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Season preview: Essendon

Tom Bellchambers appears ready to lead the Dons' ruck division - ${keywords}
Tom Bellchambers appears ready to lead the Dons' ruck division

Best 22
B: Hibberd, Carlisle, Fletcher
HB: Hardingham, Hooker, Dempsey
C: Stanton, Watson, Heppell
HF: Jetta, Hurley, Zaharakis
F: Crameri, Ryder, Winderlich
Foll: Bellchambers, Goddard, Howlett
I/C: Myers, Melksham, Hocking
Sub: Lovett-Murray

Injury list
Essendon's list, in comparison to this time last year, is in terrific shape. Only one player, Jason Winderlich (groin), is unavailable for round one through injury, with the rest of the list fit and ready. The Bombers haven't had too many major worries over pre-season either, with David Zaharakis' quad injury the main concern.

The big questions
-How will the club deal with the on-going supplements investigation? Nobody's sure how long the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's investigation will last, but the club will be hoping it doesn't linger for the majority of the season. So far, the players have talked of it having a galvanising effect.

-What influence will Brendon Goddard have? 
You would expect it will be a big one. Already this pre-season, the former Saint has shown why the Bombers went after him last year. He's composed, he's strong over the ball, and gives the club something it desperately needed: elite foot skills.

-Can the forward line work in sync? Coach James Hird continues to work with his three talls structure in attack, and there are days when Michael Hurley, Patrick Ryder and Stewart Crameri look very imposing. But Hird knows that when it doesn't work, the team is susceptible to rebound, so it's important the three continue to play more games together to build some chemistry.

Summer standout
All the talk from the club is about Tom Bellchambers, and the early indications this pre-season suggest the 23-year-old is ready for a breakout year. The impressive ruckman has learned the ropes and has also turned himself into a capable option near goal.
Fantasy cash cow

Michael Hibberd (defender, $342,800) is one to keep an eye on. Now into his third AFL season, Hibberd looks improved and ready for a stronger season in defence. His aerial ability and courage has always been there, but now he's being used as a rebounder and is a good one, too.

Sudden impact

Joe Daniher is the obvious choice here, but the exciting key forward might take a little while before he's playing regular senior footy. One who is ready to go is Nick Kommer. The 22-year-old West Australian filled a role in the forward half through the NAB Cup and is likely to make his AFL debut on Friday against the Adelaide Crows. He's a ferocious tackler who is clever around goal.   

It's crunch time for…
… Scott Gumbleton, who last year turned his back on offers from rival clubs to sign a one-year contract with Essendon. For the 24-year-old, this year looms as the most important of his career. A hamstring injury interrupted his pre-season but he kicked five goals in a VFL practice match last week in a positive sign.

Pivotal match
Essendon doesn't enjoy a favourable start to the season. Adelaide will be a tough task in round one, and in round three the Bombers travel again to take on Fremantle in Perth. In between they should beat Melbourne, but a massive encounter will be against St Kilda in round four. Apart from the fact it's the first time Goddard will play against his former side, the Bombers will be marking it in an important game as they try to set up their year.

The Bombers will have a good year if…
… David Zaharakis, Michael Hurley and Jobe Watson all play at least 20 games each. It's an easy answer, that the Bombers will play well if they stay injury-free, but these three are the most important players at the club. Hurley is due for a year without any niggles, while the Bombers desperately need Zaharakis' run and speed after his long absence last year. As for Watson, he makes everything happen for the club. If all three can play a full year, there's no limit to what the Bombers can do. predicted ladder finish: 12th