla ended up with three goals in the Essendon avalanche, but they came after the game was put to bed, and one was in lieu of Peter Wright going off the ground due to bleeding. On the whole, Turner did a good job.
HOW DO WE RATE THE GAME OF WILL SNELLING?
With 12 touches in the first half, he was elusive and created an option on multiple occasions inside 50.
Matched up on Shaun Atley, he didn’t exactly have much to beat, but he made sure Atley was unable to use his pace to run off, whilst remaining dangerous at the fall of the ball. He continued his good work after the half time break, notching a career-high 25 touches as he continued to work the half forward flank and provide options for his teammates.
A lot of the attention in the Bombers’ forward half goes to Walla, but Snelling is really flying under the radar this season.
IS NICK LARKEY MR RIGHT IN THE NORTH FORWARD LINE, OR MR RIGHT-NOW?
A lot of it has to do with the quality of the supply coming in, but we’re yet to see a breakout game from Larkey in 2021, and we’re nearing the halfway point of the season.
More to the point, we’re yet to really see flashes that he is ready to be the number one forward, and that can be a worry.
Larkey is 22 and is the main target for the Roos.
Ben and Max King are 20, and they are the number one targets on their respective teams as well, but you know what? They’re actually taking marks and kicking goals, irrespective of how poorly their teams are travelling.
Larkey has taken five marks just once this season. He has one goals from his last three games despite being the number one target inside 50 for the Kangaroos. He has just one contested ark during that period as well. He’s not delivering on any level and is at the point where his confidence may start to be impacted.
Should David Noble look to give him a role across half back for a week or two? Allow him to get his mitts on the footy and start using his ability to read the play to clunk some marks, and help stablilise that back six? Josh Walker can produce exactly what Larkey is at the moment up forward, and Ben McKay may end up emulating what his brother is doing at Carlton if given the chance.
North are in a situation where they can experiment now. They’re not going through the season winless. They’re not married to the current structure. If you’re going to find out about your players, now is the time to do it. It’s no use waiting two years and then saying “oh, that’s not working” when you had clear indications that something needed to change two years earlier.
I REALLY RATED ANDREW PHILLIPS’ GAME
Playing Todd Goldstein is never going to make for an easy day (one look at Peter Wright’s face in the last quarter tells you why), but the work of Andrew Phillips in this one should not be overlooked.
He worked very hard around the ground and was more than a match for Goldy in ruck contests, winning the hit out count 23-18. More to the point, his taps were actually meaningful in the first half, allowing Essendon first hands on the footy and a quick entry inside 50.
Phillips even snuck forward after a boundary throw in to snag himself a mark and goal, but it was the quality of his tap work that made me sit up and take notice. He took it right up to Goldstein and took the chocolates as a result. A great win for the big fella.
DOES GOLDY HAVE A CASE TO ANSWER?
The punch to the head of Peter Wright was clumsy at best, and dirty at worst. It sent the former Sun to the bench at a point where he would have been lining up to kick his fourth goal of the afternoon, which is the type of return the Bombers have been wanting from Wright.
His earlier two goals from 50 metres were brilliant, and when you look at the big man, you automatically think he would be doing his best work close to goal. Maybe Ben Rutten saw something in him in regard to playing centre half forward in this game? He was covering the distance with relative ease, and would really aid the Bombers in spreading defences if he is going to be a threat from that 50-55 metre range.
As for Goldy… maybe he gets a fine, but the MRO decisions are a raffle at the moment. I have no idea.
KYLE LANGFORD AS A FORWARD
This is a winner.
He is a very tough match-up across half forward. He is deceptively good overhead, has clean hands and is a good finisher.
I know that basically everyone looked like a modern great in this game for the Bombers, but I have genuinely liked Langford when he has played either wing or forward this season. He has a good footy IQ, and his 13 first half touches kept the North defenders busy.
HOW FIT IS BEN CUNNINGTON?
