ESSENDON has avoided a 0-4 start to the year for the first time since 1967, beating a relentless Adelaide outfit by four points in a Sunday afternoon thriller at Marvel Stadium.
In one of the matches of the year, and with the game still up for grabs in the final minute, the Ben Rutten-less Bombers prevailed 15.13 (103) to 15.9 (99).
BOMBERS v CROWS Full match coverage and stats
Darcy Parish (38 touches) was best afield, leading the way in the absence of Zach Merrett and Jake Stringer, while Peter Wright was again a handful for the opposition defence with three goals.
It took just over a minute for the first goal of the game to be registered, with Sam Durham converting his set shot from 35m out.
Wright was the star of the opening term, continuing his fine start to 2022. The 203cm forward had four disposals, took four marks (two contested) and kicked two goals.
The Bombers took a seven-point margin into the break after an entertaining first quarter, which saw the returning Taylor Walker (four goals) kick one of his side's four goals.
Essendon won clearances 13-8 and centre clearances 6-2, with Parish, Andrew McGrath (25 touches) and Jye Caldwell (23 disposals and a goal) all busy.
The teams traded goals early in the second quarter with Josh Rachele (three goals) adding his second after five minutes, before Mason Redman (19 touches and a goal) replied in quick succession. Walker dribbled through his second to cut the margin to two points.
Wright took a spectacular pack mark and then booted his third from the top of the goalsquare, before Caldwell added another just seconds later, as the Bombers skipped away to a 16-point lead.
The Crows got back to within two points, courtesy of goals to James Rowe (two goals) and Elliott Himmelberg (two goals), but Alec Waterman's (two goals) second major on the stroke of half-time handed them an eight-point edge at the main break.
With Rutten watching on from home under the AFL's health and safety protocols, the Bombers went into the second half without Will Snelling (calf), with 2018 Crichton Medal winner Devon Smith subbed in to immediate impact, shooting out a handball to Nic Martin, who snapped truly.
Once again, the teams traded goals and neither side could take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Adelaide kicked four goals for the quarter to Essendon's three, but it was the Bombers who swung for home five points to the good.
With the game up for grabs, again the teams exchanged blows. The first goal of the final term came when Himmelberg booted his second, before Smith extend the Dons' margin to seven points.
Perkins sent Essendon fans into raptures when he coolly slotted his second, a goal on the run from 50m, which gifted his side a 10-point edge with eight minutes remaining.
But the Crows just wouldn't go away, and when Walker booted his fourth with five minutes on the clock, it was well and truly game on once again.
Sam Draper (one goal) appeared to be the unlikely hero when he kicked just the fourth goal of his career, but Lachlan Gollant (one goal) gave the Crows a pulse.
In the end, Essendon did enough to claw a crucial win and kept its season alive.
Walker on target in return
Having served his six-game sanction for racial abuse at a SANFL game in 2021, the former Crows skipper was somewhat of a surprise immediate inclusion. But Walker rewarded the faith shown in him via the match committee, finishing with four goals, nine score involvements, 18 touches and four marks. Walker wasted little time making his presence felt, winning a free kick for a strong tackle on Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, before booting his first goal with a left-foot snap with six minutes remaining in the first term. He was quiet in the second quarter, but did kick a crucial goal at the 10-minute mark. The 31-year-old was enormous after half-time, with his class and experience coming to the fore.
More calf misery for Snelling
Will Snelling missed the first three rounds of the season after succumbing to a calf strain in the lead-up to the round one clash against Geelong. And the 24-year-old looks set for more time on the sidelines, after he was subbed out before half-time due to a calf problem. Snelling played 20 games in 2021, and has appeared 42 times for the Dons since being drafted at pick No.7 in the 2019 mid-season rookie draft from SANFL club West Adelaide.
Rachele continues to excite
Despite being a top-10 pick, there's no doubt Josh Rachele has exceeded most people's expectations, even those within the Crows' camp. The No.6 selection in last year's NAB AFL Draft, Rachele burst onto the scene on debut in round one, kicking five goals from his 15 disposals. He followed that up with a goal and touches in round two, before kicking a goal and 10 possessions a week later. The excitement machine was again important for the Crows against the Bombers, finishing with three goals, nine marks and 19 disposals. He is a natural forward with tremendous goal sense, and he looks certain to cause plenty of headaches for opposition defenders and coaches.
ESSENDON 5.3 9.6 12.11 15.13 (103)
ADELAIDE 4.2 8.4 12.6 15.9 (99)
Essendon: Wright 3, Perkins 2, Waterman 2, Caldwell, Draper, Durham, Guelfi, Martin, Phillips, Redman, Smith
Adelaide: Walker 4, Rachele 3, Himmelberg 2, Rowe 2, Gollant, Keays, McHenry, Sholl
Essendon: Parish, Wright, McGrath, Hind, Caldwell, Shiel
Adelaide: Keays, Crouch, Walker, Laird, Himmelberg, Rachele
Essendon: Snelling (calf)
Adelaide: Hinge (hip pointer)
Essendon: Devon Smith (replaced Will Snelling)
Adelaide: Brayden Cook (replaced Mitchell Hinge)
Crowd: 24,906 at Marvel Stadium