The Dons come into ANZAC Day in a world of hurt after starting the season 1-4, but will still hold high expectations against an impressive Pies outfit.
Blooding first-round pick Ben Hobbs was the highlight of a dismal Round 5 for the red and black. The contested beast applied five tackles and used the ball at 80 per cent from his 15 touches.
Playing as a half-forward on the day, Hobbs was thrown into the middle of the ground towards the end of the last term when Freo had the game locked up, and impressed with his work in the clinches.
Those four centre bounce attendances he had were a test of his contested ability at AFL level, and he immediately showed he was able to match it with the bigger bodies.
A further move into the midfield could be on the horizon for Hobbs with the omission of the speedy Nick Hind, who has failed to find his best in 2022 after a breakout first season for the Dons.
Hind may come in for one of Zach Merrett or Jake Stringer, who are under injury clouds after rapid returns. However, as the team is lined up, Andrew McGrath would be expected to drift into the back six to add class and poise.
With this positional change, could we see Hobbs tag a man that has collected three ANZAC Day medals in his career?
Pies still depending on Pendles
After being earmarked to head back to defence in his 17th season, Scott Pendlebury has become a centre bounce mainstay once more, with his CBA usage up to 81 per cent. He still has that innate ability to weave through traffic and pick out teammates in space.
Between the gut-running Jack Crisp, hard-nosed Taylor Adams and dynamic Jordan De Goey, Pendlebury adds the missing elements of precision and poise in the Pies’ engine room.
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Historically, the Bombers have been unable to stem his influence on ANZAC Day matches. He’s claimed three ANZAC Day medals – the most of any player – and continues to slice teams apart with his ball use despite being 34 years of age. He’s still the Pies’ best ball user, and their most damaging weapon entering the 50.
If Essendon is serious about negating his impact on the game, time will be put into slowing the Collingwood skipper down.
Hobbs will be a prolific midfielder throughout his career, as he was at the GWV Rebels in the NAB League. But his defensive tenacity and aggression in stoppages could lend himself to a successful tagging role on ANZAC Day.
The 18-year-old has an abundance of determination and grit. He plays footy with a snarl on his face, and didn’t back down from any contest last weekend. He’s a natural-born midfielder ready to assume responsibility.
Spending time on Pendlebury could go a long way to helping the Dons pull out an unlikely win on ANZAC Day. It also gives Hobbs more time in the midfield alongside ball-winners Darcy Parish and Merrett, and allows him to learn the running patterns and intuitions of one of the modern day greats.
It’s a role that Ben Rutten will be considering, and one that Hobbs will be up for.
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