Ruck woes a tall order for fading Dons

TOP FORM: Paul Salmon's struggling with injury again, so Steven King has a huge opportunity to dominate.  
Thursday, July 18

ESSENDON doesn't have too many weaknesses, but one of them is in the ruck.

It has been a problem at Windy Hill for a few years now. That's why they recruited John Barnes three years ago and why Paul Salmon was lured out of retirement last year.

Sheedy believes he has another premiership within this group, yet he needed a ready-made ruckman and could not bank on David Hille carrying the load.

Salmon is struggling with injury again, giving Steven King a huge opportunity this weekend to dominate another game in the middle.

While Sheedy would love to have Salmon in the side this weekend, I've got no doubt he is looking to Salmon as being the key player come finals time.

King has been the best ruckman in the league this year.

He usually provides his onballers with first use of the ball, but is also damaging around the ground.

King can expect to take on Hille and Steven Alessio in tandem, and I think he can counter them without too much trouble.

The player at Essendon who has stepped up this year has been Danny Jacobs at centre half-back.

His form has been fantastic and his ability to stop the opposition pressing forward a key to his game.

Jacobs has the third most marks in the AFL this year, which is a huge stat for a centre half-back. To me, this indicates he has been given licence to attack his marks.

A defender willing to take his marks and not just spoil provides a great platform for rebound play. It just turns defence into attack so quickly.

With numbers rushing forward in expectation of a goal these days, a defender bobbing up to mark the ball and quickly send it back where it came from can really catch the opposition out.

Geelong will need to make sure Jacobs is not allowed to do this.

The Cats require a player or players to drag him out of the corridor and leave him vulnerable if he opts not to follow them out to the flanks.

Sheedy won't want this to happen and won't allow it. He'll instruct him to play his own game and take the risk of leaving his man. That's where Geelong can exploit him.

A couple of early goals to Cam Mooney and/or Kent Kingsley, and a few doubts will set into young Jacobs' mind.

After showing they were the real deal last week against Collingwood, the word `finals' is no longer just something that Geelong supporters need dream about.

It is right there for the taking, and nobody else will have a say in it if the Cats win three of their remaining seven games.

This would, hopefully, put the Cats on a fast track to what they have been planning for under Bomber. And we all know what that is.

The countdown to finals begins this week with the clash against the Bombers, who are - for the first time in a long time - under siege.

I am of the opinion that they will still finish in the top four with the draw they face in the remaining seven games.

It is only now that we come to realise how the draw becomes unfair.

All sides have played each other once, and the raffle from here in just shows how unfair the current system is.

Some teams that have drawn the right games at the right venues have the chance to finish higher up than a a better team with a harder draw.

The Bombers have one of the better draws, and if they win this week are well placed for a top-four finish.

You can bet Sheedy and his men will not leave a stone unturned to win this game.

The Bombers will regain Dustin Fletcher this week, much to the relief to a backline which has been under siege the past fortnight.

Matthew Lloyd and James Hird are having their third games back from injury, so should be getting back near full fitness and confidence.

Another battle within the battle will be going on in the coaches' boxes.

We've got the master and apprentice going head-to-head in Sheeds and Bomber Thompson.

Bomber would have learned plenty from Sheeds over his time and nothing - short of a flag - would give him more pleasure than beating his mentor.