Essendon shocked the AFL in 2021, in a season the were expected to finish bottom four, Ben Rutten’s young side made the finals in a successful year for the Bombers. The future is looking bright for Essendon, but can they live up to expectations in 2022?
Jack Tobin will be previewing EVERY team in the lead up to the 2022 season, while PuntingInDanger and his crew will be back this year to give their betting tips on every game. Be sure to head to the AFL Tips page for regular updates!
Essendon Bombers Season Preview
In: Jake Kelly (Adelaide), Ben Hobbs (Pick 13), Alastair Lord (Pick 49), Garrett McDonagh (Pick 50)
The Bombers picked up Jake Kelly in free agency, giving them a lockdown defender that will allow Jordan Ridley even more opportunities to intercept and create offence for Essendon. The Bombers also picked up one of the biggest sliders in the draft in Ben Hobbs, who was projected to go inside the top six picks. There has been plenty of praise around Hobbs’ preseason, however it’s difficult to see where he fits in the Bombers side given the abundance of midfield depth.
After an awful 2020 campaign, the departures of Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia, and a new coach in charge, there was very little optimism around Essendon’s prospects in 2021. The emergence of youngsters Nik Cox, Archie Perkins coupled with the trade bargains of Nick Hind and Peter Wright, saw a youthful Essendon side make an Elimination Final appearance. Ben Rutten brought clarity and an exciting game plan in his first season as coach, along with unlocking the potential of some players already on the Bombers list.
After being trapped on a half forward flank for the first five years of his career under John Worsfold, Darcy Parish was given a full time midfield role and he delivered in spades for the Bombers. Parish averaged 30 disposals per game en route to a maiden All-Australian selection. Rutten also ployed Jake Stringer in the centre/forward role, which turned into a masterstroke as Stringer averaged a career high in disposals (16) and clearances (4), whilst booting 41 goals.
With Cale Hooker’s retirement and major doubts looming around Anthony McDonald-Tippungwuti, there are plenty of question marks around the makeup of Essendon’s forward line. Peter Wright and Jake Stringer will be important pieces of the forwardline, however there is distinct lack of ready made small forwards on the Bombers list.
Essendon will face a good problem in how their midfield will line up in season 2022. Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Andy McGrath, Jye Caldwell, Jake Stringer, Dylan Shiel, Ben Hobbs and Kyle Langford will all be pushing for midfield minutes, and it will be fascinating to see how the Bombers manage their midfield depth.
Breakout Player: Jye Caldwell
The 11th pick of the 2018 draft was a huge acquisition for the Bombers in the 2020 trade period, however Jye Caldwell’s first year in red and black was derailed by injury. Caldwell was Essendon’s stand out player during the preseason, and was outstanding in round one with 22 disposals, 9 tackles and 3 clearances. However a hamstring injury in round two saw Caldwell manage just three games for the season. With an injury free preseason, Caldwell has a base to launch from in his fourth year in the AFL. If Caldwell can stay healthy, he’ll be one of Essendon’s most important players this season.
What Do The Bombers Need To Do This Season?
When young sides exceed expectations, their biggest danger is often their own ambition. The Saints recruitment strategy for the 2021 season was a perfect example. It’s crucial the Bombers continue to stay the course and invest in their young players who performed so well for them last year. Continuing to get games into the likes of Cox, Perkins, Reid, Caldwell, Durham, Draper and Ham is crucial for the future of the Bombers. Ben Rutten implemented an identifiable game plan built around pressure, which began to take shape in 2021. The Bombers ranked 4th in scoring, 5th for disposals and 8th for tackles, their defence improved vastly in the second half of the year and should continue to get better in 2022. If the Bombers continue to commit to their youth and continue to evolve their brand of football, then 2022 will be a successful campaign.
Essendon faces the second hardest fixture in the AFL, playing Brisbane, Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Richmond and Sydney twice. The Bombers first three games of the season are against Geelong, Melbourne and Brisbane - three of the top four teams in 2021. Coupled with their challenging fixture will be the inevitable rise of teams like Carlton, Richmond and St Kilda who all underperformed last season. The Bombers forwardline won’t be as productive this season without Hooker and potentially McDonald-Tippungwuti. There won’t be the surprise factor that Essendon had last year with so many new pieces, and the rest of the league has now had a year to figure out the Bombers. Essendon definitely has the talent to feature in September, but they’ll just fall short in 2022.