He looks about 85% fit to me. He is about five kegs too heavy, which probably gives an extra bit of oomph to his fends (is he better at it than Dusty?) but a fully fit Cunnington would be a beast to deal with at the moment, as he has a genuine F-U attitude about him.
He had a great four quarter performance in this one and a fantastic duel with Darcy Parish at the centre bounces. I thought he was let down by the failure of Jy Simpkin to hold up his end of the bargain this week. They were both great against the Hawks, but this week, Cunnington only had Tarryn Thomas to match his output, with Simpkin subdued.
AM I GOING TO GIVE ANDREW MCGRATH A WRAP UP?
Not a huge one.
I know a lot of you think I don’t like him, and that’s fine. It’s wrong, but it’s fine.
He was good in this one, but he wasn’t dominant by any stretch – a lot of link play and plenty of sideways handballs as part of chains. A very solid first half would almost see me throw him into the votes, as that’s where my focus is, but he’d be way behind Merrett, Parish and Cunnington in those stakes.
DOES BEN MCKAY OWE SOME DUDE A BEER?
Nah, screw him. Hold your beer, princess.
HEPPELL OR ZIEBELL – WHOSE MOVE INTO DEFENCE HAS WORKED BETTER?
It’s an interesting one.
Heppell has slotted into what is an almost all-new Bombers defence, with Hooker going forward, Hurley out and both Saad and McKenna gone (good riddance, am I right? I’m right). He’s got Jayden Laverde, Nick Hind and Mason Redman back with him on a weekly basis as they nurture Jordan Ridley as their golden child at Bomberland.
Ziebell has a defence tirn apart by injury as well – Tarrant and McDonald both out hurts immensely, and with former Giants, Aiden Bonar and Aidan Corr both sidelines, he has had to trust Ben McKay to help him do a bit of everything.
Heppell has been understated in the role, not demanding the footy as the only bloke who can kick it, like Ziebell did before Aaron Hall was thrown back in the last couple of weeks. He has deferred when necessary and floated in to help his team when required.
Ziebell, on the other hand, hasn’t had the luxury of a teammate to take the heat, as Heppell does with Ridley. Until Hall moved back there, Ziebell took every kick in, controlled every switch and tried to make every contest. He was taking all the responsibility whilst Heppell has been delegating.
That last sentence tells two stories, doesn’t it?
It tells you that Heppell is the captain willing to trust his teammates a little more, but it also tells the tale of Ziebell having to baton down the hatches and do all he can to salvage something from this defence until reinforcements arrive.
If reinforcements arrive.
The Bombers’ defence is better, but does that indicate that Heppell’s move to defence has been better? Ziebell tries his guts out every week and would throw himself in front of a bus to save a goal. Heppell hasn’t had to, but he has done what is required and his willingness to trust those around him as they develop has him marginally in front.
No disrespect to Jack – he has been huge, but I like a captain that gets others involved and steps in when he has to.
WHICH KANGAROOS COULD HOLD THEIR HEAD HIGH?
Tarryn Thomas – Silky, but did drift out of the game in the last quarter aside from his lovely running goal. I’d like to see him have a minimum of five touches per quarter, every quarter he plays in the middle.
Taylor Garner – Made the most of his opportunities and to finish with 19 touches and three goals in a belting like this, he was a shining light. Would make an excellent third option on a team where the number one option is playing well.
Cam Zurhaar – Always attacks the contest like his life depends on it, and took a couple of very nice contested grabs.
And that might do me. The Bombers make the trip out West next week to take on the Eagles. Their running game can match the Eagles, but they’re going to need Phillips to get around the ground like he did in this one to combat Nic Nat. Also, Jack Darling really worries me against this defensive set up.
North have the Saints, and damn it, I reckon they could get them. Not sure North have the firepower, but Ben McKay can contain Max King and that just leaves Tim Membrey to shut down. Oh, and Jack Higgins, and Dan Butler and… maybe they can’t get them…