ESSENDON has shaken off a lacklustre first half to grind out an 18-point win over a gallant North Melbourne.
The Roos took a 10-point lead into half-time after playing with dash and dare, but outstanding second halves from Jake Stringer and Darcy Parish led to the 13.14 (92) to 11.8 (74) win on Sunday.
Essendon was surprisingly lacklustre in the first two quarters, at times jogging back defensively and struggling to get any quick ball movement going – Stringer and Zach Merrett's efforts out of the middle aside.
Stringer ran riot in the first quarter, recording the first possession from the first four centre bounces, but had more of an effect later in the game in attack, booting four crucial goals.
Two came in the final term as North Melbourne continued to press, both times just keeping the game out of reach of the determined Roos, while Parish had an 11-disposal third term to get the Bombers rolling.
KANGAROOS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
The last time these two sides met – just eight weeks ago – Essendon strolled away to a thumping 72-point win.
But the Kangaroos have improved in leaps and bounds, and came into this match – initially slated for Marvel Stadium but shifted to Metricon Stadium, an eighth road trip for the well-travelled Bombers – fresh off a shock upset win over West Coast in Perth.
Despite missing talismanic midfielder Ben Cunnington (family reasons), the young Roos' midfield – led by Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke – more than held their own, and kept their side in the game during the last quarter.
Typically for a young, developing team, North Melbourne interspersed periods of brilliance and neat play with poor defensive blunders and over-use of the footy.
Essendon mid-season recruit Sam Durham – with a mullet to rival teammate Sam Draper – made an assured debut, arguably working harder on the wing than some of his more experienced teammates.
Tristian Xerri could come under MRO scrutiny for an overly aggressive late bump on Dyson Heppell, while Jack Mahony was subbed out with a shoulder injury halfway through the final term.
Classy Taylor nearly a match-winner
Curtis Taylor had a fairly quiet game up until the final quarter, but was nearly the difference with a pair of stunning goals. Despite being out-numbered three to one, the Roo spoiled the ball inside attacking 50, pounced on the loose footy, dodged around an opponent and snapped truly. His second came 10 minutes later from the opposite pocket, a composed set shot from a tight angle after another Stringer goal had threatened to take the game away.
Joeys stand up without midfield leader
Ben Cunnington is North Melbourne's most integral player, but the young midfield stood up well without the bullocking midfielder. Cunnington opted to sit out the unexpected trip to the Gold Coast for family reasons, and the likes of Tarryn Thomas, Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Will Phillips can hold their heads high after an assured performance. They recorded six straight clearances in the last quarter, and should take enormous confidence they can hold their own without Cunnington.
Avert your eyes
Both sides seriously struggled with composure in front of goal, but nothing quite summed up the neat play-howling error dichotomy on display like Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's spray in the third term. The hard-nosed Bomber ran hard back with the flight and executed a spoil without infringing Kane Turner. Receiving a resultant handball after continuing his run, he failed to capitalise from 25m directly in front.
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.4 6.4 7.8 11.8 (74)
ESSENDON 3.0 4.6 8.10 13.14 (92)
North Melbourne: Larkey 3, Taylor 2, Scott, Thomas, Lazzaro, Mahony, Xerri, Zurhaar
Essendon: Stringer 4, Wright 3, Guelfi, Perkins, Heppell, Smith, Ham, Hooker
North Melbourne: Simpkin, Thomas, McDonald, Davies-Uniacke, Hall
Essendon: Stringer, Parish, Merrett, Heppell, Draper
North Melbourne: Mahony (shoulder)
North Melbourne: Bosenavulagi (replaced Mahony)
Essendon: Gleeson (unused)