The most impressive aspect for Bombers fans was their organisation behind the ball as they held up Geelong and made it hard for them to exit their back 50.
With Geelong’s ball movement slowed Essendon’s undersized defence, led by best-and-fairest winner Jordan Ridley, held up well with James Stewart and Aaron Francis taking on the Cats’ twin towers in Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron.
Cameron got his hands to the ball regularly but only held three marks but once his hands become safe he will cause trouble as he connects well with the midfield.
Dyson Heppell’s leadership will be as handy as his left foot in defence as he provides a steadiness that was lacking in 2020.
Nik Cox was quiet for Essendon, however he remains well in the frame to win a first-round spot as he provides run and has class when he gets the ball and Harrison Jones is also good enough to debut against Hawthorn as he has a good pair of hands. Archie Perkins had a run in the last quarter but had little chance to strut his stuff.
Geelong’s win was not relevant but it was important they got through unscathed, with Patrick Dangerfield ready to go after an interrupted pre-season and Joel Selwood as strong as ever.
The Bombers similarly had the look of a team on the move with plenty of new faces for supporters to watch with interest.
TOM ATKINS LOOKS A READY-MADE DEFENDER
Having been squeezed out of the forward line, Atkins is attempting to reinvent himself as a running defender. If he can play as well as he did in the first half on Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, the role is his in 2021. He provided run out of defence, used the ball well and remains unflustered in traffic. His presence in the back half allows Jordan Clark to try to cement a spot on the wing, where he is up against stiff internal opposition with Isaac Smith, who played well in his first game for the Cats, Sam Menegola and the injured Mitch Duncan.
DRAPER IS MORE THAN A HANDY ASSET
The Bombers have some holes in their list but unlike Geelong they won’t have to worry about the ruck for the next five years with Sam Draper’s presence obvious already. The 22-year-old has played just eight games but his ability to leap and move the ball forward from centre bounces is an asset the Bombers should exploit this season. Admittedly he was up against De Koning, who is yet to make his debut, and the Cats are mediocre when defending centre bounces but Essendon’s midfield have no excuses with Draper rucking. He sat out the last quarter as Nick Bryan was given a chance.
GEELONG: 4.2 6.2 9.5 12.7 (79)
ESSENDON: 1.5 5.10 6.15 9.18 (72)
Geelong: Rohan 2, Cameron 2, C.Guthrie, Higgins, Hawkins, Z.Guthrie, Bews, Blicavs, Clark, Evans
Essendon: Hooker 4, Smith 2, McGrath, Langford, Wright
Geelong: Atkins, Dangerfield, Smith, Selwood, Stewart, Clark
Essendon: Merrett, Caldwell, Draper, Parish, Ridley, Hooker
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.