The Big Questions – 2024 Essendon Season Preview

I’ve been looking forward to writing this one. There is so much to cover with the Bombers.

You know, every season, you don’t have to look too far to find articles to pump up the tyres of Essendon supporters. Fluff pieces – that’s what they’re called, and over the last few years, I reckon even Bomber fans have been sick to death of them.

With this season preview, there will be positivity, as the Bombers have made some very interesting off-season moves, but there will also be questions that may not give you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your tummy. You know… questions that look for answers with merit – not designed to send you into a red and black trance.

And so, we embark on another season where the feeling out of Tullamarine is that this team should play finals. Hell, they have every right to think that – Essendon bloody well should play finals this season! And they should win one, damn it.

Brad Scott knows he has a list that is capable, but whether he can shape them (and get them into shape to run out an entire season) remains to be seen.

Essendon fell away horribly in 2023 and after promising so much, failed to deliver again. Will 2024 be the year they get it right? Or will Scott be left lamenting another year that could have been, but wasn’t?

It’s that time of year, already.

The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2024, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.

This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2024.

We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel Punt. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.

The way it works is as follows.

Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about the upcoming season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.

Isn’t it a bit early for a season preview? Well, I suppose, but do you know how long it takes to write seven thousand words? That’s 18 x 7,000… gets out the calculator… that’s 126,000 words. The average novel is about 85,000 words, so buckle the hell up with these previews.

Also, if there are any issues that arise after the publication of the preview, they will be covered in standalone articles to act as additions to this preview.

You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it. This is where we start the run to the new season and believe me – nobody does it better than The Mongrel.




The jury is out, but what it has done is leave no question that this team believes it is ready to hit September once again in 2024. You don’t go out and add pieces like Jade Gresham, Ben McKay, Todd Goldstein, and Xavier Duursma in one hit if you are building to make a run over the next three or four years. No, these move signify that the Bombers are all-in on 2024.

This team sat fifth on the ladder at the conclusion of Round 17. I reckon that is a little lost on people, particularly those ready to sink the boots into the club at every opportunity. To some, the club can do no right. Hell, an Essendon player could jump into a flooded river to save a baby from drowning and opposition supporters would criticise him for dripping water on the carpet.

That said, Essendon fell over in rather spectacular fashion to end the 2023 season. They went 2-3 over the last five games, with their only wins coming against West Coast (by one point) and North Melbourne (by nine points). They limped to the line and fell over it, finishing in 11th and providing the masses with another year of sidesplitting mirth as they counted the days…

You know the joke – it got old a while back.

Look, there is a significant risk with the way the Bombers recruited. We are not looking at this as though picking up these players is the panacea for the club – no, their injury histories are something that are a worry. But what we are doing is looking at a team that has addressed some of their issues from 2023 with their recruiting.

If I’m being honest, this team was good enough to play finals in 2023. They could have just sat on their hands, got fitter (they needed to) and made a run with their existing personnel, but they did more than that.

At the end of the season, people will be looking at the way Essendon handled the 2023 post-season and either hailing it as a masterstroke, or lamenting it as another failed attempt to bandaid a team that had a few gaping wounds. Right now, there is imply no way to tell, but you have to respect the way Essendon have attempted to address their deficiencies. .



This has been an issue for a while and with Jye Menzie kicking 23 goals in 2023 as the best option. Hell, the club even brought back Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, in what ended up being more a PR exercise than a viable forward option.

In 2022, it was Matt Guelfi with 20 goals as the best “small” option.

In 2021, it was Walla, with 34.

Since McDonald-Tipungwuti fell away in 2021 and pulled up stumps the first time, Essendon have struggled to find a good, crumbing forward. They don’t grow on trees, but the Bombers don’t even have a half-decent succulent to plonk in a pot and hope for some growth.

Could the addition of Jade Gresham change all that?

St KIlda used Gresham as a hybrid forward/mid, with mixed results. At over 17 touches and a goal per game, Gresham was a middling player, and for someone of his talents, that really isn’t good enough. I wonder whether the Bombers will be forced to decide on him as one or the other?

I have always rated Gresham’s ability around goal. He has kicked bags of five and six in the past and with tall timber to rove from, he looks like the Bombers’ best bet to give defences trouble.

