Opposition Watch: Round 13 vs. Essendon

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Both Essendon and the Northern Blues will be looking for their seventh 2017 win tomorrow. (PHOTO CREDIT: Graeme Furlong)

TEAM NEWS
The Bombers welcome back AFL-listed ruckman Matthew Leuenberger to the fold, among a number of senior Essendon players making their returns. Matt Dea and Kyle Langford also return, as does draftee Josh Begley.

FORM LINE
Essendon have started to hit their straps in recent weeks, with a big 56-point win in Ballarat over the Roosters. They are one of a number of sides who are right in the mix for a top-eight spot: like the Blues, they just sit inside the top eight with six wins so far this season. They have enjoyed wins over Williamstown and Geelong already this year.

LAST TIME WE MET
The Blues and Bombers will meet for the first time in season 2017 tomorrow, with the two sides last coming up against each other in the final round of last season. After an even first half which saw scores level, Essendon well and truly ran away from an undermanned Northern, piling on 7.7 while keeping the Blues scoreless in the final term on the way to a 73-point win.

Essendon 19. 17. (131) defeated Northern Blues 8. 10. (58)

BY THE NUMBERS
When Essendon gets the attacking game going, they are one of the most free-scoring teams in the competition: they’ve scored over 115 points on four occasions this season. At the other end of the spectrum, they are also yet to concede a triple-digit score defensively in 2017.

Balance has been a key part of their game to date, and may count themselves unlucky to be restricted to just the six wins so far this year. They have lost games to Sandringham, Footscray and Richmond by seven, four and six points respectively.

Those losses to the Dogs and Tigers have come in the last month, where they otherwise have a 3-2 record and have been in a solid run of form. It’s been a strong recovery from a relatively slow start to the year, where they won just one of their first four games.

WHAT TO EXPECT
It’s the ultimate eight-point game tomorrow afternoon on Channel 7.

With both sides sitting at six wins coming into Round 13, a result either way could either consolidate a team’s position in the top eight or see them out of the finals positions come the end of the weekend.

Josh Fraser has lamented a lack of detail in recent weeks, so expect his side to come out all guns blazing and Essendon to follow suit. With a healthy amount of AFL talent featuring for both sides, there’ll be no shortage of quality on show in what’s shaping to be an old-fashioned slog at Windy Hill.

IN THE BALANCE
Essendon’s consistency across the board has been their strength in recent weeks, putting out honest performances each game and getting results. The midfield of the Bombers’ has some big-game AFL experience, with the likes of Leuenberger, Heath Hocking and Brent Stanton all to play in the VFL tomorrow.

The Blues will be reliant on their midfielders of Rhys Palmer, Luke Russell and Tom Wilson to rise to the occasion, while hoping to find their goal-kicking prowess which has eluded them in recent weeks. Their small forward fleet will need to fire to kick a winning score tomorrow.