07/12/2023

Coach Ben Rutten proceeding Round 9's clash with Fremantle. Photo: Essendon FC

Essendon raised eyebrows prior to last week's clash with Fremantle when Nik Cox was named as the medical substitute. Ben Rutten has clarified the decision, stating that it was the best way of resting the Rising Star contender.

Essendon raised eyebrows before last week’s clash with Fremantle when Nik Cox was left out of the team listed as managed at selection but was then subsequently named as the medical substitute. Ben Rutten has this morning clarified the decision, stating that it was the best way of resting the Rising Star contender.

“I think we got what we were after”, Rutten said.

“We wanted to lighten ‘Coxy’s’ load a little bit, and we weren’t sure the best way to do that. Whether it was giving him a complete rest and a week off, but he was going well enough to be able to play if we needed him.

“I think the way that panned out worked out pretty well for us, and hopefully for him as well.”

Rutten and the Essendon coaching staff know playing first-22 players as the substitute comes with a level of risk. But for an already-established cog of the Essendon system, Cox needed to be involved with the senior side and have the chance of coming onto the field as the medical substitute whilst still getting a rest. Devon Smith’s hamstring strain on the stroke of three-quarter-time gave him that opportunity.

“There was no exact science with it,” Rutten admitted.

“We were trying to get all the information from Nik, from the GPS and the physical guys, from the way he’s been presenting post games and thought as some point he may need [to] lighten his load a little bit. We thought that might have been an opportunity for it, but he was still fit and available to play a full game if he needed to.

“That was something we were prepared to work with if we needed him in the first minute of the game, he was right to go. But there was also an opportunity for him to get a full game’s rest.

“I think we fit somewhere in the middle of that which probably wasn’t a bad result in the end.”

Devon Smith was subbed out with a hamstring strain. Photo: Essendon FC

Cox came onto the wing and played out the entire fourth quarter. He finished with five disposals (four contested), two tackles, and a vital contested mark in his 26 percent game-time.

Essendon will name its bench later today, the re-introduction of Thursday team announcements has Rutten and his selection panel pushing forward their selection meetings.

“We have to get on the job a bit earlier naming our squad,” he said.

“For us on the weekend we had a fair few guys play really well in the VFL so it was a good opportunity to look at and reward some guys in the squad but we’ll still need to finalise our team. We’ve got our main training today so there’s still a few things [that] need to play out before we finalise our team.

“We just have to narrow down that squad a bit earlier.”

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However, Rutten did confirm the inclusion of Alec Waterman from the VFL, who has been playing as an inside midfielder in the VFL.

“‘Waters’ will play”, Rutten confirmed.

Waterman had 26 disposals in his last outing, including four marks and five tackles as he showed the ability that had him highly rated as a midfielder in his junior years.

With Jake Stringer out due to a hamstring strain, a big body was needed at centre bounces to complement the abilities of Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett, and Andrew McGrath. Kyle Langford filled that role for periods of Essendon’s clash with Fremantle, but Waterman looks set to come into the mix as he plays his fourth AFL match.

“He played a couple of years as a genuine full forward in WA,” Rutten said.

“Previous to that he’s played a lot of time in the midfield. With Alec, we’re continually trying to expand his repertoire and give him more strings to his bow so he’s more of a well-rounded player.

“We haven’t seen much of his time through the midfield so using the VFL game to be able to have a look at him through there – there’s a potential there.”

Cox and Waterman are the two confirmed inclusions for the Bombers’ meeting with the Kangaroos on Sunday afternoon. The bench will be selected out of Nick Hind, Matt Guelfi, Archie Perkins, Patrick Ambrose, Brayden Ham, David Zaharakis, Ned Cahill, and Nick Bryan.

Devon Smith is the only confirmed out with his hamstring strain, while Stringer is making progress in his recovery.

“Hopefully Stringer will be available in the next couple of weeks – Smith is probably after the bye,” Rutten said.

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