*Please note – this article was completed prior to R14, so any performances in that round will not be included; good or bad. Jimmy submitted it before the deadline, but technology did not cooperate with us – HB

 

It’s been a tough season for the Bombers, so if you’re looking for an article that will sugarcoat a 3-10 start, then this definitely isn’t the piece for you. However, if you’re looking for some honest assessments and in-depth coverage from someone that follows the team closely at AFL and VFL level, then this piece just might make your next bathroom visit a little more enlightening.

This particular piece focuses more on the players’ contributions to the senior side as individuals, as opposed to the team as a whole.

 

 

1 – Andrew McGrath

 

Personal Highlight: Coming off a PCL injury that restricted his gametime last season, McGrath has managed every game to date in 2022, assuming some minor leadership roles on-field. He currently sits second behind the obvious leader in Darcy Parish for contested ball at this point in the season, having been used in a number of positions as the club struggled to make the jigsaw pieces fit.

Personal Lowlight: Another year of uncertainty has seen McGrath play around the ground in multiple roles. Regularly as a half-back flanker, but occasionally thrown in the middle for his pace and decision making, we’re seeing yet another season go to waste with a lack of consistency in his role appearing to affect his impact. He’s also ranked equal second in turnovers, thanks largely to his higher possession numbers.

Best Game: Round 4 vs Adelaide

Whilst the stats sheets will say that Anzac Day was his best game, I rated McGrath’s effort against the Crows higher. He was brilliant against the Magpies, playing more out of the centre as Essendon’s on-ballers dominated the opposition midfield with attacking play. However, his two-way brilliance against Adelaide was on full display. He racked up 25 disposals and laid seven tackles playing predominantly at the centre bounce as a defending mid, trying to curb the influence of Rory Laird and Ben Keays. Showing his versatility and supreme decision-making, but also his classy footwork.

Projection: Touted as Essendon’s next captain alongside Zach Merrett, McGrath no doubt features heavily in the Bombers’ future plans as they battle to return to relevance. There have been whispers of other clubs enquiring at his contract status, but you would expect the Bombers to lock him away. For his own benefit, and that of the club, it’s time they decide on the role he plays within the team, and let him serve that purpose. Into his sixth season now, nobody can really say exactly what McGrath is, a detriment that this club is ever-so guilty of inflicting on its players.

 

2 – Sam Draper

 

Personal Highlight: Another player who is relishing his season after being plagued by injury last year is Sam Draper. Playing every game so far, the young ruckman has taken further steps towards being Essendon’s number one ruckman for many years to come, shouldering the bulk of the ruck work with Andrew Phillips and Nick Bryan throughout the season.

Personal Lowlight: The soccer convert still has his issues with kicking the ball. Whilst nobody can question his endeavour, nor his love for the team, Draper has a ways to go with his skill set both contesting the ruck and around the ground. His ruck craft has improved on last season, however, his game outside the centre is reflective of his side’s current progress as a whole.

Best Game: Round 7 vs Western Bulldogs

Yet another player that fared well on Anzac Day, but it was his dominance over Stefan Martin in the ruck, with the Bulldogs missing Tim English, that was the highlight for me. Not only was he clearly on top of the hitouts, he got forward for numerous shots on goal and wreaked havoc at half forward. Also a special mention to his game against the Lions in Round 2 – another of those games where the stats sheet looks even, but he stopped the Lions from registering more than one hitout to advantage until late in the third quarter.

Projection: A strong and reliable coaching panel was part of Draper’s desire when the Saints fielded a monster offer to the untried ruckman in his early years. Since then he has worked largely with former Bombers Tom Bellchambers and Mark Jamar as ruck coaches, and is contracted until the end of 2023. A player that wears his heart on his.. wrist tape? With an undeniable passion for the club and his teammates. Just needs to take that next step to be beside the competition’s best ruckmen.

 

3 – Darcy Parish

 

Personal Highlight: Despite what you’ll read in the papers, Darcy Parish is having a tremendous season once again as Essendon’s premier ball-winner, and anyone that suggests otherwise is naive to the circumstances that surround him. To pin the blame of the entire side’s shortcomings this season on one of their most reliable players was harsh and shortsighted, but hey, controversy cultivates clicks and clicks create cash. Parish not only leads the Bombers in most relevant key stats, but he’s also amongst the AFL’s leaders in many as well. If the Bombers’ win/loss record for the season was inverted but Parish’s season remained identical to what it is currently, I guarantee you that he is afforded a lot more leeway and praised for his efforts.

Personal Lowlight: Back in Round 3 against Melbourne, Parish was taken out of the midfield to allow Jake Stringer more time opposed to the likes of Oliver and Petracca, with McGrath running directly alongside the latter and causing him some headaches. The change in structure clearly affected Parish, and his game subsequently suffered for it. The harsh criticism that’s landed on the lap of Parish this season has been unwarranted when there have been a lot worse performers than himself week in/week out.

Best Game: Round 10 vs Richmond

Gee, it’s hard to pick just one, but his efforts during the Dreamtime at the ‘G match were unquestionable. He amassed 43 disposals and laid eight tackles in a game that showcased his ability to win clearances but also defend when the ball went the other way – something that the Bombers as a whole have severely lacked this season.

Projection: One of the undeniable keystones of the Bombers’ future, they are set to literally revolve their midfield around Parish’s ability to win the ball. To think that he was almost pushed out the door in a move to Geelong that would’ve netted peanuts for Essendon is laughable now. So many punters are unaware of just how close this was to a reality. Parish signed a two-year deal last season that will see him at the Bombers until the end of 2023.

 

4 – Kyle Langford

 

Personal Highlight: N/A

Personal Lowlight: Langford played approximately seven minutes of football this season before injuring his hamstring in a marking contest against Geelong in Round 1. The same hamstring that was injured late in 2021, causing him to miss Finals. More potential injury mismanagement at the Bombers has robbed Langford of more than half a season as the club opted to have his hamstring repaired surgically.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: With his rehab process coming to an end, Langford has only just begun training with the main side again at a limited capacity. He’s expected to play some game time in the next fortnight which will almost certainly be via the VFL before building up some match fitness and hopefully returning to the senior side later in the season.

