Essendon’s elevation into the Peter Jackson VFL’s upper echelon of hard-ball-winning teams has it in contention for another finals berth.
Last year’s top two teams for clearances and contested possessions per game – Williamstown and Casey – are unsurprisingly again in the top three teams for those indicators in 2017.
But now they’ve been joined by a third force.
The seventh-placed Bombers have emerged as a powerful stoppage team this year to lead the VFL for clearances per game while ranking second behind the Seagulls for contested possessions per game. These ranks represent a vast improvement on 2016, when Essendon finished 10th and 11th in the two categories respectively at the end of the home-and-away season.
It can’t be denied that the return of a handful of experienced AFL-listed players from suspensions related to the club’s supplements saga has made an impact in this regard. Hard-nuts unable to break into a relatively deep Essendon midfield at the elite level are leading the way in the VFL engine room.
The grunt of David Myers (seven clearances per VFL game), Ben Howlett (seven), Craig Bird (six), Kyle Langford (six) and Heath Hocking (four) has helped the Bombers become the top team for clearing congestion, while those same players lead the way at the club in terms of winning contested possessions.
There’s another important addition to Essendon’s regular VFL team that can’t be forgotten either: Captain Nick O’Brien – returning to the club where he played 14 AFL games from 2012-15 after a year in the SANFL – has appeared in every match to average 23 disposals, 10 contested possessions and four clearances per game.
Under previous senior coach Matthew Egan last season, the VFL Bombers were a shining light in a generally dark year for the club. They defeated Geelong in an elimination final and only fell to eventual premier Footscray by 19 points in a semi final.
That was with a playing list often low on depth and high in youth and inexperience due to the senior players’ suspensions. What could Essendon’s midfield under new senior coach Paul Corrigan do this September with a range of hardened bodies playing regular VFL football together?
Round 12 keys to victory:
53: Williamstown helped knock Box Hill off top spot on the ladder with a powerful performance at the stoppages in its 45-point victory over the Hawks. The Seagulls won the contested possession count by 53, with Michael Gibbons (19 contested possessions) and captain Ben Jolley (15) doing much of the damage.
40: Footscray had its kicking boots on in a 49-point defeat of Sandringham, racking up 240 kicks – 40 more than the VFL average per game in 2017. The likes of Matt Goodyear (20 kicks), Lewis Young (18), Nick Jamieson (17), Liam Nash (17) and Bailey Williams (17) sliced through the Zebras to help set up 18 goals.
26: Michael Sodomaco returned to Werribee’s senior team for the first time since Round 6 after recovering from a glute injury and the club captain’s experience helped the Tigers overrun a young Coburg outfit by 18 points. Sodomaco had 26 disposals – second only to Matt Hanson (30) for Werribee – and six clearances.
Round 12 stats leaders:
|Blaine Boekhorst||Northern Blues||24|
|Eli Templeton||Port Melbourne||24|
|Ben Kennedy||Casey Demons||19|
|Mitch Gent||Casey Demons||18|
|Tom O’Sullivan||Port Melbourne||24|
|James Munro||Casey Demons||14|
|Blaine Boekhorst||Northern Blues||10|
|Brodie Murdoch||Port Melbourne||9|
|Cam O’Shea||Northern Blues||8|
|Jake Spencer||Casey Demons||37|
|Matt Korcheck||Northern Blues||36|
|Chris Carey||Port Melbourne||32|
|Daniel Gorringe||Northern Blues||23|
|Marc Pittonet||Box Hill Hawks||23|
|James Munro||Casey Demons||17|
|Dion Johnstone||Casey Demons||13|
|Andrew Moore||Box Hill Hawks||10|
|Nick Rippon||North Ballarat||10|
|Andrew Gallucci||Northern Blues||10|
|Harry Morrison||Box Hill Hawks||9|
|2017 LEADING GOALKICKERS|
|Dylan Conway||Port Melbourne||_||26|
|Jordan Lisle||Port Melbourne||1||24|
|Bayley Fritsch||Casey Demons||2||21|
|Ty Vickery||Box Hill Hawks||1||20|
|Development League||Last Rnd||Total|
|Nathan Gardiner||Casey Demons||2||21|
|Will Murphy||Box Hill Hawks||4||18|
|Dale Hehir||Box Hill Hawks||4||16|
|Samuel De Soysa||Port Melbourne||1||14|
|Cory Machaya||Casey Demons||**||12|
* AFL / ** Seniors