After a poor start to the season, culminating in being subbed off at half time in round 10 then dropped the following week, Tom Bellchambers ran out onto the Windy Hill oval to take on Frankston. To date in the AFL, Bellchambers had averaged just 10 disposals, has a total of 2 goals. He has won hit outs, however typically to no effect. He has also given away 17 free kicks, nearly 2 a game. After a firm ultimatum that was not heeded against Geelong, Coach James Hird had no option but to drop Bellchambers back to the VFL. So eager to make a point, Hird subbed the ruck man off at half time, leaving the ruck work to be shared between the forwards.
Essendon then fielded a side without a ruckman against the West Coast Eagles (who had the formidable combination of Nic Naitanui and Callum Sinclair) with no recognised ruckman. Despite battling hard, Jake Carlisle was monstered in the ruck by the experienced and in form pair and low on confidence; he struggled to impact around the ground.
As a result, all Essendon fans would have been hoping for a big game from Bellchambers in the reserves as a sign that he has finally heeded the coaching staff’s advice and warnings. By the end of the game, it looks like Essendon fans got what they wanted. Bellchambers slotted home 4 goals, with the ruck division running riot against Frankston as Giles nailed 3 and McKernan piled on another 5 majors. That was half the teams total goal count and 4 goals more than the opposition managed.
In the ruck Bellchambers won 24 hit outs, (McKernan 15 and Giles 16) as well as 20 disposals at 65% efficiency. Giles had 14 disposals, 79% effective but the star of the show was McKernan notching up 22 disposals, 82% effective. It is clear that the 3 big men were all firing.
Clearly, any ruckman trying to impress the selection table at Tullamarine seemingly has a task ahead of him. McKernan impressed in his Essendon debut against North Melbourne, since being returned to the rookie list with Jason Winderlich returning to the reserves from the long term injury list. McKernan will be eligible to play again after Essendon’s bye in round 12. This will no doubt put pressure on Bellchambers (and Giles), but could also assist him greatly by providing support.
The sudden levelling of the playing field that resulted from the statement Hird made by fielding no recognized ruckman and elevation of McKernan is sure to, if anything, put a rocket up the ruckmen listed at Essendon. The players know their spot is not guaranteed and they must perform to earn their spot. As captain Jobe Watson told debutant Shaun Edwards before the match, “There is a difference between getting a game and earning a game”. With this philosophy, we would expect to see a much more determined ruckman coming out against Hawthorn after the bye.
EDIT: Tom Bellchambers was reported to have a stress fracture in his foot by the club medical staff on the 22nd of June. He will miss at least 8 weeks.
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