Where and When: Wangaratta, Saturday 3 March, 7.00pm
It’s set to be a slippery game tonight, as Essendon take on St Kilda in Wangaratta.
The rain forecast for today doesn’t look likely to assist the already-soaked conditions – the match was almost cancelled with parts of the ground reportedly up to 25cm deep.
The Saints sit 13th on the NAB Cup ladder with one win to their name, but pending other results, they could jump into the top four with a big victory.
Essendon surprisingly sit at the very bottom of the ladder, with two losses last week, but will look to bounce back with some important inclusions.
Despite their NAB Cup performances, both clubs field strong teams, and this game, although it will be messy, is one to keep an eye on.
Essendon will be looking to prove themselves to the competition after two forgettable performances against West Coast and Fremantle, pushing them to the bottom of the ladder with a percentage just below 50.
The Bombers aren’t yet at full strength, with players such as Angus Monfries, Mark McVeigh, Heath Hocking and Ben Howlett all missing, but they will surely welcome the return of captain Jobe Watson, stalwart Dustin Fletcher and rising star Dyson Heppell.
Those additions are vital, as Essendon looks to build a squad to push up the NAB Cup ladder whilst allowing youngsters to prove their worth to the side.
First-round draft pick Elliot Kavanagh will play his second game, young defender Luke Davis will play his third, while mature-age recruit Cory Dell’Olio will push hard for a promotion off the rookie list after an impressive showing in Perth.
The Saints were a funny side last week, losing to the Swans and bouncing back to defeat the Cats in new coach Scott Watters’ first game.
It will be interesting to see how he approaches this match, in his first full-time crack, and what game plans and strategies he will implement.
St Kilda are very close to full-strength, even though the potentially dangerous conditions will have raised doubts over risking veterans Nick Riewoldt and Lenny Hayes, although Justin Koschitzke has been rested.
22-year-old forward Terry Milera will get another crack after a good showing against the Cats, while big man Rhys Stanley will be looking to impose himself. Tom Simpkin and Tom Ledger are also getting another run.
Players to Watch
Lenny Hayes: The aging midfielder has finished his recovery, but anterior cruciate ligaments are tricky injuries, and this match will test his left knee in his first full hit-out. It will take weeks yet, but hopefully we’ll soon see Hayes back in the form that won him a Norm Smith medal.
Leroy Jetta: The former forward played as a rebounding defender last week and his skills were on show. He is one of the most talented players listed to play and in these conditions his overall skill level should see him adapt to the conditions better than most.
It looks as if Watters wants the team to win, and it shows from the strength of the Saints’ side relative to most other teams in the NAB Cup. It is a team very alike to what we should see in Round 1.
Essendon are in a similar position, with only a small fraction of their regulars having the weekend off.
Recent form suggests that Essendon have a mental edge over the Saints, and it should continue here in a likely low-scoring game.
Essendon by 12 points
4. Jobe Watson, 5. Brent Stanton, 7. Leroy Jetta, 11. David Zaharakis, 12. Stewart Crameri, 14. Sam Lonergan, 15. Courtenay Dempsey, 16. Tayte Pears, 17. Jake Melksham, 18. Michael Hurley, 19. David Hille, 20. Henry Slattery, 21. Dyson Heppell, 22. Jake Carlisle, 23. David Myers, 26. Cale Hooker, 27. Luke Davis, 28. Elliot Kavanagh, 29. Alwyn Davey, 30. Patrick Ryder, 31. Dustin Fletcher, 32. Travis Colyer, 34. Kyle Hardingham, 37. Kyle Reimers, 43. Michael Hibberd, 44. Tom Bellchambers, 47. Cory Dell’Olio.
1. Jason Gram, 2. Arryn Siposs, 3. Jack Steven, 4. Clinton Jones, 5. Ben McEvoy, 7. Lenny Hayes, 11. Leigh Montagna, 12. Nick Riewoldt, 13. Adam Schneider, 14. Jarryn Geary, 15. Tom Ledger, 17. Nicky Winmar, 18. Brendon Goddard, 19. Sam Gilbert, 20. David Armitage, 22. Farren Ray, 24. Sean Dempster, 25. Sam Fisher, 26. Nick Dal Santo, 27. Jason Blake, 28. Rhys Stanley, 30. Brett Peake, 31. Tom Simpkin, 32. Terry Milera, 34. Dean Polo, 35. Jamie Cripps, 37. Beau Wilkes, 44. Stephen Milne.