Zach Merrett and Kyle Langford celebrate a goal during Essendon's clash against Greater Western Sydney in round nine, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON needed the Giant scalp.

Before the weekend, the Bombers' improvement had been clear – a bunch of younger players in career-best form, a host of statistical measures up and a record of five wins, an Anzac Day draw and two on-the-road losses to flag contenders Sydney and Yartapuulti. 

But more measurable would be a victory over the equally contending Greater Western Sydney, in which the team now being built to reflect its hard-edged coach Brad Scott and doggedly determined captain Zach Merrett could land a blow over a premiership favourite. 

The 20-point come-from-behind win was Scott's best in his 32 in charge of the Bombers because it brought together the layers that have developed in 2024. 

The game style is undeniably hardened. Last season the Bombers ranked 12th for points from turnover differential and 16th for points from clearance differential. Since round five this season, they are ranked sixth and fifth in those crucial columns. 

Scott has asked for step ups in defence and has found them. They were 15th for points against last year (fourth over the past five weeks), 14th for opposition points from defensive half (eighth since round five) and 15th in opposition points from forward half (now fifth). 


Essendon's pressure is its newest weapon, led by the vastly improved Sam Durham and Jye Caldwell, with Archie Perkins also important in the midfield. They follow the leader – Merrett's defensive work is arguably the best of any top-line midfielder in the competition. 

The Bombers' pressure rating of 195 against the Giants was a season-high and equal best under Scott in his time at Essendon (alongside round 19 last year). The Giants claimed their worst pressure differential of the season (-13), with Essendon second in the AFL since round five in post-clearance pressure rating. 

Last year, they ranked third worst for this statistic. The Bombers were also 13th for pressure last year and are sixth in the key category since round five.

Durham is the club's most improved player according to AFL Player Ratings, jumping 5.9 points, while Perkins (4.3 points) and then recruits Jade Gresham (2.8), Xavier Duursma (2.4) and Ben McKay (1.9) are the next best risers on their 2023 numbers, with McKay's defensive influence reflective of the importance Essendon placed on recruiting him last off-season. 

Sam Durham in action during Essendon's clash against West Coast in round eight, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Then there is Kyle Langford, who kicked 51 goals last season but has lifted 1.8 Player Ratings points as his ascension to the elite continues. Now fourth in the Coleman Medal race, Langford's stability as a forward has seen Scott uncover a gem. 

Last week was the second-highest rated game of Langford's career with his five inside-50 marks and four goals, with only Carlton's Charlie Curnow (95) and Giant Jesse Hogan (98) taking more marks inside 50 in the past two seasons than Langford (90). 

Andrew McGrath is enjoying the most consistent season of his career, Jake Kelly added Toby Greene to his run of shutdown jobs, Scott's move of Nic Martin to defence has added a creator to his defensive armoury and Matt Guelfi's assignments so far this year have been successes – round one's job on James Sicily, helping to lessen Jeremy McGovern's aerial influence in round eight and his three-goal game on Giants playmaker Lachie Whitfield on Saturday.

Essendon's horses-for-courses approach with its midfield has added another element to its unpredictability, with Jake Stringer used for 75 per cent of centre bounce on Anzac Day after not attending any in the first three rounds and Merrett and Darcy Parish willing to weave through different onball mixes.

Jake Stringer in action during Essendon's clash against Greater Western Sydney in round nine, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

In the past five weeks, Essendon ranks top six for contested possessions differential, midfield contested possession differential, clearance differential and centre bounce clearance differential. The Bombers were not in the top nine teams for any of those numbers last year. 

The Power demolition job Essendon suffered at Gather Round in round four was viewed at the time as more of the same from a club that historically has struggled for consistency. Internally there was less panic, particularly as the outside was yet to realise Durham's importance to their midfield (he missed that game with concussion). But if the Bombers can overcome the bottom two teams on the ladder in the next two weeks – North Melbourne this week then Richmond in the Dreamtime at the 'G clash – the Power defeat will instead be the juncture at which the turn came.