In a game where the atmosphere leapt off the TV screen and drew you in, the Bombers and Hawks renewed hostilities in Tasmania, with Essendon fans flooding UTAS Stadium to drown out the sound of the home team Hawk fans.

It was a cracking encounter between the old rivals, with the lead changing hands several times over the journey. Established stars stood up, and boys became men in a game that saw a little bit of everything.

And then there was Jake Stringer. Oh yes, this’ll be a Stringer-fest to some extent… he was incredible!

The Bombers got a huge lift from their returning young ruckman and the blistering pace of Nick Hind from half back as they edged in front of the Hawks in the last quarter and iced the game on a dribble goal from Darcy Parish.

This was the best game I’ve seen come out of Tassie in a long while, with both clubs having plenty to take from it. As such, there is plenty to cover – it’s gonna be a big version of The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly. Let’s get into it!

THE GOOD

 

ON A STRINGER

Was this the best game of Jake Stringer’s career? It’d have to be, wouldn’t it? It was certainly thr best we’ve seen from him in red and black.

I wasn’t paying as much attention back in 2016 when he snagged 50+ goals for the Dogs, but in terms of a complete performance, I don’t think you’re going to find a better overall game in the back catalogue of Stringer than this one.

As a matter of fact, the back catalogues of 95% of AFL players would fail to house a game that hit these heights.

Stringer was a pillar of strength – he waded through the Hawthorn on-ballers and defenders like they were made of crate paper, and dragged them to ground in tackles with monotonous regularity.

I’ll make an admission here – I did not think Stringer had a game like this in him. When the Bombers first picked him up, I thought there was a possibility he could be something special, but poor conditioning and injuries conspired to limit his impact for long periods. It all came together beautifully in this one, however, as he carved up the Hawks for 29 touches, 18 contested possessions, six clearances, seven tackles, a monster 12 score involvements and ten inside 50s.

Playing more in the guts than forward, Stringer’s bash and crash offence left the Hawks hanging off him like children as he powered the Bombers forward, and his four goals… well, they rubber-stamped every single voting slip in the land with his name as the best player on the ground.

I’ll cover a little more below around his ability to simply treat his Hawthorn opponents as inferior physical specimens, but when you look at dominant performances of the season, this outing by Jake Stringer has to be right up there with the best, if not right at the top as THE best outing from a single player in the league.

Bravo, Jake.

 

THE DRAPER CAPER

What a difference a confident, and able young ruck can make to a team.

Matched up against the tandem of Jonathon Ceglar (who had 11 clearances last week v Sydney) and premiership ruckman, Ben McEvoy, Sam Draper was easily the best big man on the ground.

He clunked big intercept marks and led the game in clearances as he imposed his will on the Hawthorn pair in the air. McEvoy battles hard, but this was really a young lion v old lion scenario, with the old lion coming to the realisation that his time at the top is fast coming to an end.

Draper’s clearance work was spectacularly good, tripling the output from his rival duo as he out-muscled and out-read them with the ball in flight.

A couple of seasons ago, St Kilda registered their interest in Draper – at the time, he was untried at AFL level, but both the Saints and Bombers evidently saw the oak tree in the acorn at that stage and knew what he had the capacity to become.

Kudos to the Saints for having a crack, but this man is the Bombers’ number one ruck for the next ten years, and though his dirty moustache and mullet combination doesn’t do much for me, he will be one of the faces of this club as they grow and become more of a force in the league.

 

WILD ABOUT HARRY

In the opener, I eluded to boys becoming men, and it was Harrison Jones that I was referring to.

What a compelling performance from the young man, rising into the air to clunk mark after mark in a stunning display of his aerial prowess. The fact he was allowed to attack the contests unimpeded aside (I’ll get to that), his hands looked absolutely wonderful as he provided a great bail-out option, as well as a lead-up target for his midfielders as they streamed forward.

Jones finished with two goals (missing the easiest shot he had all game) and dragged down five contested grabs amongst his eight marks for the game.

The Bombers are flush with A-Grade young talent. Those who love the red and black almost wet themselves at the prospect of what Nik Cox could be, but this outing from Jones would have them in raptures. He just looked so natural rising into the air and plucking the footy and with his skinny body and flowing hair… there was a bit of James Hird about him in terms of his perfect timing! High praise, I know… perhaps the highest.

That’s something you simply cannot teach – great timing, and not just once or twice during a game, but every time he attacked it – is innate, and as long as he works on that set shot routine, the Bombers have a genuine star in the making.

Add him to Perkins, Draper, Parish and they’ve still got Zach Reid to come into the team… the Bombers are VERY well placed.

