Essendon’s midfield brigade has made a strong start to the 2024 season, and Captain Zach Merrett has been integral to their fortunes.

The 28-year-old has picked up where he left off from his All Australian campaign last year, averaging 31 disposals and six clearances per game across the opening three rounds of the season.

Merrett’s form as both player and skipper has been impressing Senior Coach Brad Scott, with the two developing a strong connection in their roles leading the Bombers on-field.

Although Scott has played with and coached a plethora of star players in his 27 years of involvement with the AFL, he believes Merrett is ranking right up there with the very best in terms of his willingness to improve.


“I’ve said quite a number of times, (Zach’s) as driven and as professional as just about any player I’ve ever seen,” Scott said.

“He makes my job a lot easier in terms of sending the message and getting players to adhere to the standards, but he also challenges me in the right way, too.

“He’s got such a great eye for the game, always looking to find a better way, (he’s) never content with either his own performance or the team’s performance. He continues to push me, which I’ve asked him to do, so we take our responsibilities as Captain and Coach, the leaders of the football team, really seriously.

“I need to challenge Zach, he needs to challenge me, I think the combination is working really well at the moment so I just can’t speak highly enough of him. For a second-year captain, he’s doing an exceptional job.”

Merrett celebrates the Bombers' clutch win over the Saints in round three. (Photo: AFL)

Merrett’s on-ball unit has been impressive in the Dons’ 2-1 start to the season, with the side currently ranked No.1 in the competition for both centre bounce and overall clearance differential this season.

With important big-bodied midfielder Will Setterfield also looking at a potential return for Gather Round against Port Adelaide this Friday, the Bombers could receive a welcome boost against strong opposition.

Scott has been thrilled with the work that’s gone into the Dons’ contested game over the past few months, particularly from his assistant coaches.


“Our midfield coaches Brent Stanton and Daniel Giansiracusa are doing a fantastic job in that (contested ball) space. They’ve really gone to work in the off-season and to our players’ credit, they’ve done the work,” Scott said.

“We just talk about effort and intent. You can look at some metrics around contested numbers, but it’s a lot more than that, we’ve still got a ways to go and there are some good, positive signs. When our supporters watch us play, they want to see that maximum effort and intent.

“It’s nice to see (the players) getting some reward for it at the moment, but you don’t tick the box and say you’re done. It’s a constant work in progress and as soon as we think we’ve got the contest area of the game licked, we’ll get our comeuppance.

“It’s a day-in, day-out process of getting better in that space and we all talk about (defence and offence as) the key parts of the game, but the game has and always will start in the contest, so that’s a big focus for us.”

If last season is anything to go by, fans could be in for a treat from the Bombers’ clash with the Power.


The two sides’ games in 2023 were decided by five and four points respectively, with the Dons giving a strong account of themselves in each contest, and Scott is keen to see what Gather Round’s edition of the fixture can provide.

“I can’t speak for prior to 2023, but they were pretty tight games (last year). They’re great contests and we’ve got a really healthy respect for Port Adelaide as a club and the way they go about things, certainly for their current team,” Scott said.

“They present some pretty significant challenges. They’re in good shape and going well, Friday night footy in Adelaide is going to be a good test for us and one I think we’ll relish.”