Essendon will contemplate taking a hard-tag approach to Melbourne superstar Christian Petracca as they attempt to avoid a 0-3 start to the AFL season.
The Bombers were blown out of the water by Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield and Brisbane’s Lachie Neale in successive weeks, with coach Ben Rutten backing his midfielders to go head-to-head with other on-ball brigades.
Norm Smith Medallist Petracca has been in ominous form, averaging 39 disposals, 7.5 clearances, 825 metres gained and 10.5 score involvements per game.
“It’s a question that we’re going to be having some discussion on. We’re wanting to evolve that part of our game and hopefully we can find a good solution,” Rutten told Fox Footy.
“You can’t nullify them (completely). It’s easy to say you can put someone on them and that all of a sudden they get 10 possessions but it’s not the case
“They’re quality players and they’re able to manipulate. What we’re seeing and I think what we’re enjoying about Melbourne at the moment is their selflessness.
“If Petracca’s getting sat on or not having a great day, he’ll work for (Clayton) Oliver and make sure he has a good day. That’s what we’re seeing out of them (like) Richmond of the past five years.
“These are the things to continually weigh up.”
Rutten defended the decision not to put a hard tag on Neale, saying Essendon had needed to be aggressive to try to win the game.
He also noted the Bombers preferred a “system-based” midfield that didn’t necessarily suit a hard tagger.
Friday’s match against the unbeaten premiers shapes as a daunting task, especially with Zach Merrett sidelined for up to two months with a syndesmosis injury.
“It’s (0-2) certainly not the ideal start for us in terms of wins and losses, but certainly one that we’re not losing any belief about,” Rutten said.
“We’re not the finished product as a team and we’re going to use the course of the season to continue to improve.
“We’ve got another really good opportunity this week against Melbourne.
“We’re a team that is aspiring to be like Geelong, Brisbane, Richmond, Melbourne as well and our guys are really hungry to be one of those teams.
“To be able to play them in the early stage of the season, our guys are really looking forward to it and Melbourne, (there is) probably no bigger challenge or opportunity you can get at the moment.”