SuperCoach Scout: Essendon | The Courier-Mail
Joe Daniher wanted out, but he’s now back in. Andy McGrath put together a coming-of-age finals appearance that made the naysayers stand up, shut up, and take notice while a bloke by the name of Devon Smith will return in 2020 to make good on a promising Bombers list that must do away with mediocre mid-table finishes and the five-thousand-and-something days since it’s won a final.
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The good news for Bombers fans is that the list is actually in good shape. Essendon didn’t need to seek far and wide during the trade and free agency period to fill the gaps; if anything, their existing crop of third to fifth year players are who the club are banking on to elevate them in 2020.
There’s a great group of 22-25 year olds: Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Orazio Fantasia, Conor McKenna, Jayden Laverde, Kyle Langford, Aaron Francis, Matt Guelfi, Mason Redman and McGrath. While the word ‘potential’ is a dirty word in football circles, you’d struggle to find a club with as much upside in ten players in that age bracket than you would at the Bombers. The club’s improvement hinges on that group of ten taking the next step in their development this year if the Bombers are to push deeper into the top eight.
Sure, they added a few top-up types to their list, but there was no aggressive movement since the club parted with it’s 2019 pick for onballer Dylan Shiel who now in his second year at the club should take another leap in his development. The Bombers added three recycled players to their list for depth; Tom Cutler from Brisbane who should get a go on a wing, discarded Tiger Jacob Townsend, and former Roo Mitch Hibberd.
The pieces are in place for the ‘Dons, but the time is undoubtedly now. They boast the sixth-oldest list in the competition but a fit Daniher – who has played 11 of a possible 45 games since 2017 – will go a long way to solving the problems for the Bombers. A fully fit Daniher is capable of 50+ goals in a season and it makes Essendon a genuine flag contender if his body can hold up. In a similar vein, barometre player Smith was sorely missed for large chunks last season and the Bombers severely felt it. His scoreboard impact as well as his ability to loom large around the stoppages hurt the Bombers’ ball retention figures. Throw in a fully fit Dyson Heppell, who carried a foot injury for the majority of last season – if you think the Bombers will be easy beats in 2020, you’re not giving them enough respect.
THE PREMO: ZACH MERRETT | $573,600 | MID | 105.6
Talk about durability. If you take a look over Zach Merrett’s last four seasons, he’s only missed one game. Merrett raised the bat on 14 occasions last year and in doing so averaged 105 points per game, five up on his 2018 average of 100. The most pleasing aspect for potential Merrett owners is that over the course of the previous four years Merrett has averaged triple digits. The prime ball winner finds the footy and distributes it well, and his ceiling is deceptively high. Over the course of the last four seasons, Merrett has bagged 20 scores of 125+ which averages out to five per season. Sure, he’s not part of the ultra elite who can pump out 125+ scores on the regular, but Merrett can be relied upon for scores of 100-115 most weeks making him a consistent option.
THE BREAKOUT CONTENDER: ANDREW MCGRATH | $399,400 | MID | 73.5
Despite losing his flex status in 2020, a breakout year looms for Andy McGrath after a breakthrough performance in Essendon’s elimination final loss. On surface value alone, McGrath ‘only’ scored 108 SuperCoach points, but it’s a monumental jump considering he scored only one other SuperCoach century in 2019 with the bulk of his scores coming between 65-85 points. McGrath played his first full season through the middle of the ground, and while he only improved his SuperCoach average by three points from his second year in 2018, he’ll undoubtedly be better off for the experience. If McGrath is ever going to be SuperCoach Classic relevant, he needs to produce more of what we saw in the elimination final but for now, he’s a fine pick up in Draft.
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BOOM OR BUST: JAKE STRINGER | $384,600 | FWD | 70.8
Having been largely hampered in 2019 by injury, the Bombers are hoping to unleash Jake Stringer into the guts, which was always their hope for the talented forward. Stringer’s exploits up forward need no introduction, for he can dob them from all angels, take contested marks, eat opposition defenders up at ground level and crash packs to spill the ball – he’s an all-round underrated gun. But even as a junior there was hope he would become a fulltime midfielder at the top level and, leading into 2020, Essendon track watchers say he has been doing a mountain of work with the midfield group this preseason which could make him an attractive option for both Classic and Draft. Sure, a starting six position at an awkward price point will mean that he’s showcased a flawless and high-scoring preseason, but Stringer is capable of it. He’s one for the risk takers, but certainly could force many SuperCoaches into acquiring him if he gets on an early season scoring rampage.
THE ROOKIE: MITCH HIBBERD | $114,400 | MID | DNP
Having initially being drafted to the Roos, Hibberd just couldn’t get going at North before his subsequent delisting. After a year spent at Williamstown in the VFL in 2019, Hibberd transformed himself into a big-bodied midfielder despite being used as a defender under Brad Scott during his time at North Melbourne. Hibberd’s growth spurt to 191cms combined with his ability to accumulate big possession numbers equated to an average of 128 SuperCoach points in the VFL last year, topped off with VFL Team of the Year honours on the wing. Given the Bombers’ sheer lack of big-bodied ball winners around the contest, it’s likely that the mature age recruit will get ample opportunity news/556159/hibberd-undergoes-surgery” target=”_self” type=”[object Object]” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>once he returns from minor knee surgery.
Originally published as SuperCoach Scout: Essendon