Photo : APP: Joe Castro
Etihad Stadium, Sunday July 20, 4:40pm AEST
Sunday afternoon at Etihad this week features possibly the most intriguing game of the round, with the surging Bombers taking on a Bulldogs outfit playing with renewed confidence.
The game shapes as season defining for the Bombers, who despite showing great form to win 5 of their last 7 games including strong wins over finals contenders Adelaide, Port Adelaide away and last week Collingwood, have a nasty habit of dropping games they should win. Those wins over strong teams have been somewhat cancelled out by poor losses to Melbourne and St Kilda, and far from convincing wins over Brisbane and these Bulldogs.
A win this week would cement the Bombers place in the top 8 and could move them above North Melbourne into 6th on the ladder, while a loss could drop them straight back out of the 8. For that reason alone it should be a highly motivated Essendon outfit on Sunday. They smashed the Pies last week, but getting motivated to play Collingwood has always been easy for Essendon teams, it’s the games they enter as strong favorites that are the problem.
The Bulldogs meanwhile have won 3 of their own last 5 outings and come off a strong win over the Gold Coast Suns last week. After a slow start to the season they are finishing off strongly, something that has become a habit in recent seasons. The Doggies have 6 wins for the season so far and with a couple of winnable games to come will be looking to better their 2013 win total of 8.
Some of their prized high draft picks from recent seasons are beginning to play outstanding football, with youngsters Marcus Bontempelli and Jackson McCrae in particular taking their games to a new level in recent times. McCrae was incredible last week, 43 possessions and 2 goals stamped his game as one of the great performances from a 19 year old in recent times. Another youngster in Nathan Hrovat was also excellent with 27 disposals while Luke Dalhaus and veterans Will Minson and Matthew Boyd were also among the best.
After a good win against a finals contender like the Suns the Dogs will fancy their chances against the Bombers, and the inclusions of skipper Ryan Griffen and Brownlow Medalist Adam Cooney will only add to their belief – youngsters Sam Darley and Mitch Honeychurch were left out.
The Bombers meanwhile have a couple of big ins themselves, last week’s drubbing of the Pies came without 3 of their best players but they regain two of them this week, with reigning best and fairest Brendan Goddard and likely All-Australian Michael Hibberd coming back in for the unlucky Jake Melksham and Cory Dell’Olio. Melksham’s a very good young player but the Bombers are flying, so whoever was left out was going to be stiff.
Dyson Heppell continued his brilliant season last week seeing off tagger and fellow Gippsland Power product Brent Macaffer, while Jake Carlisle played one of the games of the season, taking an incredible 19 marks (8 contested) and kicking 4 goals from center half forward. Carlisle marked the footy just about every time it came near him, and despite still being a bit nervous in front of goal converted enough of his chances to easily give him best on ground honors.
Despite being maligned for much of the season the forward tandem of he and Joe Daniher, at just 22 and 20 years of age respectively, will have many teams drooling at the Bombers key position stocks, particularly the Bulldogs who are lacking in that area.
It’s not through lack of trying though, with the Dogs poaching and attempted poaching of several Essendon players and staff over recent years sure to add some spice to the contest. The Doggies were able to lure forward Stewart Crameri west prior to this season with a rich long term deal, while the season before they unsuccessfully made an offer to then Bomber Scott Gumbleton. Bulldogs Tory Dickson and Tom Campbell both came through the Bombers VFL ranks, and of course we can’t forget coach Brendan McCartney and key assistant Shannon Grant were both hired directly from James Hird’s staff at Essendon – Grant was the coach of the now defunct Bendigo Bombers.
Perhaps after this season the Dogs might focus on key defender Tayte Pears, who would be one of the first key backs picked in many sides but can’t crack it for a game in an impressive Bombers back 6 featuring another potential All-Australian in Cale Hooker.
Crameri’s maiden season for the Dogs has mirrored his last couple with the Bombers, he’s a good player but not one that can necessarily be relied upon as a key target every week as he tends to drift in and out of games at times. 26 goals from 16 games is a decent return on a big investment and would be leading the Bombers goalkicking were he still in red and black, but given Essendon got super impressive Zach Merrett with the pick they received in return for Crameri it was a deal that has benefited both clubs. Youngster Patrick Ambrose has come off the rookie list to try to replicate Crameri’s hit up forward role for the Bombers and has done an admirable job, kicking 3 goals last week.
Arguably only skipper Jobe Watson and possibly ruckman Bellchambers are missing from Essendon’s best 22 now, while the Dogs also look at about full strength, so this should be a fierce contest. The Bombers will need to be mentally prepared for a Bulldogs team that will make them earn every possession, but if they are serious about making a deep finals run need to win contests like this one, a point coach Mark Thompson is sure to have drilled into his players this week.
Our Prediction – Essendon by 22 points.
R7, 2014, Essendon 10.13 (73) d Western Bulldogs 9.11 (65)