Could a lineup of Peter Wright, Jake Stringer, Kyle Langford, Jye Menzie, Jade Gresham, and one of Sam Weideman, Kane Baldwin, or Harrison Jones give opposition teams some trouble? On paper, they look ominous. What about Archie Perkins? Where does he now fit into this equation? He is too good to be left out, but who steps aside, or is pushed aside to accomodate him?

It’s the luxury of having depth, I suppose…

The x-factor amongst it all could be Jayden Davey. Recovering from a knee reconstruction that caused him to sit the entire 2023 season, he is reportedly more of a goal sneak than his brother, who would like midfield time. If you’re old enough to remember Alwyn Davey Snr, word is that Jayden is more like his dad than AD Junior is, only with a little more size and is a little more rangy.

When teams get someone jumping out of the box, it can change the whole dynamic. I will be watching what Jayden Davey does this preseason very closely.



I’d love to identify one player and state that he is the answer to a problem that has plagued Essendon for years, but from the outside liking in, this appears to be more a solution by committee than the actions of any one person.

The Bombers do have some players with a bit of mongrel about them, however, they haven’t been able to keep them on the park.

I was impressed with what Will Setterfield offered the team after moving across from Carlton, where he either didn’t receive the opportunities he wanted, or failed to take advantage of the ones that were presented. He did some excellent defensive midfield roles early in the season before injury sidelined him.

Jye Caldwell is another who the Bombers imported few years back and is still just 23. Injury has conspired against him during his time with the Bombers, with a significant hamstring tear in 2021 limiting his impact, but he has started to demonstrate good, consistent form since.

And then there is Ben Hobbs. I rate Hobbs highly. Just 12 months into his AFL career, his attack on the footy and the man carrying it has been first class, and whilst he still has some work to do in order to develop a body that can mix it with the biggest and strongest in the game, his endeavour is as good as any young player in the game.

The thing that gets me most about Hobbs is his passion. He genuinely looks like he gives a shit. Not just about the winning and losing, although losses look like they really impact him, but every contest he engages in. He cracks in with  a tenacity that cannot be taught – it is instinctive and I love it, and when he is called for a free kick for some… shall we call it overexuberance? Well, the disappointment on his face needs no body language expert to decipher. It pains him.

Alas, I think we are likely still a couple of years away from Hobbs being able to mix it up and win more often than he is beaten in the contest. It’s not an ability-based thing – it is just that there are bigger, stronger players in the mix. But it is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun watching him develop into the footy equivalent of a predator.

And that leads us to one of the favourite topics for fans of football – not just Essendon.



Ah yes… have you heard? It’s a contract year!!!

The last time the former Bulldog had a contract renewal pending, he produced his best season as a Bomber, splitting time between the forward line and centre bounces, he was an absolute weapon.

The 2021 season was Jake Stringer at his best. At almost 16 and a half touches per game to go along with his 2.16 goal average, The Package delivered in just about every way conceivable. He was thrown into centre bounces when the Bombers needed a lift and gave them a huge shot in the arm with his power, channeled aggression, and his burst from stoppage. I am no Stringer fan – far from it, but that was bloody impressive to watch and even I got caught up in the spectacle of the way he was able to change games. Players that can do this are few and far between. Some teams have none of them!

To illustrate his potency when playing at peak fitness (or peak fitness for him, at least), Stringer led the Bombers in goals per game in 2021 and ranked second, behind only Darcy Parish, in centre clearances, with over three per game. Had he been able to spend longer in the middle, who knows what type of numbers he could have conjured? He was a force of nature at centre bounces, and found a way to simply muscle his way through contested situations to emerge with the footy and charge forward. Even remembering it now, it is “hairs on the back of the neck” stuff.

Those efforts, and his overall impact on the team earned Stringer a two-year deal and huge things were expected coming into the 2022 season.

And then the words you dread to hear as an Essendon supporter started to creep into descriptions of Stringer’s preparation.

“Modified program”.

“Being managed”.

Ouch… you know what that means. He wasn’t right. After 19 games in 2021, he played 15 in 2022, and followed on with 17 in 2023. Delayed starts and soft tissue injuries hampered him. Meanwhile, his impact when compared to that of his 2021 season could be described as minimal.

And that’s being kind.

Still, with little else in terms of forward pressure, Stringer was still able to manage the best average for tackles inside 50 for the Bombers in 2023. That’s a pretty damning condemnation of their forward pressure, for mine. It is also indicative of the bar Stringer set for himself a few years back. The expectations are high because we saw what he was capable of.

