Take a look at our comprehensive preview of Essendon's clash against North Melbourne on Saturday night.
ESSENDON v NORTH MELBOURNE
Saturday, July 11
Live on Channel Seven
Games played - 158
Won – 100
Lost – 57
Drawn – 1
THREE QUICK FACTS
1. Chasing five in a row
Essendon will be striving for its fifth consecutive win over North Melbourne for the first time in 19 years. The Bombers' current winning streak against the Kangaroos stretches back to round 18, 2017, with an average winning margin of 27 points in that period.
2. Bombers' watertight defence
The Bombers last week achieved something it hadn't done since 1954: keep Collingwood goalless in consecutive quarters. They're ranked fourth for least points conceded per game, while North Melbourne has struggled to make an impact on the scoreboard, sitting 14th for points scored and kicking the lowest score in round five.
3. Kangaroos missing Cunnington
The Kangaroos haven't been able to win without Ben Cunnington since round 14, 2013, losing all six games their contested bull has missed since then. His injury troubles have coincided with North Melbourne's three-game losing streak, with the star midfielder sitting out rounds three and four and not finishing last week's defeat to the Western Bulldogs. The Kangaroos' task will be made even harder without fellow hard nut and captain Jack Ziebell for a second consecutive week.
LAST TIME WE MET
Round 17, 2019: Essendon 12.14 (86) defeated North Melbourne 12.9 (81) at Marvel Stadium
In one of the matches of the 2019 season, this win is best remembered for Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's match-winning snap in the dying seconds.
The Bombers got the early jump and looked set for a comfortable victory until the Kangaroos launched a stunning fightback led by Ben Brown, who booted six goals.
Not to be intimated, Essendon absorbed North's physicality and hit back in the third term to regain the ascendancy, but would need McDonald-Tipungwuti's last-gasp heroics to secure the four points.
Trailing by a point, the Bombers surged forward with repeated inside 50s until they got their rewards through their star small forward, who received a handpass in traffic from Jayden Laverde and snapped from a tight angle to reclaim the lead with less than 30 seconds left.
The victory sent fans into raptures and the Bombers into the top eight, marking their fifth win in six starts and second against North in 2019.
Round one: Defeated Fremantle 9.9 (63) to 8.9 (57) at Marvel Stadium
Round two: Defeated Sydney 12.7 (79) to 11.7 (73) at the SCG
Round four: Lost to Carlton 8.3 (51) to 7.10 (52) at the MCG
Round five: Defeated Collingwood 10.3 (63) to 7.6 (48) at the MCG
The fifth-placed Bombers enter their Queensland hub with momentum after their best performance of the season. Andrew Phillips and Mitch Hibberd have held their position in the line-up after making their club debuts last week, while Essendon will only be bolstered by the returns of Zach Merrett and Conor McKenna this week. Veterans Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker were among the side's best against Collingwood, but it's the improvement of youngsters like Andrew McGrath and Jordan Ridley that has helped fuel the Bombers' surge up the ladder. While the season is still in its infancy, there are signs the Bombers are growing in familiarity with their new-look game-plan as the coaching succession plan unfolds smoothly.
Round one: Defeated St Kilda 8.8 (56) to 7.12 (54) at Marvel Stadium
Round two: Defeated GWS 12.8 (80) to 8.12 (60) at GIANTS Stadium
Round three: Lost to Sydney 8.12 (60) to 10.11 (71) at Marvel Stadium
Round four: Lost to Hawthorn 8.6 (54) to 8.10 (58) at Marvel Stadium
Round five: Lost to Western Bulldogs 5.8 (38) to 13.9 (87) at Marvel Stadium
The Kangaroos started the season with inspired victories over St Kilda and GWS, but have hit a roadblock since to find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger. They were comprehensively beaten against the Dogs last week, having just one player - Jy Simpkin - surpass 20 disposals as the Dogs dominated possession and took nine more marks inside 50. Post-game, coach Rhyce Shaw said his side had to rediscover its brand that stood up in the opening two rounds.
