IS IT time to start talking about Essendon as a genuine finals threat?
BOMBERS v KANGAROOS Full match coverage and stats
The Bombers completed a hard-fought win over North Melbourne on Saturday night, running out 14-point victors at a slippery Metricon Stadium after a wasteful first half.
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Despite concerns about Essendon's scoring power with forward ace Jake Stringer (ankle) added to the injury list alongside spearhead Joe Daniher (groin), the Bombers manufactured ways to goal in their 9.13 (67) to 7.11 (53) win.
Quietly and without much fanfare, the Bombers have won four of the five games they've played this season, with their win against the Roos backing up last week's surprise victory over flag fancy Collingwood.
While gun midfielder Dylan Shiel was subdued by North Melbourne, young pair Andrew McGrath (25 disposals) and Darcy Parish (21 and seven clearances) stepped up, while Orazio Fantasia played one of his best games in some time with 19 disposals off half-back.
David Zaharakis, too, returned to form with three goals while Conor McKenna, in his first AFL game since his positive COVID-19 test, showed his run from defence.
North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein was excellent with 19 disposals and 30 hitouts, feeding the likes of Jy Simpkin (23 disposals) and Aaron Hall (23), but the Roos were let down in attack with Ben Brown's form struggles continuing.
The Bombers trailed by five points at quarter-time but restricted North to only four more goals thereafter in what was another tick for the club's improved balance of attack and defence.
Shiel set for scrutiny
Fresh from blanketing Western Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli last week, North's Luke McDonald headed straight to midfield gun Dylan Shiel at the opening bounce. His intentions were clear: he was there to negate the in-form Bombers midfielder, stop him, pressure him, niggle and annoy. Shiel was restricted to five disposals in the first half and after battling a leg niggle early in the third term returned to the field, where he laid a high bump on NAB AFL Rising Star nominee Curtis Taylor after running past the ball. Taylor was floored, left the field, then headed back off for a concussion test before returning to the field in the fourth term. Shiel, who finished with 12 disposals, had been a Brownlow Medal fancy heading into the clash, but is certain to come under Match Review Officer scrutiny.
'The Bull' crashes through again
Cam Zurhaar was at his physical, combative best for the Roos, creating havoc around the stoppages, and again he had Bomber Michael Hurley in his sights. Last year when the sides met it was Zurhaar's huge bump that broke Hurley's collarbone and saw him miss five weeks. The strongly built North forward again lined up the Essendon defender on Saturday night with a crunching bump in the second quarter, flattening Hurley, but fortunately there was no injury this time around. It was Zurhaar's best game of the season, with the powerful Roo booting two goals and finishing with a season-high 19 disposals.
Zacka strikes back
It has been a tough season for David Zaharakis, who has been in danger of losing his spot in Essendon's side as he averaged just 10 disposals this year. He's been shifted into a new role, playing as a half-forward that helps sets up defensively and covers off for others, drawing him away from the contest. That changed against the Roos, though. The veteran kicked three goals – including a brilliant snap in the third term – from 20 disposals and could have had a couple more after some gettable misses. With Jake Stringer missing, the Bombers needed to find another avenue to goal and Zaharakis stepped up.
ESSENDON 2.5 5.11 8.11 9.13 (67)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.4 4.7 6.11 7.11 (53)
Essendon: Zaharakis 3, Langford 2, Laverde, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Snelling, Townsend
North Melbourne: Zurhaar 2, Atley, Brown, Goldstein, Higgins, Scott
Essendon: McGrath, Zaharakis, Fantasia, Parish, Saad, Ridley
North Melbourne: Goldstein, Simpkin, Zurhaar, Dumont, Hall, McDonald
North Melbourne: Anderson (quad) replaced in selected side by Williams, Taylor (head)