 

5 – Devon Smith

 

Personal Highlight: In a brutally honest assessment, the highlights have been few and far between for Smith since succumbing to a knee injury in 2019. He has been plagued by niggles ever since and has struggled to look anywhere near the form that won him the Crichton Medal in 2018, the same season that he laid more tackles than any other player and was ranked the number one pressure player in the league. 

Personal Lowlight: Smith has managed eight games through poor form and injury this season, with a number of those seeing him start as the medical sub. Ask yourself Bombers fans, from those eight games mentioned, how many individual highlights or pressure acts can you recall off the top of your head? When the ball exits your forward 50 with ease on a weekly basis, how many times have you seen Smith doing the run and chase?

Best Game: Round 5 vs Fremantle

If I’m forced to pick one, then it was the side’s embarrassing capitulation to the Dockers at Marvel Stadium. Smith was productive and had a number of snap shots on goal that missed, including coercing Sam Durham to handball of a set shot on goal for another snap that Smith ultimately missed – a shot that would’ve put the Bombers up by seven points. He laid a team-high six tackles and made his presence known physically.

Projection: It’s do or die for Smith, who is a risk of slipping out of this side in favour of a younger player. He is contracted until the end of the 2023 season, but coach Ben Rutten has already dropped him at points this season, also relegating him to medical sub duties. A big second half of the year is required for Smith.

 

6 – Jye Caldwell

 

Personal Highlight: Besides missing Round 10’s Dreamtime at the ‘G match with a shoulder injury, Jye Caldwell has played every game this year for the Bombers. He too has been used in numerous different roles, making it hard to assess his season as a whole, rather than based on the individual merits of each game.

Personal Lowlight: I firmly believe any doubts around Caldwell stem from the team’s poor performances this season, not on him directly. His ceiling is high and people forget that he’s only 21 and played a career total of 24 games. His time will come, and the Bombers will be better for it.

Best Game: Round 1 vs Geelong

In a terrible game to kick-start the year for the club, Caldwell hit the season sprinting. Kicking 2.1 and providing a spark in a rare period up forward, but also winning the ball at the contest as the Bombers worked plenty of players through the middle. His effort in the club’s second win of the season against the Hawks in Round 8 was also brilliant, kicking a goal once again and laying seven tackles as he floated between the centre contests and the forward line.

Projection: The Bombers dangled a four year carrot in front of Caldwell to entice him into leaving GWS back in 2020, so he will remain at the club until the end of the 2024 season. One of a few exciting younger players at the Bombers that will blossom further once the team finds some cohesion. The possibilities with Caldwell are endless, he’s a tackling machine that can find the goals and win the hardball as an inside midfielder.

 

7 – Zach Merrett

 

Personal Highlight: Zach has continued his leadership push as vice-captain under Dyson Heppell once again this season, widely regarded by many as the next captain in waiting. He has been tried behind the ball more this season in a new floating role that has seen him sacrifice his own personal game for the supposed betterment of the team. Utilising his brilliant field kicking to try and set up play off the half back line, but obviously losing him in the midfield, which hurts.

Personal Lowlight: Suffering a syndesmosis injury late in the side’s loss to Brisbane in Round 2 out a huge sour on the club when scans revealed that he would require surgery and miss up to eight weeks of football. In some rare form of injury luck for the club, and following the League’s trend of dreaded syndesmosis injuries not being as bad as first thought this season, Merrett was able to return after missing only three weeks of football. He hasn’t fully returned to his best yet, but a lot of that hinges on him playing in a foreign position.

Best Game: Round 5 vs Collingwood

A return to football from his aforementioned injury happened to coincide with the biggest game on the home and away calendar; Anzac Day, and Zach was unstoppable in the midfield, playing his old role of outside mid and using his classy disposal to set up the game heading forward. He was part of a dominant midfield that absolutely handed it to the Magpies, unfortunately their inability to prevent transition footy going against them caused their unravelling in that game.

Projection: The Bombers have pegged their future on Zach Merrett as becoming their next captain, signing their star midfielder to a mammoth six year deal last season that will see him likely remain a Bomber for life, or at least until the end of the 2027 season. It would be wise to get his position sorted before he takes over the reins as captain, presumably next season. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble if you employ a 27-year-old to captain the club when he’s adapting to his side’s own instability.

 

8 – Ben Hobbs

 

Personal Highlight: Making his senior debut in his first season of AFL football at the age of 18 is a massive tick in its own right. Playing every game since and cementing your place within the side is just a brilliant example of the player that Ben Hobbs is, and shows us exactly why the Bombers pounced on him when he slipped through to them with what ended up being their Pick 13 in last year’s draft.

Personal Lowlight: Honestly, if I’m being fair there isn’t a lot of downside right now, and anyone who says otherwise is either a pessimistic peanut or has their priorities completely wrong. Taking into full account that this kid is 18 years old, literally fresh out of school and only beginning to develop physically as a player and emotionally as an adult, then he’s going along fine. The skills will come, the confidence will rise and the footy nous will continue to build. He’s already shown that he’s not afraid to throw his body around and seldom ever lacks effort.

Best Game: Round 8 – vs Hawthorn

Almost a little breakout game of sorts, Hobbs showed tenacity on the wing and at half forward, getting up to kick his first goal in AFL football and showing his hard-nosed side. He wasn’t afraid of a contest in the air or on the ground, and he wasn’t afraid to run and tackle. We’ve only had a small sample size thus far in his career, but I cannot wait to see more.

Projection: Hobbs is signed to a standard two-year contract as per the draft, so he will be in further talks to extend his contract beyond next season. This is nothing that the club doesn’t already know, but they need to do right by this kid. No changing his position every few weeks, no in and out of the side because he’s not gathering 40 touches a game, none of the standard Essendon crap that we’ve seen inflicted on recruits for a long time. Let the kid develop, give him time, give him games and nurture him. You will reap the rewards.

 

9 – Dylan Shiel

Personal Highlight: Dylan has played every game except one this season, but the personal accolades haven’t been as forthcoming, instead the external pressure has been heaped on him by the media as he is one of many players in the side that are currently struggling to find consistent form.

