Take a look at our comprehensive preview of Essendon's clash with Brisbane on Friday night.
ESSENDON v BRISBANE
Friday, July 31
Live on Channel 7
Games played - 31
Won – 16
Lost – 14
Drawn – 1
1. Saad's century
Adam Saad will play his 100th AFL game and 52nd for Essendon after crossing over from the Suns at the end of 2017. He's just the fifth Bomber in history to don the No.42, with Nathan Lovett-Murray the only player to have his name on the No.42 locker for playing 100 club games. Saad has a long-standing connection with the No.42, wearing it in his NAB League (formerly TAC Cup) and Gold Coast days.
2. Death, taxes, close finishes...
...well, not quite, but we've just about become conditioned to heart-stoppers. The Bombers have had the highest percentage of matches decided by six points or less this season - four out of seven. It's a different story for the Lions, however, who up until last round were just one of three teams to have not had a game decided by a goal or less.
3. Debuts for beasts, long-awaited comebacks
Hard-earned comebacks and debutants are the feel-good stories from team selection for both sides. Friday night will mark 790 days between senior games for big Bomber James Stewart, while Sam Skinner has overcome three knee reconstructions to line up for the Lions for the first time in 1098 days. Essendon fans will finally witness the highly anticipated debut of young ruckman Sam Draper, while Brisbane's injury toll has paved the way for 200cm prospect Connor Ballenden to make his mark.
4. Brisbane's unfamiliar situation
When injury lists were released at the start of last week, the Lions had just a combined 80 games of experience on theirs - the lowest in the competition, with Gold Coast next best on 166 games. That number has blown out to 698 this week, with Daniel Rich (215 games), Stefan Martin (187), Ryan Lester (133), Daniel McStay (111) and Archie Smith (14) joining the list of casualties. While Essendon's figure is higher at 888, it's a situation Brisbane has rarely found itself in since 2019, with its depth for talls in particular to be tested.
5. Changing it up in the ruck
The Bombers will field two bona-fide ruckmen for the first time since round eight last year, with Draper partnering veteran Tom Bellchambers. Ranking 12th for contested marks per game to Brisbane's second, Essendon will look to swing the aerial dominance in its favour as the Lions reshuffle their tall stocks to deal with injuries.
LAST TIME WE MET
Round four, 2019: Essendon 17.10 (112) defeated Brisbane 9.11 (65) at the MCG
A performance that will go down as the most pulsating of 2019.
Shifting into sixth gear immediately with six of the first seven goals, the Bombers were slick, quick and downright terrific in a 47-point thumping that ended Brisbane's unbeaten start.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti made the MCG his playground, booting a career-high seven goals to rightfully earn the three Brownlow votes.
Mitch Brown also chimed in with three goals from 25 disposals and 11 marks, while Zach Merrett (35 disposals, seven clearances) and David Zaharakis (30 disposals, 10 marks) were the standouts in midfield.
The win marked the Bombers' second in a row against the Lions.
Round six: Defeated North Melbourne 9.13 (67) to 7.11 (53) at Metricon Stadium
Round seven: Lost to Western Bulldogs 7.9 (51) to 14.9 (93) at Metricon Stadium
Round eight: Defeated Adelaide 9.8 (62) to 8.11 (59) at Adelaide Oval
Essendon returned to the winners list in Adelaide, but not without a scare. Fielding the second-most inexperienced side of the round, the Bombers hung on against the fast-finishing Crows thanks to some big defensive efforts in the dying stages.
They made amends for their drop in pressure against the Bulldogs, putting the heat on Adelaide as Will Snelling and Andrew McGrath led the way with new career-highs for tackles (11 and 10 respectively).
Second-gamer Ned Cahill provided a spark in the second half with the first two goals of his career, while Zach Merrett (33 disposals, 613m gained) stood up in midfield without Dyson Heppell and Dylan Shiel.
The victory sent Essendon back into the top eight with five wins, two losses and a game to spare, but came at a cost with Kyle Langford (suspension) and Jayden Laverde (syndesmosis) the casualties.
Round six: Lost to Geelong 6.10 (46) to 11.7 (73) at the Gabba
Round seven: Defeated GWS 13.10 (88) to 10.8 (68) at GIANTS Stadium
Round eight: Defeated Melbourne 7.11 (53) to 7.7 (49) at Metricon Stadium
It's been a settled, consistent Brisbane that enters round nine in second spot.
With six wins from eight starts, their only blemishes have been their opening-round loss to Hawthorn (32 points) and 27-point defeat to Geelong in round six.
Like the Bombers, they were forced to hang on against a fast-finishing opposition last week as the Demons came back from an 18-point deficit at three-quarter time to set up a grandstand finish.
Lachie Neale again showed why he's the competition's in-form midfielder with 33 disposals and seven clearances, while Jarryd Lyons (23 and nine tackles) and Hugh McCluggage (22 and three goal assists) were also prolific in the engine room.
The Lions are the League's highest-scoring team after eight rounds and rank first for points scored from stoppages, but have also conceded the most points from stoppages.
Pressure, physicality and winning contested ball are their trademarks.
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
Backs: Callum Ah Chee, Harris Andrews, Darcy Gardiner
Half-backs: Alex Witherden, Grant Birchall, Brandon Starcevich
Centre: Mitch Robinson, Dayne Zorko, Hugh McCluggage
Half-forwards: Jarrod Berry, Cam Rayner, Lincoln McCarthy
Forwards: Zac Bailey, Eric Hipwood, Charlie Cameron
Followers: Oscar McInerney, Jarryd Lyons, Lachie Neale
Interchange: Sam Skinner, Cameron Ellis-Yolmen, Connor Ballenden, Noah Answerth
Emergencies: Keidean Coleman, Mitchell Hinge, Rhys Mathieson, Jack Payne
In: Witherden, Ellis-Yolmen, Ballenden, Answerth, Skinner
Out: Smith (injured), McStay (suspended), Rich (injured), Lester (injured), T. Berry (omitted)
New: Connor Ballenden (Brisbane Lions Academy)
Milestone: Mitch Robinson - 200 AFL games
BOMBER TO WATCH
There's been plenty of anticipation surrounding Draper, who despite having not played a senior game, earned a four-year contract extension at the end of last year.
It's a testament to the development of the 21-year-old, who has worked hard on his craft after switching to Australian Football from soccer just four years ago.
Having been on the cusp of an AFL debut until rupturing his ACL in the VFL in May last year, the South Australian has finally earned his opportunity on the back of playing three scratch matches in Queensland.
Expect him to switch between ruck and attack with Bellchambers as the Bombers opt for two ruckmen for the first time this season against a weakened Brisbane ruck division.
The Bombers will have done plenty of homework on Andrews, who has continued his dominance after earning maiden All-Australian honours last season.
The 23-year-old has been the Rock of Gibraltar in the Lions' defence, ranked first in the competition for one-percenters and second for intercepts.
The Bombers can ill-afford to rush their kicks inside 50 and play into the hands of Andrews, who is so crucial to setting up the Lions' quick transitions from defence to attack.