Bombers combine presence and grace to break Bulldogs hoodoo
By Lance Jenkinson
When you are taking on a top of the ladder team, you need to play with a presence, and Essendon did just that in a 13-point win over the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.
From the word go, the Bombers were locked in to their tasks, defending with the ferocity of a side that wanted to take a scalp, and, more importantly, keep finals football on their radar.
The Bombers competed hard at the centre bounces, out-numbered the Bulldogs at the stoppages and created extreme pressure to negate the Bulldogs flick-it-around style with ball in hand.
Eventually, the Bulldogs snapped under pressure, uncharacteristically rushing kicks forward, missing gettable shots and the tide started to turn.
Essendon had put in the hard yards to get the game on its own terms and eventually got to enjoy the spoils of a hard-earned win.
If it wasn’t for two giant Bombers – ruckman Sam Draper and forward Peter Wright – it could well have ended in an honourable loss and the extinguishing of their finals hopes.
Draper took highly-rated Bulldogs ruckman Tim English head on and won the day.
The 22-year-old had 39 hit outs, 230 metres gained and a huge impact on the Bombers having the lion’s share of clearances.Embed from Getty Images
Sam Draper was outstanding in the ruck for the Bombers.
Above all, Draper played with a presence, competing in the air and using his big frame to create a path for his midfielders.
Zach Merrett, Darcy Parish, Dylan Shiel and Jake Stringer all benefited from the bustling of their big man.
The Bulldogs went into the game undermanned defensively with key defenders Alex Keath and Ryan Gardner sidelined with injury.
This was a tailor-made situation for Essendon tall Peter Wright to take full advantage and he produced a career game.
Wright seemed like a man amongst boys en route to seven goals and seven marks.
The former Gold Coast Suns player displayed vice-like hands in the air and an accuracy in front of goal that would delight any forward line coach.Embed from Getty Images
Peter Wright was unstoppable in attack for Essendon.
It was the performance of a maturing Essendon side.
Even when the Bombers didn’t have parts of the game on their own terms, they opted to hang in and not get bullied out of it.
It was business-like by the Bombers, not getting too caught up in the moment in the post-game celebrations, despite it being their first win over the Bulldogs since 2014.
“Tonight was one of our more complete, well rounded games,” Bombers coach Ben Rutten said.
“The Bulldogs are on top of the ladder for a reason and I thought the way our guys applied themselves throughout the game was really pleasing.”
A demonstration of Essendon’s maturity was their reaction to Bulldogs forward Josh Bruce suffering a serious knee injury at the full time siren.
In a show of sportsmanship, a number of Bombers went over to see if Bruce was okay and offered assistance.
Stringer, playing against his former club, and defender Mason Redman, were first on the spot, providing shining examples to junior footballers about respect for your opposition.
Some might say that is not ruthless enough, but it was a clear sign that this team is coming of age, and perhaps shows that Rutten’s personality is rubbing off on his players.
Essendon finals flame is burning bright tonight, but it must produce they same intent against an unpredictable Gold Coast Suns in the penultimate round to keep the dream alive.