Personal Lowlight: As was mentioned above, Shiel has been judged on his output by the expectations heaped on him from afar, due to the high price paid for his services. Is that fair? Probably not. Will it ever change? Even less likely. In today’s game, a player is judged by their evaluated worth to a team, which is calculated by what they cost the side. This sounds a bit layman, but if you read between the lines it’s accurate. Think of the scrutiny you’ve heard on the news directed at Todd Marshall from Port Adelaide or Tim English from the Bulldogs. Both are tall players taken in the first 20 picks of the 2016 National Draft, and have had the subsequent expectations of that number heaped on them. Now, cast your mind to Mitchell Lewis from Hawthorn. He’s hitting his straps brilliantly now, yet he was given a lot of extra leeway with the weight of expectation. Why? He was taken in the exact same draft as the two talls I mentioned earlier. I’ll tell you why, because he was taken at Pick 76 – the second last name called out in the entire draft. Whether you like it or not, players have been judged on their cost for a long time and the more the AFL push for player movement, the more of it we’ll see.

Best Game: Round 3 vs Melbourne

Against the reigning premiers, Shiel showcased a lot of what the Bombers had hoped for when they brought the big name recruit over from the Giants. He was able to win clearances, finishing the game with the equal second-most on the ground, plus he directly set up numerous goals and showed us flashes of his brilliant pace.

Projection: Shiel is contracted until the end of the 2024 season, but has been the subject of vigorous external pressure throughout the season, especially after being ‘dropped’ for his poor form earlier in the season. The Bombers need a number of players to find their mojo, and Dylan Shiel is certainly one of them. They need his burst pace out in the middle, they need him to rediscover his confidence and they need it all in a hurry.

 

10 – Aaron Francis

 

Personal Highlight: It hasn’t been a great year for Aaron, who’s been relegated back to the VFL numerous times. Unfortunately, the Bombers have a knack of recruiting players that excel in the VFL, but for one reason or another struggle to adapt to senior football with continuity. I’m not saying that this is the case with Francis, but there is a case to be argued, especially off this season’s form.

Personal Lowlight: As great as it was to see Francis back in the side after missing a portion of last season due to mental health issues, he has struggled to make any impact within the side. Slotting into this year’s makeshift forward line, but a lack of cohesion in the side as a whole has contributed to his run of poor form.

Best Game: Round 8 vs Hawthorn

‘Franga’ was recalled to the side and played a bit of a cameo up forward, kicking two goals from his two contested marks as he played second fiddle to the Peter Wright Show (who kicked six straight goals).

Projection: Another player out of contract at the end of the season. Francis turned his back in a potential trade back home to South Australia and signed a three-year contract to remain at the Bombers until the end of the 2022 season. There’s a lot of talk around town that Essendon should look to offload Francis to a South Australian club for the club’s benefit, and for his own.

 

11 – Will Snelling

 

Personal Highlight: N/A

Personal Lowlight: Will missed the first three rounds of the season after suffering a calf strain in preparation for Round 1 against Geelong. He was called up to the side to take on Adelaide in Round 4, only to reinjure his calf and be subbed out before halftime. Unfortunately, the injury has pushed out longer than concerned, and he’s still sidelined over two months later.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: A super consistent season in 2021 saw Snelling rewarded with a two-year contract extension that will tie him to the club until the end of 2023. A severely underrated player both when he’s playing and when he’s missing. Losing him and Kyle Langford was shrugged off by many this season, but losing those two has had a massive flow-on effect for the Bombers this season.

 

12 – Tom Cutler

Personal Highlight: It was a strong finish to the season last year that had Bombers fans excited at the prospect of what role Cutler would play in the side this year. After strong games against the Magpies and the Bulldogs, both wins, he has pieced together eight games, but a couple of those were started as medical sub.

Personal Lowlight: When he was traded from Brisbane at the end of 2019, Cutler mentioned in an interview that the Bombers were certain that he could take his game to a new level with them. I’m sure they sold him the dream, but unfortunately, it hasn’t quite happened yet. He couldn’t break into the Lions’ side as a wingman and left chasing opportunities. As harsh as this will sound, he isn’t going to grow at the Bombers. They’re not a team that can take an established player from another club and make them great. Hawthorn were brilliant at it through the late 2000’s and early-mid 2010’s, but it’s not something that has been a strong point for Essendon in over 20 years.

Best Game: Round 1 vs Geelong

The first game of the season kept Cutler on his toes as he played predominantly across the backline. With the influx of Geelong’s forward 59 entries, he was kept busy for the day and snuck forward for a goal.

Projection: Cutler was awarded at the end of last year with a one-year contract extension. If this Bombers side is fit and firing, youth and all, I don’t see Cutler as being anything more than depth, or a sub option as best. There are certainly younger players coming through that could do with his place in the side for experience.

 

13 – Nik Cox

 

Personal Highlight: After a strong start to his career in 2021, playing 22 games throughout his debut season, Nik appeared to suffer the second-year blues which we saw glimpses of as he tired towards the end of last season. It was a brilliant effort to play so many games as a 19-year-old, but something that eluded him this season.

Personal Lowlight: He left the field in the clash against the Bulldogs back in Round 7 with an ankle injury. Scans revealed that he’s suffered a pretty major Lisfranc injury, and will now miss the remainder of the season as he recovers from surgery. Hopefully, a full recovery and strong offseason will see him fit and primed for a much better 2023 season.

Best Game: Round 2 vs Brisbane

We definitely didn’t see the best of Nik Cox this year. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to replicate his form of early last year that saw him burst on the scene as a 200cm wingman that could run all day. Against the Lions, he racked up plenty of possessions as he took on the game all around the ground. Unfortunately, he left the ground late with a supposedly unrelated ankle injury.

Projection: We’ve all heard the word that Nik Cox could be anything. He was a sought-after top 10 pick after all. Unfortunately, through injury and adaptation, we’ve only seen snippets here and there of what he’s truly capable of. The club has recently announced that it has signed Cox to a further two-year extension, meaning we’ll see him in the red and black until at least the end of the 2024 season. Here’s hoping that he can get back on the park, find his place in the side and show exactly why he was such a highly touted player.

 

14 – Jordan Ridley

 

Personal Highlight: Winning a well-deserved best and fairest award in 2020 as a bloke that had only just entered his 20’s was a justified recognition of the impact Jordan had on the club. Spoken by many as a potential leader of the footy club, Ridley followed up a brilliant season last year with a few struggles here and there, largely in part to the team’s inability to work cohesively with one another ultimately leading to games blowing out, which naturally reflects poorly on defenders.

