Essendon young players were the talking point for the Dons coming out of round 7, despite going down to the Blues by 16 points in a bitter battle at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
Harrison Jones and Archie Perkins had their best games in Essendon colours, while debutant ruckman Nick Bryan held his own against Marc Pittonet in the ruck, registering 19 hitouts and six clearances.
For Dons supporters, it was all about Perkins, who will likely get the round 7 Rising Star nomination after collecting 18 disposals, six marks and four tackles, with plenty of eye-catching plays throughout.
Essendon coach Ben Rutten praised the 19-year-old in the post-match press conference.
“I thought Archie’s game was the best game he’s played for us,” he said.
“And Jonesy, I think as well. It’s another great experience, and a great opportunity for our younger guys.”
The match was tightly contested across all four quarters, with the margin no greater than three goals in favour of the Blues until deep into the fourth quarter.
Rutten said he was pleased with the ability of the Essendon young players to withstand the pressure applied by the Blues.
“It was a bit of an arm wrestle at times, and I thought they, the way the younger guys stood up was great. There’s gonna be some ups and downs with our group at the moment.
“Some areas that I thought we got better at, we saw some growth in. There are some other opportunities which we can go to work on and try to add to our game moving forward.”
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Alongside Perkins standout performance, second year forward Harrison Jones was the best forward for the Dons on the day, booting three goals and taking eight marks.
Rutten said Jones was reaping the benefits of his hard work.
“He’s been working really hard, but I thought tonight, was a real night where, some of those contested marks, I think one, had three Carlton defenders jumping up to spoil, and Jonesy’s come down with the mark.
“I think we’re seeing more from him, and hopefully tonight gives him the confidence and belief that he can match it [with the best].
“Hopefully tonight’s something he can bank and we’ll see more and more of that of him.”
While every Perkins touch, alongside the other Essendon young players, were met with adulation from the Bomber faithful, former Don Adam Saad, who played his first match against his old side, was met with a chorus of boos every time he went near the Sherrin.
The jeers did nothing to deter the speedy half back, who amassed 21 disposals, six inside 50s and a goal.
Despite a strong showing, Rutten didn’t place Saad among the Blues’ best.
“I don’t think he was a huge factor in the game,” he said.
“You know, it was a solid game, but it wasn’t a major concern, him individually. I thought it was a little bit of what we were doing, that gave them really good opportunities, and they were good enough to take them.
“And Saady was one of those who was involved in that.”
Essendon’s attention now turns to next Saturday afternoon, where they will go on the road to Giants Stadium to battle Greater Western Sydney.