A STRONG START… WITH THE USUAL FADEOUT
For half a game it looked like it was possible. For half a game, the patient kick-mark style looked like it would be enough. Dyson Heppell was running rampant through the middle, gathering easy possession and using the ball to advantage. Brendon Goddard, in his renaissance role as inside midfielder was not only quelling Nat Fyfe but also providing his own drive.
In attack, Cale Hooker looked like a true forward. Leading well to the ball and taking neat marks. And Joe Daniher was kicking truly.
Of course, it wasn’t to last. Essendon has played some strong opening quarters this year, only to cede the lead at some stage during the game. In three of those games, the team was able to regenerate some energy and ultimately come out victorious.
OBVIOUS MIDFIELD WEAKNESS
For all the strong play in the first half, Fremantle was able to eke out goals against the run of play while Essendon wasn’t capable of forging a larger lead. The inevitable Fremantle run came during the tail end of the second quarter when their midfield machine started to hum. Capitalising on a dominant ruck advantage, Fyfe and Hill started to provide support to the consistent play of Neale, shucking off the attention of their Essendon minders Goddard and Colyer.
Heppell eventually faded and the falloff in talent and will from other players was evident. Zach Merrett continued his statistical accumulation but so often those are clearing kicks in the half-back line rather than pressure-building clean entries into attack. Without Watson and the lack of an emerging supporting cast, Sandilands’ ruck advantage eventually reaped reward.
SOME CREAKS IN DEFENCE, TOO
Soon, Fremantle’s athletic forwards in Taberner and Kersten began to look more menacing. While Dea and Hartley looked handy in 2016, their current value has been more questionable.
Hartley in particular was outworked and outplayed by Kersten. His last assignment was Brisbane’s Hipwood in round 2. In that game, he was outclassed in the air and you could see his confidence wane. Hartley was out of the side for round 3, the head coach citing that he stopped playing according to plan. It’s hard to imagine that the same reasoning won’t happen in round 8.
Mark Baguley aside, the other defensive smalls have some major questions over them too. Gleeson has lost confidence when a younger, smaller and lighter player took his spot in the best 22 while Kelly was less prominent in his first game back after a rest.
SO, WHAT NOW?
Beating Geelong is going to be a big ask. They have the midfield power and speed to really trouble Essendon’s more pedestrian offer. It might be too much to ask rookie Kobe Mutch to have much of an impact but the lack of midfield clearances has to be looked at.
Again, the Essendon defence will be called upon to rebound and create attacks. McGrath will surely be recalled to replace McKenna or Gleeson, while consideration must be made to consider Hooker in defense while Ambrose is out (yeah, he’s that important) and Hartley is struggling.
Expect a few more wholesale changes as Worsfold and the coaching panel look to find a midfield configuration that can generate possession out of the middle and relieve pressure on the back six.