Personal Lowlight: We haven’t seen Jordan beaten comprehensively on an occasion that he’s played one out. He loses the odd battle here and there, but given the fee nature of his role in the back line, a lot of scrutiny falls on him when the ball is let into the opposition forward line with the ease that we’ve allowed it

Best Game: Round 7 vs Western Bulldogs

Going off the simplicity of the stats sheet, Ridley held the dangerous Aaron Naughton goalless in their duel. The reality was Norton struggled immensely with the attention from Ridley in the first half. In the second half he won a few more contests and set up a number of goals, but the damage was still done. It was a terrific defensive job done against one of the best-contested marks currently in the game.

Projection: When the club finds a way to stop the barrage of scoring through the centre, players like Ridley will appear to have a much better season because they’re not being bombarded with rapid opposition attacks that should’ve been stopped three or four kicks before getting there. He signed a six-year deal at the end of last season that will see him remain a Bomber until the end of 2026. Hopefully continuing to be a solid bookend for the Bombers as they build this list into something successful.

 

15 – Jayden Laverde

 

Personal Highlight: The switch from the forward line to the back line was a huge positive last season. Laverde uses his physical strength and his ability to read the ball in the air to make up for the height differential that he usually gives up. There has been immense pressure heaped on the Bombers’ defence this season, and that has culminated in a struggle for them as goals are conceded regularly.

Personal Lowlight: A number of injuries have hurt the Dons at times this season. It hasn’t necessarily been their biggest names, but other players that are pivotal to the team’s structure in their own right. James Stewart’s absence has been greatly missed by Laverde, with he and Zach Reid in his single-digit career tally being forced to man up on the best tall forwards in the competition each week.

Best Game: Round 10 vs Richmond

Spending a little bit of time on Tom Lynch, Jack Riewoldt and even Dustin Martin for a period, Laverde took contested marks, laid tackles, spoiled the ball and provided general havoc for the Tigers forwards at times.

Projection: In April this year the Bombers announced that Jayden had signed a three-year extension on his contract that makes him an Essendon player until the end of 2025. He’s become a pillar of strength and resilience in the back line, but my god does he need some help.

 

16 – Archie Perkins

 

Personal Highlight: There will be more and more highlights to come for this kid, of that I am sure. He’s currently working through the motions of a half-forward floater with some occasional time on the ball, which had been ramped up more so in recent weeks. The long-term view is certainly to utilise his evasiveness, marking ability and classy disposal within the midfield more.

Personal Lowlight: Opportunities have gone begging for Archie, and through little fault of his own. It’s hard to excel when you’re plonked on the half-forward line and the ball delivery to you is atrocious or non-existent.

Best Game: Round 2 vs Brisbane

We’ve seen a number of great signs from Perkins this season in different positions, making it hard to judge which was his best game. I gave it to his three-goal return against the Lions early in the season. The Bombers struggled to score and Archie found ways against the grain to score across each quarter of the game.

Projection: An announcement was made only a couple of weeks ago that Archie has signed on for a further two years at the club, until the conclusion of the 2024 season. He will feature heavily in the Bombers’ plans for the future, having already played 32 games in his brief, year and a half on an AFL list.

 

17 – James Stewart

 

Personal Highlight: N/A

Personal Lowlight: Injuring his calf has all but ruined Stewart’s season to date. He only managed three games before suffering a calf complaint in his lead-up to the Bombers Round 4 win over the Crows.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: James Stewart may not be the defender that Essendon wants right now, but his height and body size make him the defender that they need whilst Zach Reid matures. Jayden Laverde would be screaming for a big, mature body to help him down the back. Stewart signed a two-year extension in 2020 which runs out at the end of the season. The images of him training with the forwards have come to fruition, playing in the forward line at VFL level in his most recent outing.

 

18 – Michael Hurley


Personal Highlight: N/A

Personal Lowlight: In a strange way it doesn’t feel like it’s been over 630 days since we’ve seen Michael Hurley play footy for Essendon, but at the same time it also feels like a lot longer. The hip infection and subsequent hip replacement that has plagued Hurley since late 2020 almost ended his career, with the former All-Australian defender still not right to play a competitive game of football.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: A really sad story out of the Bombers in recent years is that of Michael Hurley. A club champion who is much loved and well respected by his teammates, coaches and fans alike has had his career severely shortened by a freak illness. His side could’ve done with his once big body in defence over the past two seasons. After signing a long-term contract back in 2016 and having just turned 32, Hurley is, unfortunately, facing an ever-steepening uphill battle to make it back on the field.

 

19 – Nick Hind

Personal Highlight: His run and carry, and willingness to take the game on has been an ongoing highlight, but amid all the run and carry, you can see a more mature version of Hind emerging, often lowering his eyes to pick the best option – not just banging it on the boot, as his predecessor did.

Personal Lowlight: Unfortunately for Nick, the drop-off of quality in the gameplay that we’re seeing from the Bombers this season greatly affects the way that he plays. The dashing half-back showed huge value for money last year as the Bombers nabbed their former VFL player from the Saints for peanuts, proving to be one of the bargain recruits of the season because his game style was complimentary to the way that the Bombers were playing.

Best Game: Round 4 vs Adelaide

It was a toss up between the Adelaide and the Port Adelaide games for me, with an honourable mention for his vital run in the Hawks game. Against the Crows in the Bombers’ first win of the season, Hind was amongst the Bombers’ best players. The ability to utilise his pace out of the backline was key in his side’s win, he set up a number of scoring chains off his dare and dash.

Projection: Nick signed a two-year contract extension earlier this year that will see him remain at the club until the end of the 2024 season. Although he was dropped once earlier in the season, he is seen as an important part of Essendon’s defensive plans going forward. He is the key pillar of pace out of this side’s back line and needs the team to be better as a whole to play into his attacking hands.

 

20 – Peter Wright

 

Personal Highlight: It’s been a season of ups and downs for former Sun in his second year at the club. We have seen him reach his highest of heights, both in a marking sense and a general playing sense, as well as seen him greatly suffer through his own faults and those of the team around him. The talk forward has played every game for the Bombers this year and kicked 25 goals to date.

