Zach Merrett looks on during Captains Day on February 26, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON will take a line-up closer to full strength to Geelong for its second pre-season game this Friday as skipper Zach Merrett predicted some "nervous" players jostling for spots in the Bombers' round one team.

The Bombers were picked apart by St Kilda in last Friday's match simulation at RSEA Park, with the Saints cruising to a 66-point win in the first hitout for both teams.

With the club hoping to have defender Jordan Ridley and forward Peter Wright back to hold down their key posts at both ends for the Geelong trip this week, and Ben Hobbs and Nate Caddy also pushing to be available, the Bombers should have a largely fit and available squad to choose from. 

Merrett played only a half last week against the Saints, but expects to put together a full game against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium in their last clash before facing the Hawks in round one

"I will have to wait and see what Brad (coach Brad Scott) wants me to do. To play Geelong in Geelong is always a tough ask but to get to play them in a pre-season game is going to be awesome," Merrett told

"We'll hopefully be pretty close to full strength to what we'll be in round one so we'll hopefully have guys a little bit nervous and want to put their best foot forward against Geelong."


Merrett dodged an injury against the Saints – "I rolled my ankle, I think it was a little sprinkler," he said – but it had been pre-planned for him to feature until half-time as Essendon's younger batch of midfielders had an opportunity to impress.

He said there were plenty of chances to learn from the defeat. "We didn't perform well and play that great but there's definitely no concerns," he said.

Merrett nominated tough midfielder Sam Durham as a Bomber who was ready to take the next leap this season, his fourth at the club after being a mid-season recruit in 2021. 

"I think he has the capability to be a really good inside player, I liken him a little bit to the way (Port Adelaide captain Connor) Rozee plays as really high impact and doesn't need to have it 35 times. If he can be half the player Connor's been the last few years it would be amazing for us. He adds some more depth and exposure with his explosiveness out of stoppage and clearance," he said. 

Sam Durham and Zach Merrett celebrate a goal during Essendon's clash against West Coast in round 21, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Having been announced as the Bombers' captain just days before the start of their pre-season schedule last year, Merrett is more in sync with the role as he starts his second season in charge, with Scott adamant on growing the club's breadth of leadership.

"Reflecting on the season it was an amazing experience but going into my second year I know what's coming now from a media point of view, appearances, games and what's expected of a captain and I'm looking forward to building on that and then helping and empowering those guys to lead as well," Merrett said.