 

HIND V WINGARD

This was a pivotal matchup, and if you’re looking at it on paper, you may be tempted to think it was a tightly fought affair.

Wrong.

With 22 touches playing as a half forward, it is very difficult to fault the performance of Chad Wingard – he tried his guts out in this game. However, when your opponent is a fella named Nick Hind, you have to be prepared to do everything in your power when the ball isn’t in your hands to stifle his run from half back.

And chase as he might, Wingard did not do the hard work early, ending up chasing tail as Hind bolted from half back.

You cannot underestimate just what the run of Hind does for the Bombers. It is a chaos-maker, similar to what Adam Saad used to provide, but a lot less expensive!

He collected 25 touches and registered 745 metres gained for the team to lead the game. Now, these weren’t the Jack Lukosius kind of metres gained, where he just bangs the ball on his boot as hard as he can to “make it somebody else’s problem” (Thanks Dwayne Russell). No, Hind grabs the ball and takes the game on. Unlike Saad, he doesn’t simply bomb it hoping someone is in the vicinity – he actually looks to distribute the ball with every step.

As I stated, it is hard to bemoan the efforts of Wingard – he was one of the more dynamic and engaged members of the Hawthorn forward line when things didn’t go his way, but the run and carry of Hind was simply superb and if we were judging this like a boxing match, Hind would win on points.

 

THE TALENTED MR RIDLEY

I cop a bit of heat here and there, receiving messages from Bomber fans that I am not giving Jordan Ridley enough love in our rolling All-Australian team.

I answer all their messages, but to be clear …

1 – I don’t write it, or decide on who is in it. The talented Mr Matt Oman does that.

2 – Competition for the flank and pocket positions in the team is red hot!

That said, Ridley did himself no hard in terms of his efforts in this game, notching the lazy 25 touches, ten intercepts and almost 500 metres gained playing deep defence.

I’m sure a few of you noticed I left Ridley out of the list of young players, above? You didn’t?

Well… I did, and I did it on purpose, damn it, as he has his own section.

If we’re looking at a moment to sum up Ridley, it came in the last quarter of this game. Chasing the ball back toward Hawthorn’s goal, with the dangerous Luke Breust on his tail, Ridley was expected to rush the ball through, and perhaps draw the ire of the umpire in the process. Breust was kind of banking on it, actually, and if you watch that footage again, you can see him start to motion toward the umpire for a free kick for deliberately rushing the behind.

Only Ridley didn’t deliberately rush the behind.

He simply gathered the footy on the last line, turned, considered his options and delivered the short pass to alleviate the pressure by foot. People, in case you’ve been living under a rock, this kid is all class. I’m not sure how you could have missed his 2020 Best and Fairest-winning season, but if you’re looking for pure football talent in defence, watch Jordan Ridley go about his business.

He is all class.

 

IMPEY AND JIATH ON MCDONALD-TIPUNGWUTI

This was a huge win for the Hawks, and with the way their defence rotated quickly and often, both Jarman Impey and Changkuoth Jiath found themselves with the match-up on the dangerous AMT.

And man, they exploited his lack of fitness!

There is no question that Walla does his best work inside 50, and if you’re an Essendon fan and you’re content with trading off 25 or so touches for what he provides, then that’s fine. Me… I like a bit of accountability, and both Jiath and Impey simply took off whenever the Hawks got the footy and they found themselves with the AMT match-up.

Jiath was arguably the best player on the park in the first quarter and Impey was a close second, both guys working in tandem to provide options across the middle for the Hawks as they disregarded the lack of defensive awareness? No, that’s not right, and I don’t think it was a lack of defensive willingness, either.

It was more a case of a lack of defensive capability from Walla that allowed these two off the chain.

Walla can carve teams up, and whilst two goals will have a few people arguing that he did his job – and perhaps there is some merit in that argument – the fact that the players running off him had such a potent impact on the contest should be a concern.

 

THE ICEMAN

Sam Frost was resolute in defence for the Hawks, and his work in curtailing the influence of Cale Hooker should be commended.

His stats are not impressive as a standalone factor – 11 touches, six intercepts and four spoils, but it is the numbers of his direct opponent, Cale Hooker, that are the important ones.

Hooker had just nine touches, zero marks and no goals for the night, in his worst game of the year. Games like that just don’t happen – the bodywork and positioning of Frost made it incredibly difficult for Hooker all contest.

 

THE TURNOUT

Wow… Tassie is a Bombers stronghold!

What a great turnout from the fans in Tasmania. After being treated like an afterthought by the AFL, they turned out in numbers to support a game that actually felt like it meant something.

