Zach Merrett celebrates a goal during round 15, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

SCOTT Pendlebury will become the fourth player in the past nine years to reach the 400-game milestone when – all going well – he notches the incredible feat in four games' time.

But after the Magpie champion becomes just the sixth player in VFL/AFL history to make the mark, how long will the wait be until the club adds a seventh member? And who could it be?

Travis Boak (361 games), Tom Hawkins (359), Patrick Dangerfield (328), Todd Goldstein (328), Steele Sidebottom (324), Callan Ward (306) and Dustin Martin (301) are the other 300-gamers in the AFL but don't appear in striking distance of the rarest of clubs.

Scroll through the experienced stars who are nearing the 300-game mark and those are also not contenders for the 400 – among them Jack Darling (293), Luke Breust (291), Mitch Duncan (288), Zach Tuohy (282), Liam Shiels (282), Andrew Gaff (278), Taylor Walker (273) and Dayne Zorko (266).


Of the players who have passed 200 games, Essendon skipper Zach Merrett looks the most likely contender for the 400 mark, but will need his team to play more finals to have any chance (Pendlebury has played 31 and all of the 400-gamers have played at least 23, essentially at least another season worth of games; Merrett has played four).

Merrett has played 222 games of a possible 236 since he got to Essendon ahead of the 2014 season. He is 28 but, as he recently told, has designs on playing for a lot longer.

"I'm not sure my partner will love me saying this, but I have ambitions and have set my life up with the way I go about my footy to still be playing in six, eight, 10 years' time," Merrett said.

"That's the goal at the moment. The dynamic's shifting a bit and guys are playing for longer which is awesome but I've certainly got ambitions to play for a long time."


The star Bombers midfielder might even be getting better.

Already a four-time best and fairest winner, the brilliant left-footer is on track for a fifth this season, which would see him join James Hird with five Crichton Medals at Essendon, and sit behind only red and black legends Dick Reynolds and Bill Hutchinson (seven each). He should also become a four-time All-Australian and will be in the mix for the team's captaincy.

According to Champion Data, Merrett is reaching new heights this season. His 33.7 AFL Player Ratings points in last week's important win over Collingwood was the highest of his career and the most by a Bombers player since 2021.

It was the third-most ever by a Bombers player since the ratings system started in 2010, behind Darcy Parish (35.8 points in round 16, 2021) and Jake Stringer (34.5 points in round 14, 2021). It was also the second highest ranked game of the season by any player this season, behind only Carlton ruckman Tom De Koning's mammoth 35.5 rating points in round 15.

AFL umpire Jamie Broadbent (left) and Essendon's Zach Merrett chat during round 17, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Merrett's career-best 15 score involvements was the equal second highest of the season (Carlton's Sam Walsh had 17 in round six) and the most by a Bomber since 2013.

He was also involved in 63 per cent of the Bombers' scoring chains. Champion Data notes that only four times in the past two seasons has a player had 30 or more disposals and been involved in 60 per cent or more of their team's scoring chains – three of those were Merrett.

The Bombers' efforts to bolster their midfield and hand more responsibility to Jye Caldwell and Sam Durham around the ball has meant for more variety in Merrett's game, with his relentless tackling and pressure evident in the final minutes of the win over the Magpies. And the evolution is another factor that could extend Merrett's career well into his 30s.