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Mid-season talking points

Simon Conway  June 14, 2017 8:12 PM

BTV: Lucas' Mid-Year Review - Part 1 Scott Lucas takes a closer look at the first half of our season.

Midway through the season, the Bombers are well positioned to sample their first taste of finals football since 2014. But in a year littered with unpredictable results and a congested ladder, nothing can be taken for granted.

Here are some of the major talking points from the first half of the year.

The forward line

Not since 2013 has an Essendon side been as prolific in the forward half. The Bombers now rank seventh in the competition for goals scored per game (14.1), well up from 18th (9.1) last year.

Essendon and Geelong are the only teams with three players ranked inside the top 20 goal kickers. Joe Daniher (34 goals) and Orazio Fantasia (25) are within striking distance of their personal bests for a season and Cale Hooker (23) has surpassed the 21 he kicked in 2015.

As a team, the Bombers have passed the 100-point mark seven times from their 12 matches. That’s the most since 2013 when the side kicked more than 100 points nine times. 

The weight of scoring is all the more remarkable given the Dons have only won the inside 50 count twice, highlighting the efficiency of the forward group under the guidance of Performance Coach Hayden Skipworth.

Returning players

The Bombers improvement has coincided with the return of some key players. Michael Hurley, Dyson Heppell, Cale Hooker and Travis Colyer have played every match in their comeback season, while Jobe Watson has only missed one.

Hurley is on track for All Australian selection and is averaging career highs in disposals, marks and rebounds from the defensive 50. 

Heppell has topped the 30-possession mark four times and has also kicked seven goals. The most goals he’s kicked in a season was 13 in 2015.

The 12 straight games Colyer has strung together is the best run of consecutive matches he’s had in his eight year career and David Myers has played six straight games for the first time since 2014.

Watson’s disposals, marks and tackles per game are up on his 2015 numbers, while Tom Bellchambers has taken on the number one ruck duties in recent weeks and has produced some excellent performances, including outpointing GWS big man Shane Mumford.

Michael Hurley: 12 games, averaging 23 disposals per game, ranked number one for rebound 50s in the AFL.

Jobe Watson: 11 games, averaging 26 disposals, ranked number two at Essendon for contested possessions.

Dyson Heppell: 12 games, averaging 27 disposals, ranked number one at Essendon for contested possessions.

Cale Hooker: 12 games, 23 goals, ranked number four for contested marks in the AFL this season.

Travis Colyer: 12 games, averaging 18 disposals, number one for running bounces at Essendon.

David Myers: Six games, averaging 16 disposals, seven inside 50s against Geelong.

Tom Bellchambers: Four games, averaging 34 hit outs, career high five tackles against Port Adelaide.

Ben Howlett: Four games, averaging 15 disposals, nine contested possessions against Brisbane.

Brent Stanton: Seven games, averaging 16 disposals, played his 250th AFL game against Brisbane

Heath Hocking: One game, picked up ten possessions (seven contested) against Carlton.

Cale Hooker kicked five goals in the Bombers win over Port Adelaide.

Hooker’s move forward

The All Australian defender’s move into attack began in 2015 when he spent the last ten games in the forward 50 for a return of 20 goals. 

So far this season he’s booted 23 goals from 12 games.

In a nutshell he’s kicked 43 goals in 22 games as a forward. That would be enough to win or tie for the leading goal kicker award at Essendon in every season since 2008 when Matthew Lloyd booted 63 goals.

Hooker has booted at least two goals in eight of his 12 games this season, including his five-goal effort against Port Adelaide.

The contested marking that helped propel Hooker into one of the leading defenders in the competition has also been a feature this season, with the 28-year-old ranked 4th for contested marks per game across the competition.

Joe Daniher

For the fifth straight season, Joe Daniher is on track to beat his previous year’s goal kicking output. From 12 games, Daniher has booted 34 goals – just shy of his previous best of 43 goals last year. 

Since the match against Melbourne in round six, Daniher has kicked 21 goals and just two behinds.

The 23 year old has kicked at least one goal every match this season. In fact, he’s been held goalless just twice in his last 34 games.

Daniher has kicked the third most goals in the competition this year, is ranked sixth for marks and fourth for marks inside 50.

The key forward was awarded best on ground honours in the ANZAC Day and Country Game blockbusters.

More people have attended Essendon home games than any other Club this season.

The support 

Essendon boasts the highest total home game attendance of any club this season, with 337,616 fans coming through the turnstiles so far this year. That’s an average home game attendance of 56,269 – which is second only to Richmond.

The Bombers have also posted a record membership tally with almost 66,000 fans signing on so far.

The young guns

In Essendon’s best win of the season against Port Adelaide, the side featured four players aged 21 or younger (Orazio Fantasia, Zach Merrett, Conor McKenna, Andrew McGrath). 

McGrath has played 11 games and is averaging 23 disposals per match in his first season. He’s also distributing the ball with an 80 per cent efficiency rating. He’s recorded 20 or more possessions six times and has provided a composed presence in the Essendon defence.

McKenna has taken his game to a new level this season. He’s averaging 17 possessions, up from 14 per game last year and 11 per game in 2015.

After winning the Crichton Medal last season, Merrett has continued his steep rise. He’s recorded at least 30 disposals in nine games this season and is ranked number three in the AFL for disposals per game.

Fantasia has kicked 25 goals so far this year including two bags of four (against Hawthorn and Collingwood) and a five-goal effort against Brisbane.

The run home

Essendon is in seventh spot on the ladder with six wins and six losses. Just one game separates fifth on the ladder from 13th. As an indication, four games separated fifth from 13th at this time last year.

The Bombers face two sides in the eight (Western Bulldogs and Adelaide) on the run home. There are also interstate trips to Sydney and Gold Coast.