ESSENDON livewire Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is increasing in chance to return to the Bombers' line-up as the club weighs up a range of changes for its do-or-die elimination final against the Western Bulldogs.
The star small forward did not play in the last two home and away games of the season as he dealt with personal issues and was put through a training phase to get him back to better fitness after a run of quieter games.
But with Essendon aiming to break its finals hoodoo and beat the Bulldogs in Sunday's clash in Launceston, coach Ben Rutten said the 28-year-old goalkicker is right in the frame to be picked.
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"It's probably a little bit early in the week, we haven't finalised our selection yet. 'Walla' (McDonald-Tipungwuti) had a bit of a run around in our VFL game on Sunday and got through that fine. That was good, he was really pleased and looking forward to doing that," he said.
"That was part of his plan and progression. We've got some guys who played in that game who performed really well and Walla is one of them. Jye Caldwell, Cale Hooker, Brayden Ham had some really strong performances there.
"Specifically on Walla it's about continually monitoring him and making sure we're supporting him as best we can and not just rushing him back in because it's a final all of a sudden. We're still making sure he's our priority and we're supporting him as best we can whilst making sure we're doing the best thing for the team in terms of our selection as well."
Asked if McDonald-Tipungwuti was feeling ready to return, Rutten said last week's increased match time in the scratch match was a good sign.
"Yeah I think he's getting closer to that. That's why he wanted to have a run around last week and we were keen to get him through that. We probably only anticipated him playing about a half initially but at half-time he was feeling good and enjoying it and wanted to keep going so we decided to do that and that was a really positive move," Rutten said.
"We've got a couple of training sessions to go this week and we'll keep working our way through that with Walla."
Kyle Langford could also return for the Bombers from a hamstring injury he suffered in round 20 against Sydney, when he had come back into the side following an initial hamstring strain. Rutten said the midfielder was "really close" to being given the all-clear to play but that the re-injury was a factor in the club's thinking.
"Having a reoccurrence there, we have been a little bit more conservative but also the context of the season does start to become part of the decision-making as well. They're all the things we've got to weigh up," Rutten said.
The Bombers broke a seven-year drought against the Bulldogs when they overcame Luke Beveridge's men in round 21 and head into the finals on a three-game winning streak.
"There'll be an element that we'll certainly look at what happened last time, as I'm sure they're doing. Some stuff we'll take and try to implement again and other stuff we might have to keep evolving and adjusting," Rutten said.
"I think the trap we [could] fall into is thinking 'let's just roll out the same sort of line-up as we did last time' but things have certainly shifted from both clubs."