Backs: 18. Michael Hurley, 26. Cale Hooker, 8. Martin Gleeson
Half-backs: 42. Adam Saad, 14. Jordan Ridley, 45. Conor McKenna
Centre: 33. Brayden Ham, 1. Andrew McGrath, 4. Kyle Langford
Half-forwards: 3. Darcy Parish, 15. Jayden Laverde, 13. Orazio Fantasia
Forwards: 43. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, 44. Shaun McKernan, 20. Jacob Townsend
Followers: 34. Andrew Phillips, 5. Devon Smith, 9. Dylan Shiel
Interchange: 11. David Zaharakis, 40. Will Snelling, 7. Zach Merrett, 46. Mitch Hibberd
Emergencies: 28. Ned Cahill, 16. Josh Begley, 10. Aaron Francis, 2. Tom Bellchambers
In: Merrett, McKenna
Out: Redman (omitted), Stringer (syndesmosis)
Backs: 34. Jamie Macmillan, 25. Robbie Tarrant, 18. Shaun Atley
Half-backs: 17. Jasper Pittard, 19. Josh Walker, 37. Kyron Hayden
Centre: 13. Jared Polec, 12. Jy Simpkin, 14. Trent Dumont
Half-forwards: 4. Shaun Higgins, 44. Cameron Zurhaar, 8. Bailey Scott
Forwards: 26. Tarryn Thomas, 50. Ben Brown, 31. Curtis Taylor
Followers: 22. Todd Goldstein, 11. Luke McDonald, 3. Jed Anderson
Interchange: 15. Paul Ahern, 35. Jack Mahony, 42. Tom Campbell, 43. Aaron Hall
Emergencies: 2. Marley Williams, 16. Aiden Bonar, 23. Ben McKay, 38. Tristan Xerri
In: Scott, Ahern, Campbell
Out: Williams (omitted), Xerri (omitted), Cunnington (injured)
BOMBER TO WATCH
Jordan Ridley's rise in 2020 hasn't gone unnoticed in the footy world, capturing the attention of the Bombers' games record holder last week.
"Ridley quality. Spoils at right time, good mark, great kick and plays the game," Dustin Fletcher tweeted during the win over Collingwood.
Ridley quality. Spoils at right time, good mark, great kick and plays the game.— dustinfletcher31 (@dustinfletch31) July 3, 2020
It's high praise from one of the best defenders the game has ever seen, but warranted when you look at Ridley's numbers.
Earning a regular spot in a talented half-back line, the fourth-year Bomber sits inside the League's top 20 (all averages) for marks (fifth), one-percenters (fifth), rebound 50s (15th), effective disposals (16th) and contested marks (17th), going about his business with a touch of grace and class.
He's coming off back-to-back votes in the AFL Coaches Association's AFL Champion Player Award and quickly becoming a crucial part of the Bombers' staunch rearguard.
Jy Simpkin, North Melbourne's No.12 pick in the 2016 draft, is enjoying a career-best year as he looks to join the game's elite midfielders.
Stepping up with more time in midfield, the highly touted 22-year-old has recorded the ninth most disposals and sixth most clearances in the AFL after five rounds.
While those numbers are telling, it was his ability to stand up in the Kangaroos' inspired opening wins of the season that made the footy world stand up and take notice.
Leading a midfield without Cunnington and Ziebell, Simpkin's role on Saturday night will only become more crucial, so he'll be at the forefront of the Bombers' thinking.
KEY TALKING POINTS
1. Filling the Stringer void
How do the Bombers replace their leading goalkicker of the past two seasons?
It's a serious question they'll need to answer, as they navigate a lengthy period without injured forward Jake Stringer.
While there's no like-for-like replacement on paper, senior coach John Worsfold this week discussed shifting backman Cale Hooker to a forward line already without Joe Daniher and James Stewart.
Worsfold might also look at the returning Conor McKenna, who has been preparing for the occasional switch to the forward line and striking a balance between defence and attack.
Stringer was at his dangerous best against Collingwood last week, booting three goals and laying seven tackles before suffering a syndesmosis injury that will sideline him for six to eight weeks.
2. Pressure, pressure, pressure
While Essendon has lifted its intensity at the contest in 2020, last week's pressure set a new benchmark.
The Bombers simply suffocated the Magpies, stopping their run and forcing them to retreat by hand.
They laid 15 more tackles than Collingwood - forwards McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer and Jacob Townsend had seven each - to lift their ranking to second overall for tackles and tackles inside 50 per game.
The Kangaroos love to play a physical brand of footy, so if the Bombers can bring the same heat against them, expect a bruising encounter.
3. The Bomber army
Finally, the Bombers can play in front of their proud and passionate supporters again.
With a limited capacity allowed at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night, expect the players to feed off the energy of the Bomber faithful, who will outnumber their North Melbourne counterparts.
The Bombers have a strong showing of supporters in the Sunshine State, evident in last year's turnout of 15,759 at Metricon Stadium - the stadium's second highest of 2019.