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Match preview: Can the Dockers burst the Bombers' bubble?
The travelling Dockers are looking to get their 2020 campaign off to a flyer against a Bombers outfit missing several key players
By Callum Twomey on
Where and when: Marvel Stadium, Saturday March 21, 2.10pm AEDT
Last time they met: Optus Stadium, round 22, 2019: Fremantle 7.13 (55) lost to Essendon 13.9 (87)
What it means for Essendon: After an injury-hit pre-season that saw 15 surgeries for players, the Bombers could put that behind them with a strong start to 2020. Essendon will be without key players Dyson Heppell and Cale Hooker due to injury but otherwise have most players back and available.
What it means for Fremantle: Under new coach Justin Longmuir, the Dockers will be keen to begin their 2020 campaign in form. Playing on the road may be less of a factor for the travelling Fremantle line-up given the game will be played in an empty Marvel Stadium.
The stat: The last time Fremantle won a round one clash away from Perth was in 2014, when it travelled to Melbourne and beat Collingwood at Docklands by 70 points.
The match-up: Rory Lobb v Brandon Zerk-Thatcher
The young Bombers defender could take on the experienced Freo and former Giants forward in what will be an intriguing battle. Zerk-Thatcher was impressive with his intercept marking throughout the Marsh Community Series, and a stopping job on Lobb would go a long way to an Essendon win.
In the spotlight: Jacob Townsend
What does the premiership Tiger have in store at his new (and third) club? The Bombers have been rapt with his pre-season, his intensity and what he's brought to the group. Expect a ferocious forward presence from Townsend after three goals in the Bombers' final pre-season clash against Geelong.
Big call: Michael Walters' bag of five not enough for the Dockers.
Prediction: Essendon by 11 points
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Bombers by a whisker against charging Dockers
Essendon gets home against a resurgent Dockers outfit at Marvel Stadium
By Callum Twomey on
IF WE can take anything out of Saturday's performance from Essendon, it is that shorter quarters agree with the Bombers.
In their first assignment under the new 16-minute (plus time on) quarters, the Bombers burst out of the blocks against Fremantle. Even midway through the third term they led by 28 points.
Essendon coach John Worsfold and understudy Ben Rutten will have equally as many questions about their side's fadeout after booting only two goals after half-time.
TOWNSEND'S IMPACT Six months ago the Richmond premiership player's career looked over, but Essendon called with an AFL lifeline and against Fremantle Townsend showed the tenacity which made him a loved Tiger for several years. Playing as a marking option for the Bombers with their depleted key forward stocks, Townsend kicked two goals in the opening term and set up another in a dominant showing. He tackled and competed and earned every touch, finishing with three goals from nine disposals. Could be a great bargain pick-up.
WELCOME BACK, DEV The Bombers barely got anything out of Devon Smith last year, with the half-forward/midfielder limited to seven games before he underwent season-ending knee surgery. He looked back to his fresh and ferocious best against the Dockers, however, with Smith showing his importance to the Bombers. He booted the first goal of the game from long range, and finished with 15 disposals and five tackles – showing his value to Essendon doesn't just lie in when he's got the ball.
STURT'S STUNNER It was the first-gamer Sam Sturt who helped lift the Dockers back into contention late in the piece on Saturday. The first-round draft pick from 2018 impressed with his nous around goal, including booting a long shot in the first half. But his final quarter was the real highlight. His second goal came after a mark and then 50-metre penalty after Michael Hurley made him earn the grab (the match review officer appears certain to look at the incident). He then outmarked Hurley close to goal moments later to boot his third major. Sturt came into the system a little raw but looks to have benefited from some time at WAFL level before his first game.
ANYONE FOR SOME AGGRO? Some questioned whether the lack of crowds for the foreseeable future could see a lack of argy-bargy between players given the sanitized nature of empty grounds. But we saw a glimpse of it between Essendon and Fremantle, particularly after a long goal from Jake Stringer in the second term. Stringer immediately got in the face of dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe after it sailed through, and moments later was involved in a wrestle with the Dockers skipper, with the pair regularly matched-up at centre bounces through the afternoon.
There were even a few words spoken between Michael Walters and Matt Taberner.
AN INTERESTED ONLOOKER Eyebrows were raised when Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson was spotted at Marvel Stadium watching the game given the strict measures restricting access to games due to the spread of coronavirus. But the four-time Hawks mastermind hadn't called in any special favours. Under AFL rules, a rival club scout is permitted to attend but it is restricted to those clubs playing in the next two weeks. Hawthorn faces the Dockers next week, so 'Clarko' was on the list as its representative.
MEDICAL ROOM Essendon: The Bombers appeared to get through the game unscathed.
Fremantle: There did not seem to be any major injury concerns for the Dockers.
NEXT UP Barring any changes to the fixture, Essendon will head to Sydney to face the Swans next Friday night at the SCG, while Fremantle will head home to host Hawthorn on Sunday evening.