With games in Melbourne being relocated all over the country, I wonder whether this is the eye-opener the AFL needs? Not that I expect this number of Bombers supporters to jump ship to a Tassie team should one get a licence – that kind of support will take years to foster – but to see the rabid, footy-hungry supporters turn out to see the team they’ve supported from afar for so long… man, it added so much to the game!

The Bombers face the Dees this coming week… holy cow! The Victorian government is looking at having 30% capacity for… some reason (If there are zero community cases, 30% makes no sense) – the game should be moved to Tassie. They are ready for top flight footy, and the way the Bombers are playing right now, they’re gonna get it!

Well done to the Tassie-based Bomber fans – that’s how you show AFL footy is alive on the Apple Isle!

 

THE BAD

 

BAD KICKING IS BAD FOOTBALL

You just got the feeling in this one that the early misses by the Hawks would come back to haunt them.

With 4.7 on the board, they really should have been 6.5 at the very least, missing some easy set shots through the first half. The Bombers sat at 5.3, making the most of their opportunities and punishing the Hawks for their inaccuracy.

Misses to Wingard, Koschitzke and Scrimshaw hurt the Hawks, whilst the likes of Stringer, Langford and Jones hit the scoreboard with majors… although Jones did his best to square the ledger with a horrid miss from 20m out in the last quarter – it’d be his only blemish for the game.

There was plenty that did not go right for the Hawks in this game, and to be fair, the Bombers could have made a bit more of some late opportunities, but bad early kicking really put the hawks on the back foot, and made a difficult job even harder.

 

FATHER TIME

There’s a bit of yapping around the place about Marc Murphy and his quest to 300 games, but the Hawks and their veteran Shaun Burgoyne are limping toward the 400-game milestone and nobody is chiming in to say he should step aside so the club can “play the kids”.

Really, nor should they – the bloke has been a tower of strength for the club during their glory years and deserves to go out on his terms, but what those terms are… I don’t really know.

He is playing down back at the moment and the contest found him wanting at points against opponents ranging from Stringer to Harrison Jones. What was really concerning was the lack of body contact Burgoyne was making in marking contests. Both he, and his counterparts, Will Day, Changkuoth Jiath and Jack Scrimshaw afforded Jones a clean run at the footy way too often, resulting in the young Bomber looking like James Hird floating in and taking clunks.

Quite simply, it was poor defence, and with Burgoyne playing the “Hodge” role of defensive general, he should have been able to marshall the troops and ensure someone prevented the kid from having a clean run at the packs.

Jones had three disposals inside fifty in the pulsating last quarter, and two of them should have been well and truly shut down by the Hawk defenders. Instead, he was granted a clear runway t take off from and the result… it hurt.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

EXPOSED

Ah yes… I’d like to go back to Jake Stringer if I could, please.

I have your permission? Excellent.

Why is it that no one wearing brown and gold was able to stick a tackle on him for the entire game? I think even the most ardent Essendon supporters would readily admit that Stringer is no gym rat. He is a footballer and simply knows how to play. I don’t think you’ll find him as the first player in the gym or the last to leave.

Remember last year when someone ripped his top off and he looked like your dad on a hot day? That’s the bloke that was rag-dolling Hawthorn without repercussion.

The Hawks’ inability to stop him made him look like he was a slab of iron as he simply waded through their attempted tackles, time and time again. None of them could bring the bloke down. Not O’Meara. Not Mitchell. Not Burgoyne. Not the kid who broke the debut tackles record last week – they simply could not impede his progress at all.

Stringer would stick the arm out, fend off, wiggle those hips and shake them off at every turn, and the Hawks midfielders would just fall away.

Last week, Alastair Clarkson had his charges throw the gloves on and engage in some heated sparring, citing a lack of toughness in his team. The result saw Mitch Lewis sit out nursing a concussion, but it might be time for the Hawks to try something a little more conducive to sticking tackles. Already, plenty of AFL clubs employ former rugby players to teach their charges how to drag a man down. Maybe Hawthorn need to acquire the services of an MMA coach to tech them how to hold on when it looks as though their opponent might break free. In MMA, if you lose your grip, you occasionally lose a few teeth as well.

Lessons learnt the hard way are lessons learnt well, and if this club is going to allow Jake Stringer to treat them like a bunch of Under 18s, then they need to toughen up, engage in some full body tackling and learn how to take someone down.

The Hawks were exposed today by a team with as many youngsters in the side as they had, and that kind of standard is simply not good enough.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS MATT GUELFI PART OF THE BOMBERS’ LONG TERM PLANS?

With the talent coming through… I’m not so sure.

