Nick Bryan will make his AFL debut and is one of two confirmed inclusions for Essendon’s blockbuster clash with traditional rivals Carlton.
Bryan was selected with pick 38 in 2019’s National Draft by the Bombers and has earned a call-up through brilliant VFL form in the early part of the season.
The 19-year-old is averaging 20 disposals and 32 hit-outs over the first two games of the VFL season. His work around the ground has been impressive off the back of a huge pre-season for the 202cm prospect.
“He’ll play this week,” head coach Ben Rutten stated at training on Friday.
Unfortunately for Flip [Andrew Phillips], he got a bit of a knock during last week’s game, early in the game, and battled on really and did an exceptional job for us.
But he won’t play this week so [Nick Bryan will come in].
While his form has warranted selection, Rutten is aware of the implications of Nick Bryan making his AFL debut, as he comes up against seasoned ruckman Marc Pittonet. His ruck-time split with Peter Wright is still to be decided as the Essendon coaching staff balance development with injury management.
“We’ll work that out a bit more between now and the game… he’s been showing some great signs [in the VFL] and we’re loving what we’re seeing in his growth and progression.
“But we understand it’s a big task, the number one ruck role, and we’ll try manage that the best we can.
“We’re giving them the opportunity but they’re earning it as well.
“I think we’ve had about five debutants this season and none of them have let us down by any stretch.
They’re coming in, they understand their role… and they’re putting in.”
Jordan Ridley is the other confirmed inclusion to the side for round seven. The reigning Crichton Medallist has gone through the 12-day concussion protocol after sustaining a head knock against Brisbane in round five.
“Yeah we won’t bring him back through the VFL,” Rutten laughed.
Speaking in relation to his concussion symptoms, Rutten said Ridley had pulled up well over his one week absence.
“Yeah he’s fine,” Rutten said.
“He was pretty good last week so we followed the protocols and he’ll come back in.”
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Ridley may be a straight swap for key defender Aaron Francis, who didn’t train with the main group on Friday.
Francis was subbed out of Anzac Day’s match against Collingwood with an ankle injury but received a good diagnosis after the match to still be a chance for selection.
“He’s been taking it pretty easy so far this week, so we’ll give him up until the game,” Rutten said.
“It was a bit of a straight-forward ankle which can come up in a week, he may miss as well so I’m not sure yet.”
Strong VFL form from the Reserves side and the return of James Stewart from his hamstring strain has selection headaches mounting for Rutten.
“Cuts [Tom Cutler] played well, Alec Waterman, Paddy Ambrose as well along with Nick Bryan, so we’ve got some good form with those guys playing in the VFL and those what we want as a footy club.
We can’t fit them all in though so we’ll finalise our team later today,” Rutten stated.
The big task of restricting the influence of Harry McKay has Rutten pondering who the best match-up is. The Blues big man kicked six goals against Harris Andrews in round six and is sitting in second in the Coleman Medal with 22 goals for the season.
“We’re not sure [who gets the job] just yet,” Rutten admitted.
Obviously when Aaron [Francis] went down, ‘Jaydo’s’ [Jayden Laverde’s] job on [Darcy] Moore and other moments as well against Collingwood, he did a really good job.
“James Stewart is the other one who is back and available after a hamstring injury as well, so we’ll consider those options as well as ‘Zerk’ [Brandon Zerk-Thatcher].”
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