Bombers pre-season report
Essendon trains at its new airport base
Jobe Watson at Essendon training
A few guys have been conscious of getting a bit lighter
THIS time last year, Essendon was focused on creating bigger and stronger players, but had a rehabilitation group that kept acquiring new members. This year, and only four weeks out from their first NAB Cup game, things are a little different for the Bombers.
The pre-season program has seen a number of players slim down to adapt better to the game's running demands, and nearly all of them are out on the track and injury free.
Captain Jobe Watson, who also came back from his Brownlow Medal season leaner, ran a personal best two-kilometre time trial before the club's Christmas break. He noted it had been a trend among his teammates.
"A few guys have been conscious of getting a bit lighter with the game moving a little bit more to an endurance style," Watson said.
"The most pleasing thing is the numbers we have training at the moment. I think there's maybe only one or two who aren't able to complete it and even they're only a few weeks away.
"Just to be able to get the work into the group is probably the biggest difference to 12 months ago."
Essendon baulked up last summer and felt the effects during an injury-ravaged season, with more than half the senior list falling to soft-tissue injuries.
But at the Bombers' training session on Friday at their new Melbourne Airport home base, only Joe Daniher (knee), Scott Gumbleton (soreness) and Travis Colyer appeared on restricted duties.
Gumbleton suffered a minor hamstring strain at the start of December and returned to training last week but pulled up sore.
Watson hoped the benefits of a healthy list at this time of the year would last.
"It just means guys aren't coming in underdone or trying to catch up. And when you're trying to catch up, it means you're pushing harder and that can lead to some injuries that we had 12 months ago," he said.
"To be able to get the work into the guys we have just means we can really set the platform up and it gives you a bit of a safety net."
A trimmer Michael Hurley is back into full training after wrist surgery, while Michael Hibberd has benefited from travelling to Colorado with a select group for high-altitude training.
Watson said midfielder Jake Melksham was ready to have a bigger impact in 2013, and highlighted 22-year-old recruit Nick Kommer as a standout on the track.
Kommer seems likely to play in the NAB Cup, and although the senior players generally sat out the opening round of the pre-season format, Watson is set to play against Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium on February 15.
"It's a bit stange for us because we play a week before everyone else in the opening game [of the season against Adelaide]," Watson said.
"So we probably will have to get some sort of game time in that first round robin – I don’t think it will be a lot – just so our game time keeps ticking over.
"We probably will play in that early round."
Callum Twomey is a reporter for the AFL website. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.