Got a nice Joe-The-Goose goal in the third, but overall, his contributions were minimal.

He did have one nice moment, attacking the contest from the wing and crashing in against Tom Mitchell. Of course, that was mitigated by his 50 metre penalty for back-chatting. I had a couple of Bombers fans message me in the last quarter, asking for him to be strung up after it appeared he’d given away another fifty, but I believe that one was not against him.

Going forward, I reckon he either starts playing a close-checking role, or starts looking elsewhere for opportunity. Kids are going to go past him, quickly.

 

WAS THAT A THUD, COMING BACK TO EARTH FOR JAI NEWCOMBE?

Breaking tackle records one week… unable to get near it the next.

The Hawks threw him into the guts in this one, but it looked like a case of being able to take the boy out of Box Hill, but being unable to take the Box Hill out of the boy.

Second to the footy, and shown a clean pair of heels for the whole game, he looked a step or two off in this one. A learning experience – this AFL caper… a little harder than game number one would have you believe.

 

WHO WERE THE BOMBERS THAT STRUGGLED?

Jayden Laverde had a day he’d rather forget. Not a lot went right for him in this one, and he looked like he was playing angry by the time the third quarter rolled around.

We’ve all had those days where the ball doesn’t bounce your way and every misstep you make is met with an umpire’s whistle, penalising you. He’s better than that, and has been good this season – he’ll bounce back.

Peter Wright was a non-factor. A couple of marks, but could have been wearing an invisibility cloak in the second half and no one would have noticed. Maybe he got a little lost on an unfamiliar ground. Someone should have handed him a map. Mischief managed, Peter.

And as indicated above, Cale Hooker was soundly beaten. Did a fair bit of heavy work in the packs, but in terms of personal influence, there was very little to speak of.

 

DO YOU BELIEVE YET?

Well, do you?

The Bombers are doing so much right at the moment, but our resident Bomber fan, Jimmy Ayres is so pessimistic about this team that it will take something special to get him up and about.

Are you the same?

Can you see something brewing with this group? I sure as hell can, even if it is not going to happen this season.

The young talent is exceptional, the stars are firing and you can feel they’re coming… and not in the Carlton sense, either. Beat the Dees next week and I reckon there are a few that’ll be right on board.

 

AND HOW’D THE HAWKS KIDS GO?

Not as well as they have in the past.

I touched on Newcombe above, but Will Day’s footy brain seemed to abandon him in the last quarter, twice missing Tom Mitchell by foot as he exited the defensive fifty. Both resulted in turnovers and effectively halted the Hawks’ momentum.

Scrimshaw was good, and shows wonderful judgement of the ball in flight, Moore was quiet and Cousins had a mix of good and poor moments.

Jacob Koschitzke was probably the pick of the bunch, with three goals for the game a good reward for a young forward. I am convinced that he is the one big man the Hawks will invest in. Not sure where that’ll leave Mitch Lewis…

 

OTHER BITS

 

I really thought Tom Mitchell went out of the game when the Hawks needed him most this week – it was in stark contrast to the last time these teams met and he put the Hawks on his back to lead them back. Of his six touches in the last quarter, just two were effective.

The Darcy Parish/Zach Merrett combination was good without being wonderful in this one. I did enjoy Merrett’s powerful run through the guts in the third quarter from half back – his willingness to make that second effort set up a goal for his team, and he left Tom Mitchell in his wake at half back in doing so.

Loved the Draper shepherd in the second quarter. No malice, and if anything it was like a great basketball screen to avoid having his actions looked at by the MRO. Clever boy…

Luke Breust continues to be one of the most dangerous small forwards in the competition. Three more goals gives him 20 for the season as he compiles another stellar year. Interestingly, he sits at 18 tackles inside 50 as well.

Breust has gone the closest to registering 50 goals and 100 tackles in a single season – with 54 goals and 99 tackles in 2018 – that’s as close as anyone has ever got.

The Shiels tag on Merrett? Ineffective to a large extent, and took Shiels right out of the game in the process. I’d call that one a fail.

 

To wrap up, in case you are unaware, I am a Hawthorn supporter. I am pre-programmed to hate Essendon, yet I understand full-well what an up-and-about Bombers team means to this competition. You get the Dees next week, and I am genuinely hoping you knock them over. In one game in Tassie, I saw more passion and enjoyment from the fans than I have watching Melbourne all year. You think you’ve been burnt over the last twenty years… check out those poor buggers!

The Hawks get the Giants, and seem to play well against them. It’ll be interesting to see how they go, but I am not expecting an upset. That said, when the Giants have a lot to play for, they have really fallen over in the last couple of seasons.

 

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