Essendon’s injury list is shortening at the right time of the season, with key returning Bombers putting their hand up for selection in Ben Rutten’s elimination final side.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – who has missed the past three games due to personal reasons – made a good return in a practice match on the weekend, while Jye Caldwell is another who has built good form since returning from a long-term hamstring injury.
“‘Walla’ had a bit of a run around in our VFL game on Sunday… and got through that fine,” Rutten said on Wednesday.
“That was good, he was really pleased and looking forward to doing that. That was part of his plan that it might eventuate that way, so we’ve got some guys that played in that game that performed really well.
“Walla was one of them, Jye Caldwell, Cale Hooker, Brayden Ham had some really strong performances.
“More specifically about Walla, it’s about continually monitoring him and making sure we’re supporting him the best we can, and not just sort of rushing him back in because it’s a final all of a sudden.
“We’re still making sure he’s our priority and we’re supporting him the best we can, whilst making sure we’re doing the best thing for our team in terms of selection as well.
“[There are a] couple of things at play this week with a few of those guys.”
McDonald-Tipungwuti was enjoying a career year in the first half of the season, only trailing Hooker in the club’s goal kicking as the Bombers went about surprising the league.
His obvious match-winning capabilities make him an immediate bonus for the Dons in their forward half, but there are still some hurdles to get over before a selection call is made on him and others.
“We probably only anticipated him playing a half initially, but at half-time he was feeling good and enjoying it and wanted to keep going so we decided to do that,” Rutten continued on McDonald-Tipungwuti.
“That was a really positive move but we’ve got a couple more training sessions to go to get through this week, and we’ll just keep working that out with Walla.
More AFL/W News
One who didn’t play in the practice match on the weekend was Kyle Langford, who is racing the clock to be available for selection after another hamstring setback in his return to the game a month ago.
“Kyle’s certainly pushing hard. He’s about four weeks from that little hamstring injury, so it’s getting to that time where he’s becoming available for selection.
“We need to get him through training, there’s a few little things we need to check off this week for us to be really confident, for him to be really confident to put his hand to be available.
“Those things need to play out but we’re hopeful that he’s really close, but we’ll finalise that later this week.”
Selecting Langford would be placing huge confidence in his body to hold up after he re-injured the same hamstring in his return game. Getting through training is one obstacle, but Rutten says there’s still a choice to make with his recent history in the back of the selector’s minds.
“He was training fully, sprinting, kicking the ball, so all indications were that he was right to go,” he said.
“Having a re-occurrence there, we’ve been a little bit more conservative, and also the context of the season does start to become part of the decision-making as well.
“They’re all the things we’ve got to weigh up; there’s no perfect science to it but we’ve just got to make the decision with the information we’ve got.”
The selection crunch has come at the right time for the Bombers, who head into their first finals campaign since 2019, and are out to break the longest finals drought in AFL football.
Subscribe to our newsletter!