Essendon v Collingwood: Friday 11/3 – 7.45pm (AEDST) at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
ESSENDON’S NAB CUP CAMPAIGN:
Round 1 – defeated Brisbane, 1.11.1 (76) to 0.2.2 (14), at Etihad Stadium
Round 1 – drew with St Kilda, 0.5.8 (38) to 0.6.2 (38), at Etihad Stadium
Round 2 – defeated Melbourne, 1.17.10 (121) to 1.11.7 (82), at Etihad Stadium
Semi-final – defeated St Kilda, 0.12.12 (84) to 0.6.9 (45), at Etihad Stadium
COLLINGWOOD’S NAB CUP CAMPAIGN:
Round 1 – defeated Richmond, 0.7.8 (50) to 0.1.1 (7), at Etihad Stadium
Round 1 – defeated Carlton, 0.5.3 (33) to 0.3.8 (26), at Etihad Stadium
Round 2 – defeated Sydney, 1.12.12 (93) to 1.10.10 (79), at Etihad Stadium
Semi-final – defeated West Coast, 1.9.17 (80) to 0.8.8 (56), at Patersons Stadium
He’s played just 30 games for the Bombers, but David Zaharakis can already say he will retire from the game happy. The 21-year-old lived the dream of every young aspiring AFL player in 2009, when he booted the match winning goal in the dying seconds of the 2009 ANZAC Day match against Collingwood. But Zaharakis needs to scrap his claim to fame, take the next step in his career and develop into a classy midfielder. He’s played in two of Essendon’s four preseason matches so far and has impressed with two goals in each game. From all reports, Zaharakis has been one of the club’s best trainers over summer. He has a perfect opportunity to show off that hard work with a big game against the league’s best on Friday night.
Scott Pendlebury had an almost perfect season in 2010. The 23-year-old was not only part of the successful Magpies premiership side, he also won the Norm Smith medal, the ANZAC Day medal, finished equal fourth in the Brownlow medal and earned All-Australian selection for the first time. But as remarkable as it may sound, Pendlebury still has plenty of improvement left in him. The left-footer started the season in superb form, gathering 11 touches in a half against Carlton in the first week and 34 against West Coast on Saturday. If the smooth moving midfielder can gather 30 possessions or more this Friday night, the Bombers’ will be in for a tough night.
As a general rule, AFL clubs tend to field their best possible teams for the NAB Cup grand final weekend and this year seems like no exception.
Bombers first choice ruckman David Hille is expected to play his first game of the preseason after a long rehabilitation period with knee and hamstring problems. However the former club captain is likely to play predominantly as a forward on Friday night, meaning the majority of the ruck duties will be left to Patrick Ryder and Tom Bellchambers. Veteran Dustin Fletcher is also expected to slot back into the Bombers’ defensive structure after a week off. But Tayte Pears, Alwyn Davey, Andrew Welsh and Henry Slattery will all miss due to injury.
Collingwood’s Ben Reid did not appear at training on Thursday, leaving him in serious doubt for the grand final clash. The young key defender rolled an ankle during the Pies’ semi-final win over West Coast on Saturday night and is likely to undergo a fitness test just before the game. The club can’t afford another injury to a tall back after Nathan Brown recently ruptured his ACL and captain Nick Maxwell suffered cracked ribs against the Eagles. In more positive news though, the Pies are expected to include premiership players Alan Didak, Luke Ball and Heath Shaw.
These two teams met twice in 2010 – and it wasn’t pretty. Collingwood won by a combined 163 points. The Bombers simply couldn’t handle the Pies’ relentless defensive pressure and class through the midfield under former coach Matthew Knights.
However, with James Hird now in charge, Essendon is a much more confident unit and should go into Friday night’s NAB Cup grand final with supreme confidence.
This match will give Hird and his players a clear indication of where they stand at the moment. The Bombers have been the most hyped team of the preseason, purely because they have taken the competition more seriously than any other club. If fit, the match committee hasn’t been afraid to select the best players at their disposal and this attitude has paid dividends for both parties.
However, Essendon’s biggest concern will be its forward setup. Michael Hurley is already under a massive amount of pressure to kick a large portion of his team’s score and it won’t help that seasoned full-back Chris Tarrant is likely to matchup on him. Players such as Zaharakis, Brent Stanton and Mark McVeigh need to push forward from the stoppages and provide another goal kicking option.
Meanwhile, Collingwood has carried its outstanding 2010 form into 2011, but has virtually gone unnoticed. Even without a host of premiership players in the side, the Pies have continued to impress and announced to the AFL world they are super hungry for another premiership.
This match could be decided within the last few minutes of the game. The Bombers will be confident because they’ve had a full week to recover from their semi-final match and know Collingwood has had one less day to recuperate. Plus the Pies had to make the long flight back from Perth on Saturday night.
But the inclusion of some classy Magpie players is too hard to ignore. With Didak, Ball and Shaw all expected to play, Collingwood should be a little too polished and experienced for the improving Bombers.
Collingwood by 12 points