23/04/2024
Kaine Baldwin

Kaine Baldwin has emerged as a potential Round 1 debutant. Photo: Essendon FC

Through trials and tribulations Kaine Baldwin has emerged, the 19-year-old now on the precipice of an early-season AFL debut for Essendon.

Through trials and tribulations Kaine Baldwin has emerged, the 19-year-old now on the precipice of an early-season AFL debut for Essendon.

The hulking forward took every opportunity that came his way, kicking a goal and providing a target down the line for the Dons all night.

It was only six months ago when he made his triumphant return to football after two ACL tears and two-and-a-half years away from the game. He was overlooked in his draft year after missing 30 months of junior football, but received his lifeline from the Bombers as a supplemental selection period signing in the 2021 pre-season.

Just one year later, the Glenelg product is making a name for himself at one of the biggest clubs in the country.

Baldwin’s bread and butter is his commanding presence in the air, able to clunk marks surrounded by defenders or bring the ball to ground for his smalls to swoop in.

He also proved himself a dead-eye around goals when he was leading from the front for South Australia at the U16s State Championships.

It’s a need for the Dons that was made abundantly clear in their 2021 elimination final without Harrison Jones. Talisman Peter Wright is searching for a partner up forward, and Baldwin is emerging from the pack of suitors.

The trio brings various strengths with Wright’s pinch-hitting ability and Jones’ ground coverage. Baldwin appeals as a down-the-line presence that converts his opportunities and plays a team-oriented role. He doesn’t have the pace of Jones or the reach of Wright, but he’s a pack-busting forward that creates a contest for his side.

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The concerns over his body have been abated with a full pre-season under his belt, and it translated to 80 per cent time on ground on Saturday night.

Aaron Francis was held out of the pre-season hit-out after falling awkwardly on his knee last week. Assistant coach Blake Caracella said it was only precautionary and he would be fit for Round 1.

Archie Perkins was a standout for the Dons with two goals, while Sam Draper was a presence through the ruck and impacted the scoreboard when he pushed forward.

The Saints ran out 11-point winners on the night after a frantic final term.

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