(Clockwise from left): Isaac Quaynor, Sam Durham celebrates, Ben McKay and Collingwood celebrate. Pictures: AFL Photos

ESSENDON has won only two Anzac Day fixtures in the past decade, but the Bombers head to the MCG on Thursday in form ahead of one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters against Collingwood in recent memory.  

Brad Scott's side is 4-2 after the controversial finish against Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval last Friday night and sits inside the eight, as it hunts a September return and a first finals win since the 2004 elimination final.

Their good has been good this year, but long-suffering Bombers supporters are afraid to get carried away. Gutsy wins against the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda and Adelaide have helped get them off to a fast start, but the 69-point loss to Port Adelaide and conceding 131 points against Sydney have tempered expectations.

That is why the 29th Anzac Day encounter between these two sides – Collingwood has won 17, Essendon 10, with one draw – will provide an audit on exactly where the Dons sit.

After starting the season 0-3, Collingwood has levelled the ledger at 3-3 following two interstate wins – Brisbane at the Gabba, Hawthorn at the Adelaide Oval – before producing a 73-point turnaround against Port Adelaide on Saturday.

It is a long way back from a winless first few weeks, but the Magpies have rediscovered their mojo across the past three games, scoring 19.6 points more than the first three rounds, conceding 28.3 less points on the back of a +14.7 point turnover differential and +14 point clearance differential in that time.

Pies' changes - Scoring




Points For




Points Against




Points from Turnover Diff

-22 Pts

+14.7 Pts

+11.2 Pts

Points from Clearance Diff

-3 Pts

+14 Pts

+8.7 Pts

After being smashed in contested ball and groundball differential in the losses to Greater Western Sydney, Sydney and St Kilda, Craig McRae's side has drastically improved its contest game since round two, averaging an elite pressure rating of 194 and 73.7 tackles per game.

Pies' changes - Contest




Contested Possession Diff




Groundball Diff








Pressure Rating




Ben McKay has been one of the recruits of the year across the first seven rounds of the season and is rated as the No.6 key defender in the AFL, helping cover the loss of Jordan Ridley and Zach Reid in the early months of the year.

The Bombers' defence is still a work in progress. They have conceded 75 points or less in three of the past four games, but have conceded the fifth most points and are ranked 17th for defending turnovers. Last week, they only allowed 43 inside 50s – the fewest across Scott's first 29 games at the helm – and only allowed four marks inside 50 in a comprehensive defensive display.

Recruit of the year?

McKay played in just eight wins across his eight seasons at Arden Street. The marquee signing has already played in half as many wins across his first six games in red and black, in a move that has clearly been the right decision for him to date. The 26-year-old has improved Essendon's defence, holding Aaron Naughton and Charlie Dixon goalless and Taylor Walker, Mitch Lewis and Logan McDonald to just one goal each. Offensively, McKay is also averaging 8.8 intercepts and 3.5 intercept marks in 2024. Brody Mihocek has kicked eight goals in the past three weeks and could await on Anzac Day, along with Mason Cox, who produced one of his games in some time against the Power.

Ben McKay handballs during Essendon's game against St Kilda in R3, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Midfield manoeuvres pay dividends

The impact of Sam Durham and Jye Caldwell in the midfield has been profound. Durham has produced an elite fortnight against the Western Bulldogs and the Crows and could be given a key role on limiting the influence of Jordan De Goey at the MCG. The Seymour product has moved from a wing to inside this year and provided the Bombers with a ruthless edge to their midfield in one of the most successful positional changes of 2024. De Goey collected nine coaches' votes for his performance against Port Adelaide, where the game-breaking midfielder upstaged the Power's big three, collecting 27 disposals, 15 contested possessions and eight inside 50s in a commanding performance.

Sam Durham's improvement



AFL Player Ratings






Contested Possessions









Caldwell put the durability concerns behind him last year when he finished seventh in the Crichton Medal and has gone to another level in 2024. Scott has opted to use others more often at centre bounce, but the 23-year-old has proven his ability to go head-to-head with opposition mids this year and not only split the points, but win these encounters. Collingwood bats deep in the midfield, with Nick Daicos, Scott Pendlebury, Jack Crisp and Tom Mitchell all sharing the load with De Goey. The improvement of Durham and Caldwell has highlighted Darcy Parish's dip in form and delayed Dylan Shiel's return to the senior side. 

Jye Caldwell - Mid-Forward profile



AFL Player Ratings


Above Average



Above Average

Contested Possessions








Above Average




Battle of the gun smalls

Essendon landed four players during a busy Trade Period last October, including former first-round pick Jade Gresham. The ex-Saint has played almost exclusively across half-forward, kicking nine goals from his first six appearances, including three against Port Adelaide and three against Sydney. Gresham collected 26 touches and seven inside 50s against the Crows after having 23 and six against the Swans and is clearly someone Collingwood backline coach Jordan Roughead will put some planning into this week. With Isaac Quaynor and John Noble he has two speedy options to handle Gresham, while Brayden Maynard could get the job on Jake Stringer, who has kicked 14 goals to sit equal seventh on the Coleman Medal leaderboard.


Two on two

Scott is sticking with two ruckmen, despite Sam Draper having less impact than veteran recruit Todd Goldstein and Peter Wright returning after serving a four-game suspension. Goldstein has exceeded expectations and outperformed Draper, who was a central figure in the dramatic finish last Friday night. They will face Darcy Cameron, who if he isn't leading the Copeland Trophy will be on the podium after a brilliant start to 2024, which has the former Swan rated as the fourth best ruckman in the AFL, according to Champion Data. Collingwood has stuck with a two-ruck system for most of Craig McRae's tenure and have continued to use Cox and Cameron in tandem.

Return of Wright

Wright copped his right whack and is now available for selection again after serving that four-game suspension for the crude incident involving Harry Cunningham. The former Sun has endured an interrupted 18 months since winning the best and fairest in 2022 but is still a crucial part of Essendon's forward line. Billy Frampton has proven himself capable of manning the powerhouse key forwards this year and could get the job on Wright to allow Darcy Moore to play his more natural game on Thursday.