Personal Lowlight: In all honesty, the past month of football has been poor from Peter. He hasn’t registered a goal since the side’s embarrassing capitulation at the hands of Sydney way back in Round 9. At times it looks as if he struggled with the extra attention he receives being the focal point of the forward line, but even with the return of Harrison Jones to the side, Wright has failed at his leading patterns and being able to present well just as greatly as those kicking the ball inside 50 seem to frequently kick it to his disadvantage.

Best Game: Round 8 vs Hawthorn

Six goals straight in a brilliant display of forward craft that once again had some overzealous commentators making comparisons to the likes of Wayne Carey. His eight marks and six goals, including three majors in the final quarter when his side kicked away and nailed the coffin shut for the Hawks were impressive and had his name firmly in Coleman Medal calculations at the time.

Projection: With one year left to run on his three-year contract that he signed when he was traded to the club, the Bombers will likely be looking at offering Wright a new deal sometime next season, given that his current contract expires at the end of 2023. He is clearly the main man in the eyes of the Bombers, they are looking to build their future-forward line around both be and Harry Jones as the two tall forwards.

 

21 – Dyson Heppell

 

Personal Highlight: Having his position as captain, his demeanour, his match-day ability and even his haircut frequently questioned by those external to the club, the Essendon skipper currently holds tenure in one of the more unenviable positions in the League. It’s been a visually rough season for the Bombers, and nobody wears the brunt of that burden more-so than their captain. Especially when his own playing form has taken a hit.

Personal Lowlight: It’s hard to go past the position that the side is currently in, and a lot of the pressure from the fallout lands squarely back on Dyson. He has asserted himself well within the media amidst heavy scrutiny, however, it would be remiss of me not to mention the clear drop-off in his form this season. Last year he cemented his place across the halfback line under new coach Ben Rutten, being able to use his courage and ability to read the play as a fountain of knowledge behind the ball. This season, unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like the stresses of captaining a side crumbling under the weight of external expectations is starting to negatively affect Dyson, and the side is suffering further as a consequence of his lack of form.

Best Game: Round 5 vs Fremantle

Both in terms of statistics and impact, one of Dyson’s best games for the season was against the Dockers when the side threw in the towel completely in the second half and succumbed to a thrashing at Marvel Stadium. His intercept work was superb, often finding himself on the last line of defence, Heppell created play out of the back line and had no second thought when it came to putting his body on the line to mark the ball.

Projection: With his contract set to expire at season’s end, the rumour mill is churning strongly that Dyson is likely to be replaced as Essendon captain next season, with Zach Merrett the likely candidate to replace him, possibly with Andrew McGrath thrown in the mix somewhere. Perhaps with the burden of captaincy alleviated, we may get a chance to see Dyson back towards his best on the field.

 

22 – Sam Durham

 

Personal Highlight: Essendon’s selection in the midseason draft of 2021 got his chance reasonably early and made the most of his opportunity, playing seven straight games last year to see out the season, and continuing on to play ten of a possible twelve so far this season. Sam started off with small stints throughout the midfield and has spent a lot of time floating up and down the wing.

Personal Lowlight: Trying to hold your spot in the team is hard enough for most 20-year-olds, let alone given the circumstances currently surrounding the club. As a small to mid-sized player that hasn’t notched 20 games to his name yet, there is still a lot of development required in Durham’s game. But the signs so far in this torrid season have been fruitful.

Best Game: Round 11 vs Port Adelaide

As the conditions at Adelaide Oval got wetter, greasier and tougher, Sam’s game just got better and better. He threw himself at contests, he worked hard to win the ball and never once took a backwards step. The entire game wasn’t pretty, nor was Sam’s contribution, but it was everything that his coaches would’ve come to expect from the hard-edged country boy. He also spent time running with Travis Boak and Ollie Wines at points throughout the game, possibly adding a tagging string to his bow.

Projection: Sam renewed his contract for a further two years earlier in the season which will tie him to the club until the end of 2024. He is no doubt a player that powers that be have their eyes on as a crash-and-bash part of their future midfield rotation.

 

23 – Harrison Jones

Personal Highlight: Sadly for Harry, just making it back into the team back in Round 11 after missing the first half of the season with a long injury layoff is almost certainly the highlight of his year to date.

Personal Lowlight: Suffering from ankle injuries and numerous subsequent setbacks, Harry failed in his bid to back up his 16 games that he played last season. Having played in the Bombers’ last two games, hopefully, it’s a building block for Jones to carve out a brilliant second half of the year and get more games under his belt.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: Undoubtedly, Jones is looked upon as the long-term future of the Bombers’ forward line. The lifelong Bombers supporter signed a two year extension last year so he’ll begin further contract talks sometime next season. He is one of a few players in this side that show genuine passion and emotion for the club, and his positive energy shown just for being in the team is infectious.

 

24 – Nick Bryan

 

Personal Highlight: Nick has spent the majority of his season in the VFL. He was called into the senior side in the absence of Andrew Phillips to take on the second rotating ruck role behind Sam Draper, and earned himself three games in that time, including the win over Hawthorn – his first and only win for the club in his four-game career.

Personal Lowlight: Being relegated to VFL ruck duties isn’t a sign of disparagement for the 20-year-old. He is seen as a long-term prospect to take over the rotating ruck and forward duties with Sam Draper in the distant future. Like they did in years passed with Draper, the Bombers are taking a cautious approach with Bryan, affording him every opportunity to grow and flourish at the reserves level before major exposure at the top level.

Best Game: Round 10 vs Richmond

I’ve tried to refrain from naming a best game for those that haven’t played a minimum five games this season to gauge as a reasonable sample size. However, in the case of Nick Bryan, he deserves a mention for his efforts in Dreamtime at the ‘G against the Tigers. Not only did he kick the first goal of his career, but he won his fair share of ruck battles from his light exposure and wasn’t scared to go hard in the contest, given that the majority of his possessions were contested.

Projection: Bryan signed a two year contract extension last year, he will remain in the red and black until at least the end of next year. With his progression being impressive thus far, he’s almost certain to be rewarded with another extension.

 

25 – Jake Stringer

 

Personal Highlight: They’ve been few and far between for Stringer in season 2022. Having managed only five games thanks to ongoing injury complaint, the Bombers have her to see a decent run of games from one of their most important players.

