15/04/2024

Essendon proved itself as the best of the expansion teams in season seven. (Photo: AFL; Design: Will Cuckson)

Essendon’s first AFLW season was a relative success, finishing a few games outside of the top eight and pushing a couple of contenders to the limit. There’s a clear foundation to build off for years to come.

Finishing position: 10th (four wins, six losses)

What worked?

At their best, the Bombers were an exciting, run and gun team that showed the capability to put up big scores through multiple forward avenues.

They were the sixth highest-scoring team in season seven, averaging 34.9 points per game.

Essendon had a variety of dangerous goalkickers, including Daria Bannister (eight goals), Paige Scott (seven), Bonnie Toogood (seven) and Maddy Prespakis (six).

The newcomers thrived when they were able to spread and take games on aggressively, making up for their lacklustre contest work.

In particular, the link between the wingers and linking players and the forwards was a clear stand-out. It was a brilliant show of chemistry for a first-time team.

Toogood was in the top echelon for score involvements (3.8), while Prespakis and Steph Cain cracked the top 30 in the competition for inside 50s (three and 3.3 respectively).

What didn’t?

Against the very best teams in the competition, Essendon’s young and inexperienced defence was exposed by forwards both tall and small.

This arose mostly from injuries to ruck Jorja Borg and defender Ellyse Gamble, which forced many structural changes to the side.

After dominating the VFLW season with Carlton, 24-year-old Borg was set to be the Bombers’ starting ruck. But suffering a foot fracture in a practice game, she wouldn’t make her AFLW debut.

This led to Danielle Marshall spending significantly more time in the ruck. Joining the Bombers after a brilliant VFLW season of her own, where she was one of the competition’s best full backs, her absence left younger players playing bigger roles.

While Ash Van Loon battled valiantly week-to-week, the first year draftee couldn’t stop the likes of Jesse Wardlaw (two goals), Kate Hore (three goals) and Chloe Scheer (three goals) from having days out.

Gamble would play just six out of a possible 10 games, suffering a calf injury mid-way through the season.

A lack of experience in the backline as Cat Phillips spent more time on the wing meant Alana Barba and Jacqui Vogt would also have to assume defensive roles at times, leaving the midfield thinner.

Breakout stars:

Paige Scott‘s start to her AFLW career had her as an early favourite for the Rising Star Award, after she was nominated in Round 1.

In the win over Hawthorn, she kicked a goal to go with her 16 disposals and three tackles, showing off her explosiveness and power in the forward line.

The number eight draft pick followed that up with three goals a fortnight later against West Coast, and had a hand in a number more of her side’s scores.

Playing all 10 games, Scott kicked seven goals and averaged 9.8 disposals, 2.6 tackles, 2.1 marks and 1.1 inside 50s.

With Borg out, fellow draftee Stephanie Wales flourished taking on the responsibility of major ruck minutes, and also earned a Rising Star nomination.

She stood out in particular kicking three goals against the Eagles, and amassing 13 hit-outs and 16 disposals against the Tigers in back-to-back matches.

Van Loon showed plenty of promise as a key defender, while Amber Clarke had her moments as a winger and inside midfielder.

And after two seasons at St Kilda, Jacqui Vogt took on the responsibility of her leadership role brilliantly, being a crucial part of coach Nat Wood’s side across every line.

More AFLW Season Reviews

AFLW Season Seven Review: St Kilda Saints

AFLW Season Seven Review: Carlton Blues

AFLW Season Seven Review: Hawthorn Hawks

Highest point:

The Round 1 win against Hawthorn was a triumphant entry for Essendon into the AFLW, claiming victory in the club’s first ever game at the level.

It was a Saturday night to remember at Marvel Stadium, as 12,000 fans packed out the ground for a landmark occasion for the club.

Jess Wuetschner set the scene with the Bombers’ first ever AFLW goal, and it was game on from there.

While they were wasteful across the first half, their brilliant display of attacking football was too much for their fellow expansion side.

This was capped off by Prespakis and Sophie Alexander with the finishing blows, as they displayed the passion that would fuel the team all season.

Maddy Prespakis celebrates her goal against Hawthorn. (Photo: AFL Women’s)

Two weeks later, the Bombers would record their highest score of the season after demolishing the Eagles with an 84-point effort away from home.

In their first game on the road, they showed off just how potent their attacking style of football could be, kicking nine goals in the first half.

Wales and Scott kicked six goals between them, while Prespakis, Wuetschner and Daria Bannister all kicked two goals each.

Lowest point:

After going 2-1 to start the season, the Bombers would suffer a four-game losing streak at the hands of half of season seven’s eventual finalists.

None were worse than the losses to Brisbane in Round 6 and Melbourne in Round 9 though.

Though Essendon had kept well with its opposition previously, going down at the most by 15 points to Geelong, these games were a different story.

The Grand Finalists would demolish the Bombers by 44 and 41 points respectively, overwhelming them with their dominance across the ground.

They were absolutely embarrassed by the Lions in Queensland, losing the inside 50s by 32 and clearances by 15, with the midfield in particular struggling to get running.

Coach Nat Wood resorted to putting Toogood into the midfield and Alexander into defence against Brisbane, throwing the magnets around in a desperate day.

Essendon suffered from its experienced heads missing games through suspension, in the case of Bannister in Round 6, and Vogt in Round 5 against Collingwood.

Where to next?

Essendon proved that it was the best placed of all of the expansion teams in season seven, finishing just a couple of games out of finals.

The top-end talent on the list proved that they can effectively lead this group forward: Prespakis, Toogood, Bannister, Cain, Vogt and Phillips led from the front week-to-week.

Combined with the strong signs shown by the young talent and players transitioning from VFLW level, there is a solid core to build from for the future.

The Bombers will want to look to build both midfield and defensive depth across this off-season, as both were exposed at various points in the year.

Georgia Nanscawen’s debut will be much-awaited, as the two-time Lambert-Pearce Medallist will add extra grunt and class into the midfield mix.

Jordan Zanchetta, Bella Ayre and Olivia Barton have already been delisted, leaving the depth in those two areas more exposed.

Down back though, Eloise Ashley-Cooper’s return from injury will add another defensive option to take on the opposition’s best small forwards.

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