ESSENDON will blood two debutants for its opening-round clash with Hawthorn, with a trio of off-season recruits also included in the Bombers' side.
In total there will be five fresh faces in new coach Ben Rutten's side, with 2020 first-round pick Nik Cox set to feature alongside Harrison Jones for their first matches at AFL level in Saturday night's clash.
Cox, pick No.8 in last year's NAB AFL Draft, is set to play his first match in more than 18 months after his final year of NAB League football was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, with Rutten full of praise for the 18-year-old.
"It's a huge effort from him, he's presented, he's done nearly every session at training," Rutten said. "He's really built his game over the last couple of weeks, [we're] looking forward to what he can do, not only this week but throughout the season."
Essendon's first pick from the 2019 crop will also feature, with Jones overcoming a foot stress fracture that effectively wiped out his 2020 campaign.
Three players from last year's trade period have been selected in Rutten's first match at the helm, with Peter Wright (Gold Coast), Jye Caldwell (GWS) and Nick Hind (St Kilda) all set to debut for the club.
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Essendon's growing injury list opened the door for the inclusions, with livewire forward Jake Stringer unable to regain fitness from his calf complaint in time for the season-opener. The 26-year-old will spend time at the lower level this week.
"He'll play a bit this week in the VFL, so we'll get some minutes in then and we'll just see how he pulls up and take it from there," Rutten said.
Essendon captain Dyson Heppell will form part of a new-look Bombers defence, with the former best and fairest winner getting over his foot and ankle issues.
"I think it was a great opportunity for Dyson to go back there, he's played a lot of footy back there in his early years. He'll provide a lot of experience and a bit of calmness back there for our defensive unit," Rutten said.
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Another of the Bombers' first-round picks was close to a debut, Archie Perkins (pick No.9) missing out on the final squad with Rutten ruling out any chance of a debutant filling the newly created medical sub spot.
"We really like what Archie can do," Rutten said. "Archie wasn't far off and I'm sure we'll see plenty of him pretty soon."