Personal Lowlight: Now that you’ve pondered that statement, it’s hard to deny that Stringer is one of the Bombers’ most important and influential players when he’s fit and firing. Unfortunately, the ‘when’ part has left a lot to be desired this year. He was yet another victim of the club’s inability to manage injury concerns, playing only two games before being back out of the side recovering for another two. Managing another two in a row once again before sitting on the sidelines for five weeks, then making his very underwhelming return against the Blues in Round 13.

Best Game: Round 6 vs Collingwood

It feels like almost a lifetime ago now, but Jake kicked three goals on Anzac Day and caused headaches for the Collingwood defenders. Unfortunately for him and for the club, the fact that he’s been dealing with constant injury niggles hasn’t allowed him a decent crack at working his way back into form.

Projection: There has been a lot of talk around Stringer’s contract. He held off talks last season to let his footy do the talking, to which his 41 goals for the season and earning his place as statistically the best player in the AFL in the second half of the season (that supporters love to dwell on), helped earn him a three-year contract with certain caveats around performance and fitness, that will see Jake remain at the club until the end of the 2024 season. There is absolutely no question that the 28-year-old holds an important place in the side, he is by far one of the Dons’ most important and impressive players at full capacity. Now it’s just a matter of getting him back to that capacity.

 

26 – Kaine Baldwin

 

Personal Highlight: In his first uninterrupted season at the club, Kaine has managed to play in four games to this point in the year. After a string of quiet games, he was relegated back to the VFL to work on his craft and make improvements to his game. He kicked the first goal of his career in Round 7, his third senior game.

Personal Lowlight: Unfortunately the rigours of senior football were deemed too much for Baldwin, now playing back in the reserves to earn his recall into the side. After recovering from successive ACL injuries in his short career, it’s been a long time between drinks for Kaine in an unconventional start to his career.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: There are a number of things for the talented 20 year old to work on, but once he irons out the creases I’m sure he’ll find his way back into the seniors. His VFL form has been impressive in recent weeks, it would be hard to maintain composure when both your senior and reserves sides are playing such terrible football. Kaine signed a one year contract extension last year, so will be in discussion once again this season.

 

27 – Mason Redman

 

Personal Highlight And Lowlight: Mason has notched up 71 games since making his debut back in 2016. He’s missed one game through suspension this season and is currently in the midst of one of a year that fluctuates between really handy and really average, which hangs largely on the defensive unit coming under fire thanks to frequent shortcomings from players further up the ground failing to prevent transition football.

Best Game: Round 10 vs Richmond

Google, what is a blinder? Given how poor the Bombers have looked this season, and the usual three or so players being the ones to impress each week or two, Dreamtime at the ‘G was a ripping game from Redman who was the ultimate rebound specialist. He racked up 29 disposals, 25 of which were kicks for over 950 metres gained, 10 marks and 5 tackles in the defenders best game of the season, and also best game period for a long time.

Of course, if I were to update this, his game against the Saints in R14 probably tops all this season.

Projection: Mason signed a two year contract extension last year that will tie him to the club until the end of next year. At just 24, he’s cemented himself firmly inside the Bombers best 22 and will likely remain there given that his importance to the side is immense when the back line works together in cohesion.

 

28 – Alastair Lord

 

Personal Highlight: Alastair made his debut back in Round 8 against the Hawks, but unfortunately for the 18-year-old, the club felt it pertinent to name the debutant as the medical sub, meaning that his first game will forever be registered as one where he never actually took the field. His season will continue at VFL level where he can work on his game, size and ability. For those unaware, Lord is a flashy half-back with plenty of pace and a nice kick.

Personal Lowlight: Unable to take the field as of yet this season, Lord has time in front of him to impress in the reserves and make his way into the seniors.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: His initial contract when drafted to the club last year is set to expire at the end of next year. With the club looking for more pace this year in the midseason draft, Lord could hopefully still play games later in the year if he keeps up the hard work at VFL level. Speed and control out of the backline is something key to the modern game, giving him ample opportunities to prove himself.

 

29 – Jake Kelly

 

Personal Highlight: Kelly has played every game this season bar one since crossing over from the Crows at the end of last season as a free agent. He’s held down the post of targeting opposition small forwards, but with other defenders coming in and out of the side, he’s been forced to play on an array of players.

Personal Lowlight: A defensive unit is only as good as its weakest link. I’m not saying Kelly is the weakest link, but when one defender struggles it flows onto the other men in the backline. You begin to realise the depths of a team sport when you take a case such as the Bombers. Failings at certain points of the ground have caused havoc and excessive pressure on teammates at the other end.

Best Game: Round 5 vs Fremantle

It’s no surprise that one of the Bombers’ worst performances as a team equated to Kelly’s best individual performance. He kept Michael Walters goalless and amassed 26 disposals and 9 marks as the back line came under heavy fire.

Projection: Kelly signed a three-year deal when he crossed over from Adelaide, meaning he’ll be at the club until the end of the 2024 season. He certainly plays a role on a small forward each week, occasionally someone taller. He will greatly benefit by a little more team stability, or at least that’s what fans are hoping.

 

30 – Brandon Zerk-Thatcher

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Personal Highlight: Brandon played six senior games in 2021 and has currently played four so far in 2022.

Personal Lowlight: The signs are there, that’s what we’re told. But the fact is the ripping VFL form just isn’t equating to good form when elevated to the senior list. He’s been tried as a replacement for James Stewart before the coaching staff decided they were better off rehashing who was left, rather than bringing another defender in. Brandon now stands behind Zach Reid in the pecking order.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: A two-year contract was offered to Zerk-Thatcher last year so he will have at least next year to try and prove that he’s up to playing football at the highest level.

 

31 – Zach Reid

Personal Highlight: After managing only one game in his debut season, largely thanks to a horrendous bout of glandular fever and back issues, Zach has added a further six games to his tally so far this season. He has lined up on some of the competition’s best forwards this season and at times held his own and showed his defensive nous. He will be much better for the extended run in the absence of James Stewart, so much so that Stewart’s return to the AFL is looking more likely to happen in the forward line.

