JORDAN Ridley starred and second-year pair Nik Cox and Archie Perkins impressed as Essendon overcame the Western Bulldogs in Wednesday's practice game.
The Bombers trailed by 11 points at the final change but kicked five-goals-to-two in the final term at The Hangar to clinch the six-point win in the first competitive clash between clubs for 2022.
Ridley was best afield in a dominant aerial display in Essendon's defence, taking countless marks including a huge grab in the third term. But the Bombers also would have been impressed by the form of Perkins and Cox in the 12.9 (81) to 11.9 (75) win, with the pair looking to back up their impressive debut seasons.
Perkins kicked two goals through the midfield and forward line, while Cox was also strong in the air in his wing role. Will Snelling kicked three goals, while train-on players Tex Wanganeen and Nick Martin both had their moments after coming into the game in the second half as others were rested.
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Wanganeen didn't feature until the final quarter but kicked two goals in an exciting display to convince the Bombers of his potential. Post-game, the son of 1993 Brownlow medallist Gavin and Martin were officially signed to the Bombers’ list.
The Dogs rested key players Marcus Bontempelli and Caleb Daniel after half-time, with midfield pair Jack Macrae and Adam Treloar impressing and key forward Aaron Naughton influential with two goals and some strong marks. Jason Johannisen kicked three goals.
Last year's Grand Finalists fielded a strong line-up as they kickstarted their pre-season campaign, with veteran Stefan Martin playing alongside Tim English in the ruck and Lachie Hunter prominent in his customary wing role.
Arthur Jones caught the eye for the Dogs. Jones, who was pick No.43 in last year's draft, took things on and didn't look out of place with his skill and speed. The 2020 No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan played throughout the four quarters but was quiet. For the Bombers, key forward Kaine Baldwin was blooded and took a couple of strong marks in attack and kicked a last-quarter goal, while Harrison Jones had an exciting first half before being managed after the main break. Last year's first-round pick Ben Hobbs got some game time in the final term and had an immediate impact around the ball.
There wasn't too much trial and error from either team ahead of the season beginning. Andrew McGrath spent solid periods of the game stationed across half-back, in a throwback to the start to his career at Essendon, while Aaron Francis played in attack after spending the summer there. The Bulldogs didn't spring any surprises positionally, lining up largely as expected after last year's Grand Final.
Francis sent a scare through the Essendon camp when he limped off the field in the first term after twisting his knee but he returned later in the quarter and played out the game. Perkins left the field with what appeared a sore hip after a marking contest in the final term but returned shortly after. The Bulldogs appeared to get through the contest unscathed, having entered missing key defenders Alex Keath (back) and Tim O'Brien (hamstring) as well as midfield gun Bailey Smith (groin) through minor injuries. Anthony Scott (eye) was also unavailable, while the Bombers were without Jake Stringer (groin), Michael Hurley (hip) and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (personal leave).
Darcy Parish looks likely to continue where he left off in 2021, which was his breakout season in the midfield. The Essendon ball-getter won't come cheap in AFL Fantasy but has reached star status and will hit round one in good touch after starring in last week's intraclub and again on Wednesday against the Dogs. It's obvious, but there's no reason to be looking much further than Jack Macrae if you're after a premium fantasy option from the Bulldogs. The premiership midfielder looks as hungry as ever.