The Bombers have been the talking point of the AFL during pre-season training and have shown why during the NAB Cup. Despite coming up against a weakened Brisbane outfit two weeks ago, the boys in red and black put on a clinic to run out comfortable 62-point winners, with rookie Stewart Crameri impressing with three goals. The next week, Essendon slammed on seven first quarter goals to set up a convincing 39-point win over Melbourne, with new recruit Dyson Heppell impressing with his composure across half-forward.
St Kilda also came up against the depleted Lions in the first round of the competition and won easily too. Former Geelong forward Ryan Gamble produced an eye-catching debut for his new club, booting three goals during his team’s 29-point victory. Captain Nick Riewoldt successfully showed off his new set-shot goal kicking technique last Saturday night, slotting four goals straight and leading a close to full-strength Saints line-up to a great win against Geelong by 55 points.
These two teams have already played each other this year. After both took care of Brisbane earlier in the night, the Bombers and the Saints played out a thrilling draw, which went right down to the final seconds. Essendon was six points down with little game time remaining, but Mark Williams won himself a free kick and slotted a post-siren goal to tie the scores.
After a few years of AFL experience, a breakout season surely looms Leroy Jetta. At the end of last season, the 22-year-old gave Essendon supporters a sneak peek of things to come, with a classy 31-possession game against Western Bulldogs. Jetta is an exciting player with explosive pace and refined skills, but has failed to cement his place in the Essendon team over his short career. However a strong showing against St Kilda on Friday night might change that.
Every team usually has a player that makes their own supporters cringe when in possession of the ball. Raphael Clarke has been that man for Saints fans over recent years. The half-back’s lack of pace and poor decision making has made him a rare liability in such a powerhouse team. However after a couple of eye-catching performances in the NAB Cup, it’s quite clear Clarke is out to dispose of his unwanted status this season. The 25-year-old seems fitter, stronger and more assured of himself.
Looking purely at team selection, the Bombers seem a little more desperate to advance through to the NAB Cup final compared to their opponents. Skipper Jobe Watson, Cale Hooker, Heath Hocking, David Zaharakis, Kyle Reimers and Sam Lonergan have all been recalled to an already strong side.
St Kilda seems to be going into this game with a more conservative attitude. Big names with grand final experience such as Sam Gilbert, Adam Schneider and Zac Dawson will not take the field. The club’s match committee have named defenders James Gwilt and Sam Fisher, but there is strong word both may be rested. However gritty small defender Steven Baker will play his first game of the preseason and is likely to play on the in-form Williams.
The Saints will be taking a massive gamble on Friday night, going into the game without an experienced ruckman. Ben McEvoy will be rested after a heavy preseason workload, Rhys Stanley will be still serving a club-imposed suspension and experienced pair Michael Gardiner and Justin Koschitzke are still sidelined through injury. Therefore rookie-listed teenager Daniel Archer, who stands at just 193cm, will have to take care of the ruck duties.
Even though St Kilda’s list looks much classier on paper, Essendon’s recent form and an almost desperate need to impress is very hard to ignore. If Tom Bellchambers (202cm), Patrick Ryder (196) and rookie Josh Jenkins (199) expose St Kilda’s lack of ruck stocks and Riewoldt kicks less than three goals for the night, the Bombers could cause an upset and advance through to a pre-season grand final for the first time since 2000.
Essendon by 18 points