Coach Ben Rutten says Essendon have lacked a consistent “hard edge” in their dire start to the AFL season and has demanded a response against Richmond.
It was an old-school mouthguards-in session at Tullamarine on Thursday as the the Bombers, who sit 16th at 2-7, completed some physical match-simulation, followed by a tackle-bag drill.
Essendon have come under fire for a lack of aggression, especially after Sydney co-captain Luke Parker was caught on camera taunting Dylan Shiel for backing out of a contest during Saturday night’s 58-point smashing, with no remonstration from the midfielder’s teammates.
It prompted easily the sternest rebuke yet from the typically measured Essendon mentor, who said the incident was emblematic of a lack of hardness across the playing group.
“We haven’t played with the hard edge we need to consistently enough throughout the season and Sydney was a game where we were way off the level,” Rutten told reporters.
“It’s not about Dylan Shiel, it’s about all of us as a football club.
“The vision I don’t think was reflective of the moment, it was reflective of us as a club during that game.”
Bizarrely, skipper Dyson Heppell told Fox Footy on Monday he hadn’t seen the Parker-Shiel taunting.
Rutten said Heppell had been aware of the incident, and the entire playing group had now seen the vision as part of the review, while he confirmed Shiel would retain his spot in the senior team.
“Now it’s about us going to work and making sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said, citing Andrew McGrath standing up for Jye Caldwell after a heavy collision as the type of behaviour he wanted to see.
“What we’re asking and what we want to see is not something they haven’t shown before, and not something they’re not capable of doing.
“It’s not about me necessarily cracking the whip … our leaders, our playing group have owned it this week and they’re the ones that can do something about it with their actions on Saturday night.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is we’re not unconditionally ruthless, and (don’t) have that hard edge that we need. That’s what we’re seeing in our performances.”
Rutten was adamant the abysmal effort against Sydney had “nothing to do with game plan” and was up for the challenge of righting the ship.
“For me it’s an awesome opportunity to lead this footy club and the leadership that’s required is what I’m up for,” he said.
Tex Wanganeen is in contention to return for the Dreamtime at the G game while Andrew McGrath and Jordan Ridley both trained and look set to play despite fitness concerns.
But Caldwell (AC joint) didn’t train in the main group and looks unlikely to feature.