Essendon ruckman Sam Draper at Bombers training on January 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON trio Sam Draper, Ben Hobbs and Nate Caddy will play in a VFL practice match on Friday as they push for more match time ahead of round one of the premiership season.

Draper played last week against Geelong on restricted minutes in a big step in his return from his groin surgery in the off-season and will face the Northern Bullants at the NEC Hangar on Friday afternoon.

Another successful outing will give the Bombers the option of having him available for their season opener against Hawthorn.

Ben Hobbs evades Luke Davies-Uniacke during the R22 match between Essendon and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on August 12, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hobbs didn't feature in either of Essendon's practice matches against St Kilda or Geelong after injuring his shoulder at training in February.

It kept him out of full training for several weeks, but the talented midfielder will still push for a berth against the Hawks in round one by playing in the VFL practice game.

It will be the final chance for the players to gather match conditioning ahead of the game against the Hawks on Saturday, March 16.

Caddy will also get his first run in Bombers colours on Friday after impressing in his first pre-season at the club.

The powerful tall forward was ruled out of the pre-season games after falling in a marking contest at training and coming back sore from the incident.

The Bombers have been careful with the prized No.10 draft pick, who has taken the eye of teammates and coaches in his first summer at AFL level.

Essendon will be without Jordan Ridley (quad) for the opening weeks of its season but with Draper, Hobbs and Caddy back to fitness, Brad Scott will head into the campaign with a relatively healthy squad.

Midfielder Dylan Shiel dislocated a finger at training this week and required stitches, but dodged a bullet for any longer absence and is still expected to return to the field next week after his long recovery from his foot injury.