Personal Lowlight: Having just turned 20, it would be naive to expect Dustin Fletcher reincarnated after Reid’s first seven games. The signs are actually there with this one, you can see growth in his game, especially given that he’s currently in the backline of the side that’s easiest to score against this season, he is seeing plenty of contests.

Best Game: Round 9 vs Sydney

There were very few highlights out of this game for the Bombers, Reid was one of them. He manned up on Buddy Franklin and Logan McDonald, Franklin did get a hold of every defender that played on him, as he does against Essendon. However his inaccuracy saw him kick 2.4, whilst McDonald was kept goalless. Reid showed he isn’t afraid to go back with the flight or crash packs as he intercepted impressively. Finding some confidence to leave his man and attack a contest.

Projection: The Bombers clearly see something in Zach, and he’s definitely shown us what he’s capable of and why he was selected initially as a top-10 pick. He was offered a three year contract extension this year and will now spend the next three years cementing his spot in the side as the next full back at the Essendon Football Club.

 

32 – Josh Eyre

Personal Highlight: Josh has been given extra time to expand his game at VFL level, unable to crack into the senior side this season. Although initially drafted as a next generation academy player to play forward, they’ve experimented a bit with Eyre this year. He’s played on the half-back line and even started up on the wing at times this season.

Personal Lowlight:  N/A

Best Game: N/A

Projection: His initial two-year contract expires at the end of this year. It’s hard to know which way the Bombers will go with some younger players and whether they’ll persist or head to the draft in search of new talent.

 

33 – Brayden Ham

Personal Highlight: Brayden played 19 games last season but has only managed six so far this year, some of those as medical sub.

Personal Lowlight: It’s been a step backwards for Brayden this season, after managing a large haul of games last season, he hasn’t been able to crack into the senior side for extended periods outside of the opening few rounds of the season. Unfortunately, Ham is one of those players that may remain as depth for the club, given that he can have a cracking game in the reserves but not translate that when in the senior side.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: A single year extension was offered to Brayden last year, meaning that come the end of this season, the hard chat comes back around once again. If a single season was offered after playing 19 games last season, the future isn’t looking great at this point.

 

34 – Andrew Phillips

 

Personal Highlight: Andrew has added five games to his career tally so far this season after managing only six last year. He provides a tall marking target around the ground and a secondary ruck option to alleviate some stress on Sam Draper whilst Nick Bryan is afforded the chance to gain exposure in the VFL level.

Personal Lowlight: When Phillips was recruited from Carlton he was never seen as a potential world-beater, rather than depth in the ruck department. An injury against Fremantle in Round 5 saw Andrew spend a few weeks sidelined before returning via the VFL. Opening the door to some top level exposure for Nick Bryan.

Best Game: Round 13 vs Carlton

I had most of this article sewn up prior to the club’s 150th anniversary game against Carlton, but I had to go back and mention Andrew’s game against his former club. He paired well in the ruck with Sam Draper and laid nine tackles for the game.

Projection: His efforts last season saw Phillips rewarded with a one year deal that will be up for renewal at the end of the season. With the club’s willingness to allow Peter Wright a good run in the forward line without assuming centre ruck duties, Phillips is likely to be retained once again, as I previously mentioned, the 30 year old provides good ruck depth.

 

35 – Matt Guelfi

 

Personal Highlight: With injuries becoming an annual tradition at Essendon, Guelfi’s ability to adapt and play an adapting role for the team is a highlight to his game. Despite being a standard whipping boy to the fans, Matt has shown a level of versatility and unquestionable endeavour. Although at times let down by skill, you can’t deny that he’ll take a back step at the contest.

Personal Lowlight: Injury has caused Guelfi to miss two games this season. There have been a number of games where he’s struggled to assert himself or really get into the game, especially when the side is currently battling to stop teams getting in a run against them.

Best Game: Round 7 vs Western Bulldogs

It’s really hard to name just one game for Matt when he plays a variety of roles in different games. He kicked two goals on Anzac Day and won plenty of the ball against Adelaide, but it was his pressure game against the Bulldogs where he three his body into numerous contests that impressed me.

Projection: Matt signed a one-year extension last year and should be rewarded again with a new contract at the end of this season. He’s shown that he’s able to fulfil a number of roles when required and at worst is good depth with more than 70 senior games experience.

 

36 – Garrett McDonagh

 

Personal Highlight: Garrett is still progressing in the VFL, having played a number of roles throughout the midfield and across the halfback line or onto the wing. McDonagh has great endurance and a booming left foot that we’ve seen glimpses of.

Personal Lowlight: The VFL side hasn’t been in the best shape this season, with the progression of players such as Ben Hobbs and Nick Bryan prioritised, finding the best way to get them into the senior side.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: About to turn 26, it appears without a breakout patch in the VFL, McDonagh may not get his chance at senior level. Especially with the club recruiting heavily in the national and the midseason draft to cover some inadequacies at half-back, the Bombers have begun to compile a number of players of Garrett’s ilk.

 

37 – Nic Martin

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Personal Highlight: Nic Martin. That’s it. This kid isn’t just a highlight, in many ways he’s the highlight of the season for Bombers fans. Plucked from absolute obscurity, Nic has dazzled us with his consistency since his five goal, 27 disposal debut that earned him the Rising Star nomination in his first game of football. The future is bright for Martin, who at only 21 still has a long future ahead of him.

Personal Lowlight: There honestly isn’t a lot. Taking into consideration his age and pathway into the game, he is one of only a very small pool of Bombers players that you can honestly say have looked to give their absolute all in almost every game this season.

Best Game: Round 1 vs Geelong

He’s had plenty of good games, but gee it’s hard to go past his debut. Racking up 27 disposals, 10 marks and five goals as a wingman/half-forward flanker. Despite the ludicrous commentary around Martin not deserving the rising star nod because he played in a losing side, in my opinion for a 21-year-old to perform at that level in his first-ever senior game when his club is performing so poorly deserves even more credit. How easy would it be to go into your shell and just play a selfish, damage control brand of football to make yourself look good at the detriment of your team? Martin has been the exact opposite this year.

Projection: It took less than a couple of months for the Bombers to recognise Martin’s immense potential, offering him a two year extension immediately that has Nic tied to the club until the end of 2024. His importance to the side has only grown with each game, making him one of the first names written on the team sheet each week.

