Where and When: Etihad Stadium, Friday 9 March, 6:10 pm
It’s set to be a cracker of a game tonight, as Essendon host Sydney at Etihad Stadium.
If the match is half as good as their epic encounter in Round 20 last year, when Adam Goodes blazed his way to 29 disposals and three goals to fall short by one point, then it will definitely be one to keep your eyes on.
Goodes returns from a one-match suspension this week and should go in with the mindset to go one better and take his team to victory, while Rhyce Shaw and Lewis Roberts-Thomson will also make their return.
Jason Winderlich will play his first game after a season-ending knee injury last year, while Ben Howlett and Angus Monfries will also play their first game. Jobe Watson, Dustin Fletcher and Dyson Heppell will be looking for a lot of game time after their first match of the season was washed out last week.
Essendon remain on the bottom of the ladder after two losses and a forfeit, but they’ll be looking to remind the rest of the league that they mean business by defeating a finals outfit in Sydney.
Although their chances of playing off for the cup were well and truly shot even prior to last week’s forfeit, they may be looking just to get some gametime into key players.
Heppell, Watson, Fletcher, Monfries, Howlett and Winderlich are all playing their first games for the year – the former three were named to play last week.
There’s no doubt that those six important members of their best 22 will be rusty, and will likely get lengthy rests at times, but there’s also no question that these inclusions bolster the talent of the squad Essendon has named.
Sydney’s last visit to Etihad included a caning of St Kilda and a loss to reigning premiers Geelong, and considering both teams contain some real quality, it’s all good signs.
Goodes was tipped by some as the dark horse for the Brownlow last year, and although he may be aging, his return is immense, regardless of the game-time he gets.
Besides him, Shaw and Roberts-Thomson add some experience to a side that seems almost as close as it gets to best 22.
With some impressive youth – Harry Cunningham looked very good against North Melbourne – and some extra experience, Sydney look to be going all out for the win here.
Players to Watch
Jason Winderlich: Winderlich makes his return after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Carlton early last year. He won’t play a full game, rather eased into it, but the Dons will want him to play well and slowly but surely make his way back to his 2009 form.
Craig Bird: He only recorded 18 disposals and five tackles on the weekend, but kicked three important goals in a tight match to help the Swans over the line against North Melbourne. He’s added the ability to kick goals to his tackling pressure and has become a key to Sydney’s side and their contested gameplan.
Essendon have again named a strong squad and will push incredibly hard for their first win in 2012, but I think they’ll find it tough to stop the Swans.
In saying that, the Bombers will continue to hold on and the margin will never be great, but expect the brilliance of Adam Goodes and co. to get Sydney over the line.
Sydney by 15 points
4. Jobe Watson, 5. Brent Stanton, 6. Angus Monfries, 7. Leroy Jetta, 8. Jason Winderlich, 11. David Zaharakis, 12. Stewart Crameri, 14. Sam Lonergan, 15. Courtenay Dempsey, 16. Tayte Pears, 17. Jake Melksham, 18. Michael Hurley, 19. David Hille, 21. Dyson Heppell, 22. Jake Carlisle, 23. David Myers, 26. Cale Hooker, 27. Luke Davis, 29. Alwyn Davey, 30. Patrick Ryder, 31. Dustin Fletcher, 32. Travis Colyer, 34. Kyle Hardingham, 37. Kyle Reimers, 39. Heath Hocking, 40. Ben Howlett, 43. Michael Hibberd, 44. Tom Bellchambers.
1. Mark Seaby, 2. Rhyce Shaw, 3. Jarrad McVeigh, 9. Nick Malceski, 10. Mitch Morton, 12. Josh Kennedy, 13. Andrejs Everitt, 14. Craig Bird, 15. Kieren Jack, 16. Gary Rohan, 17. Tommy Walsh, 18. Jesse White, 20. Sam Reid, 21. Ben McGlynn, 24. Jude Bolton, 25. Ted Richards, 26. Luke Parker, 29. Martin Mattner, 30. Lewis Roberts-Thomson, 32. Lewis Jetta, 33. Jarred Moore, 34. Alex Johnson, 37. Adam Goodes, 38. Mike Pyke, 39. Heath Grundy, 40. Nick Smith, 41. Shane Mumford, 44. Harry Cunningham, 45. Nathan Gordon.