Essendon senior coach Ben Rutten spoke to the media at the NEC Hangar on Tuesday ahead of the Bombers' round four clash with Sydney at the SCG on Thursday.
Below are the five key takeaways from his media conference.
Heppell looms as a likely selection
Captain Dyson Heppell looks a certain starter for the Thursday night clash after being given the tick of availability from the senior coach.
Rutten believes the 28-year-old will not make a return to the VFL after recovering from back spasms, rather slotting straight back into the Bombers’ AFL line-up if he ticks all the boxes before Wednesday’s team selection.
“He’s been improving all the time and if he gets through training today, then he’ll be available for selection,” Rutten said.
“If he plays, he’ll play AFL.”
Preparing for Buddy
Rutten is expecting Sydney will roll out star forward Lance Franklin against the Dons on Thursday night.
Franklin, who was rested last week in the Swans' win over Richmond, will be sure to add another dimension to Sydney’s forward line after kicking three goals in his round two return and threaten to cause headaches for the Bombers’ defence.
However, Rutten believes it’d be foolish to focus squarely on the 34-year-old given the potency of Sydney’s other attacking options.
“We’re prepping for 'Buddy' (Franklin) to be in there,” Rutten said.
“I think what we’re seeing more and more with Sydney and most teams is that they’re not a one-dimensional footy club.
“They’re not solely relying on Buddy playing for them to be a good team. We’ll pay the respect we need to pay for Buddy, but we’ll also understand there’s a bigger job at hand.”
Stopping Sydney’s pressure
The top-of-the-table Sydney has shot out of the starting blocks in season 2021, heading into round four’s clash undefeated following impressive victories over Brisbane, Adelaide and Richmond.
The Swans are a high-pressure turnover team who strangle sides, ranked first for conceding the least amount of opponent disposals and marks per game; something which the Dons will have to overcome at the SCG.
“They’ve been scoring really well off turnovers…they’re the No.1 pressure team in the competition,” Rutten said.
“We certainly hope they don’t score as much off turnovers and we’re certainly going to try and limit that.”
Focusing on a fast start at the SCG
In Essendon’s first away match of 2021 against Port Adelaide in round two, the Bombers conceded the first five goals of the game which ultimately cost them a competitive start.
Not wanting to repeat the same storyline for their second away trip of the season, Rutten said a focus will be on ensuring his side is ready to go from the first bounce.
“It’s a great opportunity we’re looking forward to. They’re going as well as any team in the comp,” he said.
“Back to round two against Port Adelaide, similar situation in that we’re playing away, we gave up five goals quickly in the first quarter.
“That will be a big focus for us to start well (and) our guys are looking forward to going up and playing against a really tough team.”
Young guns impress
When the Bombers fielded their most inexperienced team since round 22, 2010 against St Kilda, many wondered how the young brigade would fair against a Saints side judged externally to be ripe for top-four contention.
Rutten was impressed by the way his first-year players rose to the occasion and paid particular homage to a quartet of players who had little to no AFL experience, yet performed strongly.
“(Nik) Cox and (Harrison) Jones in particular didn’t play a game of footy all of last year,” Rutten said.
“Jonesy, Coxy, (Archie) Perkins and (Alec) Waterman on the weekend all contributed really well and their games will get better and better.
“We know we’ll get some inconsistencies from time to time, but it was noticeable the energy that was there.”