Essendon are hoping its first competitive outings for their VFL and VFLW sides in 2024 will bear fruit for the coming season.
Travelling to Darwin this week, the Dons joined forces with the Tiwi Bombers to take on two NTFL representative sides at TIO Stadium.
The trip presented an early competitive test for both squads, as well as the opportunity for the club to rekindle with its supporters and connections in the Northern Territory.
In challenging conditions and fielding new-look sides, both Bomber programs gave solid accounts of themselves up North.
VFLW – NTFL Buffaloes 2.5 (17) d. Essendon 1.4 (10)
With heavy rain in the build-up, the first clash of Wednesday’s double-header was always going to be a contested affair.
Coached by AFLW Senior Coach Natalie Wood with off-field assistance from her Co-Captains Bonnie Toogood and Steph Cain, the Bombers started well in a scrappy contest.
The Bombers hit the scoreboard early through a strong mark and finish from ruck Jaimee-Lee Morrow, who looked imposing in the early stages.
Despite solid work around the contest from Captain El Chaston and healthy defensive efforts, the Dons struggled to find avenues to goal as the night wore on.
Dani Marshall came closest to bringing the side back with an unlucky miss from a long-range set shot, but the Bombers found themselves unable to run down the slight margin.
Sparkling signs from Tiwi inclusions Freda Puruntatameri, Maria Rioli, Kimberly Cunningham, Glorianna Luta and Jamie Lee Puautjimi added to the night for the Bombers, who took plenty away from a great test early in the year.
VFL – NTFL Buffaloes 11.7 (73) d. Essendon 5.11 (41)
Heading in with plenty of fresh faces, the Bombers put great emphasis on establishing on-field connections in their first competitive game as a unit.
Senior Coach Blake Caracella utilised the night’s Captain Xavier O’Neill and fellow recruit Jackson Hately to head the midfield group, and it paid dividends early with the Dons on the attack.
The flair of Tiwi trio Kim, Karlsen, and Brendan Kantilla generated scoring opportunities aplenty, but the Dons’ inaccuracy in front of goal prevented a strong lead from being solidified.
The Buffaloes pushed away to a four-goal lead by half-time as the Bombers tried to acclimatise to the humidity of a late-January Darwin, and the early buffer would prove crucial in the long run.
As both sides began to tire after the break, scoring glimpses became more sparing at either end, but the Bombers managed to break even against the more experienced NTFL outfit throughout the second half.
Promising efforts from recruits such as Tom Toma and Ayui Making were positive takeaways for Caracella and his coaching group, who looked to experiment with their newer players around the ground.
Heading back to Melbourne to continue its pre-season training block after the trip away, the Bombers are establishing a strong platform to better themselves in 2024.