 

38 – Cody Brand

 

Personal Highlight: Cody hasn’t been able to crack the senior side this season. The key defensive prospect has played 10 VFL games this season and had a real head turner against Richmond a few weeks ago.

Personal Lowlight: After missing a lot of football due to the Covid pandemic, he is one of a number of players that have had setbacks in their development

Best Game: N/A

Projection: Cody’s initial contract expires at the end of this season. He is developing well but it’s hard to see which direction the club will go in right now.

 

39 – Patrick Voss

Personal Highlight: Watch this space. Patrick is an 18 year old key forward with calf muscles the size of tree trunks and a bulky torso reminiscent of Chesty Bond. He kicked five goals and laid six tackles across his first three VFL games before injuring his foot. He is on track to return to the VFL in the coming weeks, where hopefully he’ll build some match fitness and push for a potential sneak preview in the senior side later in the year.

Personal Lowlight: Suffering his foot injury has caused Voss to miss a lot of the VFL season which has put a huge dampener on his progression.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: Voss’ standard contract expires at the end of the season, but barring a major fall from grace I would expect him to be offered another renewal. We saw in the early weeks that he was pushed up from the half forward flank to play as a wrecking ball, tall mid in the centre where he provided a big body and broadened his own horizons.

 

40 – Tex Wanganeen

Personal Highlight: Tex has attempted to fill the hole left in our forward line through injury and the retirement of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. He’s played five games and shown a little at times, happy to chase and tackle. The son of Bombers legend Gavin is playing back in the VFL where he will have the chance to work on his craft. He kicked his first career goal in front of his on-looking father against the Demons back in Round 3.

Personal Lowlight: It hasn’t been an easy start to Wanganeen’s career. Being thrust into the forward line as our main small target amidst a massive team struggle to score is hard enough, let alone for an 18-year-old prospect. In a lot of ways the role of a small forward is one of the hardest to nail down. Unless your role adapts to you playing up the ground, you regularly finish low on the totem pole when it comes to possessions and impact. Also, starting as medical sub in his debut game was a massive buzz kill.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: Tex will be afforded the time to develop his body and his game. At only 18 years old, he’s a long-term prospect that will benefit from some senior exposure here and there.

 

41 – Cian McBride

 

Personal Highlight: The Irish prospect was initially drafted as a ruck prospect, but has had a run through the forward and at times the back line as well. Cian has played nine games in the VFL this season, picking up a predominant role as a defender and secondary ruckman to Nick Bryan.

Personal Lowlight: N/A

Best Game: N/A

Projection: A one-year extension was signed by Cian last year, with his contract up for renewal at the end of the season.

 

41 – Massimo D’Ambrosio

Personal Highlight: I’m certain that in the coming weeks our senior side will be graced by the inclusion of Massimo D’Ambrosio, once he’s adjusted to the club and found his spot in the team. He missed his first opportunity to play for our VFL side after being recruited in this year’s mid-season draft due to a shoulder injury he suffered a week earlier. He made his VFL debut this week against Carlton and showed instantly why the Bombers were so keen to bring him over. He’ll provide a great run and carry off halfback and an appetite to tackle. Being able to accumulate a lot of the ball makes his bullet-like kicks deadly when he has something to kick to.

Personal Lowlight: From what I’ve seen of him playing for the Western Jets and Richmond in the VFL, some work will be required on the defensive aspects of his game. However, at only 19, he has all the time in the world in front of him to grow and progress.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: In a season already destined for the dunny, I would not be surprised in the slightest to see D’Ambrosio make the senior side in the next few weeks, if not just for a run and taste of senior football exposure.

 

43 – Alec Waterman

 

Personal Highlight: Alec played his first game in Round 4 and was named in a solid chunk of games up until talks of him being dropped this week emerged. He wound up being the sub in the most recent game against Carlton, coming on late in the game for the injured Darcy Parish. He’s kicked 10 goals from his eight games this season.

Personal Lowlight: There have been instances of Waterman struggling to get into the game throughout the season, in five of his eight games he’s returned either a single goal, or none at all. His four goals on Anzac Day really flatter his season total.

Best Game: Round 6 vs Collingwood

Four goals on Anzac Day equalled his best return for the club and his biggest haul of the season. Being a mid-sized forward with such a strong build, he is at times hard to match up on, but also suffers the same fate as a lot of small forwards when the ball doesn’t find its way in the forward line productively.

Projection: Essendon offered Waterman a one-year extension last year, meaning that he’ll be back in negotiations at the end of this season. He undoubtedly has a role to play within the team, but it’s whether his best will stack up if and when the team as a whole improves.

 

47 – Jye Menzie

 

Personal Highlight: Taken by the Bombers with their second selection in the midseason draft, Jye made the move from Tasmania to play in the SANFL where he caught a number of team’s eye as a small forward that possesses plenty of talent and that favourable term – x-factor. He is seen as a potential game-winner with a high footy IQ and a good goal sense.

Personal Lowlight: I think Menzie is definitely a prospect for the future. Unlike his mid-season counterpart in Massimo D’Ambrosio, I believe the Bombers recruited Jye with an eye to their future forward-line development.

Best Game: N/A

Projection: Having only been at the club for a few weeks, we’ll begin to see what Jye is capable of at VFL level.

 

49 – Tom Hird

Personal Highlight: Tom has continued his growth at VFL level this season, playing 10 games in a number of roles, kicking 6.12 as he works on his opportunities up forward. Like a lot of our current players, Hird is adapting to playing in the side, especially given that it’s hard to shine when your team is playing a subpar game. After beginning his career in the backline, Tom has been shifted up forward in a number of different positions as a goal sneak and a pressure forward with an aim to improve his defensive side, aiding the side to lock the ball in the forward half.

Personal Lowlight: Being the son of a club legend, much less one with a last name that commands headlines as Hird does, would be a burden on Alex in his own right. Spending most of his junior career playing high-level soccer, the transition to AFL is one that will be a slow grind, but hopefully, one that’s worthwhile for both player and club. He has a number of areas to work on in his game, but that will come with time.

Best Game: N/A.

Projection: Tom signed a one-year extension as a Category B rookie which ties him to the club for the rest of the season. He’ll look to improve his game and earn a new contract for next season and beyond.

 

 

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