So, all silliness about contract years aside, Stringer’s ability to run out games and spend more than a couple of minutes on the ball are critical to the Bombers. Above, I asked about the grunt and the mongrel the club has in the middle. Sure, those mentioned can offer a bit, but, love him or hate him, Stringer has exactly what the Bombers need. He is powerful enough that he can take tacklers on and dare them to bring him down. And he is strong enough and confident enough in his own abilities to shrug them, run over the top of them, and send the Bombers on their way.

And if he does draw a heap of attention, that’s when the likes of Merrett, Shiel, Parish, and others can feast on that which he provides when he dishes off.

Yes, the Bombers have recruited heavily, and yes they have covered off plenty of weaknesses that have been exposed over the last few years, but they have had the answer to their problem with mongrel in the middle right there in front of them all the while.

Jake Stringer is the key to the Essendon midfield taking charge of games. Like most, I love seeing Zach Merrett on the outside. I love when Darcy Parish wins the footy and dishes off. I love when Nic Martin tucks the footy under his arm and charges forward, but nothing has the same level of impact as Jake Stringer knocking people over, stiff-arming a would-be tackler, and pounding the footy inside 50 from the centre bounce.

That’s what Essendon needs. More than Ben McKay, more than Todd Goldstein, Jade Gresham, or Xavier Duursma. Jake Stringer – the Jake Stringer who is not a few kilograms overweight or on a modified program – is exactly what Essendon require.

Where do they get the mongrel? They have actually always had it.



Aside from Moneybags McKay, I mean…

When I originally wrote this question, the name ‘Jordan Ridley’ immediately jumped into my mind. However, the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought that maybe Jayden Laverde is the one that has the biggest smile on his dial this preseason.

Let’s look at both.

There is no questioning the ability of Ridley. Already a Crichton Medallist, his intercept marking is elite and he has that rare capacity to make the game look as though it comes easy for him. That said, he has been made to work a lot harder than the Bombers would probably like over the past couple of seasons due to their inability to lockdown on the monster forwards. It’s no secret that the club has lacked a big, strong, lockdown defender. McKay remedies this.

Ideally, Ridley would be released to flying in and be the third man up – the Jake Lever role. However, the Bombers’ lack of size and experience in defence meant that he was often saddled with standing shoulder to shoulder with his direct opponent because Essendon had nobody else capable of combating that player in the air.

I am not here to knock Brandon Zerk-Thatcher. I genuinely thought he was on the right path to become a very solid defender after taking lumps early in 2023, however, if you’re looking at a straight swap of BZT for Ben McKay… it is like the Bombers just stepped up a weight class.

BZT tried his guts out, and in the back half of the 2023 season, the way he was able to start assessing the flight of the ball, took the best position, and won contests was pretty impressive. He recorded three defensive double-doubles (double figures in intercepts, rebounds, one-percenters) from Round 10 onwards, but in terms of stopping his direct opponent, he is no match for McKay.

Not many are.

McKay will stand under the footy, hold his ground and ensure that the number one target has someone that will make it his mission to hinder. That bumps Jayden Laverde down to taking the second best forward, whilst Ridley can start zoning ff the third option when the opportunity arises, and start clunking big D50 grabs.

And how much relief will Laverde be feeling?

I respect the hell out of this bloke, as I have always thought he would be a spectacular second defender, but too often, he was forced t be the number one key defender simply because others were not up to it. BZT was the key defender in the making, but Laverde had the physical strength right now to drop back to the goal square and hold his own.

That said, he is nine centimetres shorter and 12 kilograms lighter than McKay.

And that’s the big difference.

Laverde matches up against Darcy Fogarty while McKay handles Tex Walker – there is the difference. Laverde putting physical pressure on Eric Hipwood whilst McKay takes Joe Daniher? Now we’re talking!

And so, as Ben McKay commences his Essendon career, I reckon both Jordan Ridley and Jayden Laverde would both be wearing huge smiles. Sure, there will still be times when the situation demands they revert to the roles they were forced into in years gone by – nothing ever works perfectly. But when things do go well, they have Big Ben out there taking control of defensive fifty, it opens up avenues for them that may have been closed off prior.


This concludes the free section of our preview. The next two-thirds are for our members. You’re welcome to join.


As mentioned above, the first five questions are free – the next 14-15 are for our members. Yep, I believe my work is worth twenty-five cents per day. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re welcome to join and keep reading