Rutten and Caracella having an impact already.
Essendon has made no secret that it wants to be like Richmond.
Coach-in-waiting Ben Rutten served four years at Tigerland. Football boss Dan Richardson crossed after the 2017 premiership.
Assistant coach Blake Caracella defected after last year’s flag. Even premiership forward Jacob Townsend has changed the colour of his sash.
Well, there was something markedly different about Essendon in its pre-season victory against West Coast.
Dare we say it … but it was ‘Richmondy’.
Last season the Tigers gained, on average, 497m from handballs. That was an AFL-high, and miles clear of No.2 Melbourne (209m).
Against the Eagles the Bombers surged forward at all times. They surged like they’d never surged before.
In a shortened game, they gained 590m from handballs – an extreme rise on last year’s average of 147m.
In 2019 only eight out of a possible 414 teams gained more metreage by hand … and seven of those were the Tigers.
Yes, this was only one a pre-season match. That’s worth repeating – this was only one pre-season match.
But Essendon’s aggressive handball game was the statistic that leapt off the page when reviewing Round 1 of the Marsh series.
And it wasn’t just one or two Bombers driving the change.
In fact, none of Essendon’s top five – Darcy Parish (+52m), Orazio Fantasia (+52m), Aaron Francis (+51m), Devon Smith (+48m) and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher (+47m) – ranked in the AFL’s top five across nine Marsh Series games.
This might prove to be an anomaly on a night where bolts of lightning briefly suspended the match.
But the more likely conclusion is that – having trained it all summer – it was a mindset.
A repeat by Essendon against Geelong in Colac on Monday would make for very interesting reading.
That’s a big game for the Cats, too, having conceded an alarming 72 entries in last week’s 68-point loss to Gold Coast.
Essendon’s parallels with the Tigers ran deeper than handballing north.
Last year Richmond ranked No.1 for score differentials from turnovers, averaging +17 points per game.
The Bombers were +28 points against the Eagles.
Last year the Tigers averaged 16 intercept marks and 75 intercept possessions. The Bombers recorded 21 intercept marks and 84 intercept possessions against the Eagles.
Last year the Tigers averaged 25 forward-half intercepts and scored 31 points from those intercepts.
The Bombers recorded 23 forward-half intercepts and scored 33 points from those against the Eagles.
Last year the Tigers ranked 17th in pre-clearance contested possessions (-7.4 per game), seemingly unfazed about losing stoppages because they could quickly win the footy back.
The Bombers were -4 in pre-clearance contested possessions against the Eagles.
The Punt Rd flavour at Tullamarine is undeniably strong, and if you were watching Essendon’s win against West Coast from the stats box you would’ve been forgiven the stripes were yellow instead of red.
Again, it was only one pre-season game. But with plenty of cattle missing the Richmond-like set of numbers was enough to spike interest levels in the Bombers’ brand in Colac on Monday.