Alec Waterman will debut for Essendon this weekend. Photo: Essendon FC

Injury riddled and desperate to avoid an 0-3 start to the season, Essendon coach Ben Rutten is searching for a winning formula in the middle of the park to compete with a St Kilda line-up bolstered by new recruit Brad Crouch.

Injury-riddled and desperate to avoid an 0-3 start to the season, Essendon coach Ben Rutten has turned to debutant Alec Waterman as he searches for a side to compete with a St Kilda line-up bolstered by new recruit Brad Crouch.

Alec Waterman is set to debut for Essendon on Saturday night, with news the WAFL’s leading goalscorer in 2020 will make his AFL debut when he lines up against St Kilda coming out of the club on Thursday afternoon.

Jake Stringer will join him in the side for the first time this season, but Dyson Heppell remains out with an inflamed disc in his back.

The Bombers were thrashed by Port Adelaide both on the scoreboard and in the medical department last Saturday, with three key personnel in the Essendon on-ball brigade looking at extended time on the sidelines.

First choice ruckman Sam Draper suffered a high ankle sprain and will be unavailable for up to the next 10 weeks, opening the door for the potential debut of second-year ruckman Nick Bryan.

“Nick Bryan got exposed to AFL level [in the pre-season], he’s a second year ruckman though, so it’s a big ask for him, but he’s certainly in the mix”, Rutten told The Inner Sanctum on Thursday.

Experienced ruckman Andrew Phillips trained with the main group on Thursday morning in a big step in his recovery from a pre-season injury.

“He’s just about ready to play, so we’ve got to work out if he has a run in the VFL or is it best to train him to get his availability up”.

“We can play Peter Wright, he’s played a bit in the ruck as well; that would take away from him being up forward though.”

“Obviously both teams are missing their first choice ruckmen but we’ll need to find a way, [injuries] are part of the game but I think we’ve got other avenues to combat that.”

The additional injuries to a midfield group that is currently ranked 17th for clearances and 13th for contested possessions will see a new midfield mix on Saturday night.

Jye Caldwell will miss six to eight weeks with a hamstring concern. An injury that has plagued his under-age years and start to his AFL career. Dylan Shiel has avoided the worst-case scenario with his knee injury, but will still be sidelined for six weeks after doing damage to his meniscus.

“Caldwell has spent a bit of time through the midfield for us, Dylan Shiel is obviously a regular member in there”.

“[Darcy] Parish played a bit more through the midfield on the weekend; we have a bit of versatility through there.”

“That’s the exciting part for us, we now give a really good chunk of time for some guys to be able to consolidate their midfield craft for us.”

The Dons will again be without skipper Dyson Heppell after he was a late withdrawal with a back complaint last week.

“He’s got a bit of an inflamed disc. It’s a question of are we prepared to push it, or make sure he’s right for the rest of the season”.

“He won’t play this weekend.”

Alec Waterman and Jake Stringer will come in for their first games of the season after gaining match fitness through the VFL, but Rutten wouldn’t confirm if Archie Perkins would make his debut after impressive form at the lower level.

Rutten is well aware of his team’s poor showing against Port Adelaide last weekend and is preparing his charges to come out firing on Saturday as Essendon searches for its first win of the 2021 season.

“We can’t turn up in an away trip playing a top team and start the way we did. We can’t give teams a five goal head start, that’s never going to add up for any team, so that’s what our focus will be largely this week.”

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