Essendon has made five changes for round nine, headlined by debutant Sam Draper and the long-awaited return of James Stewart.

Draper and Stewart join Dylan Shiel, Tom Cutler and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher as inclusions to face the Lions at Metricon Stadium on Friday night, with Jayden Laverde (syndesmosis), Conor McKenna (managed), Shaun McKernan (managed), Kyle Langford (suspended) and Mitch Hibberd (omitted) making way.

(Watch senior coach John Worsfold discuss the changes below)

04:16 Mins
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Rd 9 | Team selection

Senior Coach John Worsfold takes us through the team to face the Brisbane Lions at Metricon on Friday night.

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Having been on the cusp of senior selection before rupturing his ACL in the VFL last year, Draper has finally been granted his AFL debut and will partner Tom Bellchambers in the ruck.

"With Draper playing his first game, we think he can share the ruck load and not have to do the whole lot, so 'T-Bell' (Bellchambers) will help him out there. They'll both get some stints up forward," senior coach John Worsfold said.

"We're very excited to see what he's (Draper) going to bring to the team."

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Debut announcement | Sam Draper

Watch the moment Sam Draper found out he'd be making his AFL debut.

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It's also been a long road to selection for Stewart, with Friday night marking 790 days between senior games for the key forward.

Worsfold said it would be an emotional return for the 26-year-old after an ongoing groin injury derailed his 2019 season.

"He was really excited. It's been a lot of hard work for him with some setbacks along the way," Worsfold said.

"Even from his last game of actual footy being round one in the VFL last year, he's had his eyes set on this opportunity all the way, so it's now come up and he's ready to go. We've got so much confidence in him."

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Open training | July 30

Watch vision from today's captain's run at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast. Brought to you by Under Armour.

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The Bombers have turned to promising youngster Zerk-Thatcher to fill the void left by dashing half-back Conor McKenna.

Worsfold said the club was taking a conservative approach with McKenna as the condensed fixture approaches.

"It's the culmination of a lot of things," he said.

"It's a short week, and he obviously backed up after that finger surgery in remarkable fashion and has had an interrupted preparation.

"We feel as though this week is the opportunity to give him a rest, let him freshen up and potentially be available for us next week."

The Bombers will clash with the Lions from 8:10pm AEST, with the action shown live on Channel 7.


Backs: Aaron Francis, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, Mason Redman
Half-backs: Jordan Ridley, Michael Hurley, Adam Saad
Centre: Tom Cutler, Dylan Shiel, Brayden Ham
Half-forwards: Will Snelling, David Zaharakis, Darcy Parish
Forwards: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Jacob Townsend, Devon Smith
Followers: Sam Draper, Zach Merrett, Andrew McGrath
Interchange: Tom Bellchambers, Martin Gleeson, Ned Cahill, James Stewart
Emergencies: Andrew Phillips, Dylan Clarke, Matt Guelfi, Mitch Hibberd

In: Shiel, Draper, Stewart, Cutler, Zerk-Thatcher

Out: Langford (suspended), Laverde (syndesmosis), McKenna (managed), McKernan (managed), Hibberd (omitted)

New: Sam Draper (South Adelaide)

Milestone: Adam Saad - 100 AFL games