AFTER a summer of hurt for Essendon, will their season opener against Gold Coast be when the real pain starts?
The patched-up Bombers head north to begin a campaign many have already written off.
The 12 season-long doping bans handed to Bombers players have shorn the club of several leading lights, forcing new coach John Worsfold to scramble together a squad with a minimum of preparation.
Heavy pre-season defeats to Geelong and West Coast are precursors of the dark days that lie ahead, according to pundits.
But Worsfold is keeping things upbeat going into the clash with the Suns, a game that will feature 10 new Bombers, including two first-gamers in Darcy Parish and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
The former West Coast coach says the defeats to the Cats and the Eagles were disappointing but not the end of the world.
"This pre-season for us was about just learning a little bit about each other and learning about the errors we need to now focus on," Worsfold said.
Suns coach Rodney Eade is wary of the Bombers, expecting the visitors to go out with a point to prove against the locals.
Worsfold says that's exactly how he expects opposition coaches to react, and his team isn't seeking sympathy from anyone.
"We don't expect that any club will take us lightly and we don't want that. We don't want to go into a game with anyone feeling sorry for us," he said.
"Whatever the game throws up, we just want to get out there and play alongside each other, support each other and give it a red-hot go."
The Suns have named captain Gary Ablett as well as ball-magnet Dion Prestia, and Eade refuses to buy into the "doom and gloom" talk around the Dons.
"The times they get injuries it might hurt them, but I think they've got enough quality players there. They've got some good kids that they've drafted," Eade said.
"They'll surprise a lot of sides and we can't afford to be surprised on the weekend, which I'm very sure we won't be.
"It's going to be a tough, tight game. It's going to be close."
KEY STATS FOR GOLD COAST v ESSENDON
- Gold Coast won just three matches at home in 2015, although one of those victories was against Essendon
- Gold Coast and Essendon found scoring tough last season. The Suns averaged 74 points a game and the Bombers averaged only 71
- Saturday's game will be the 200th appearance for Gold Coast veteran Michael Rischitelli.