Footy Fix: Does the Essendon Edge not apply to Connor Rozee or something?


For all the talk and all the acclaim the so-called ‘Essendon Edge’ has received in the past few weeks – and I firmly fit into that category – Friday night at the Adelaide Oval was a reminder that aggression can only take a football team so far.

When it was their time to go, the Bombers went in with that intensity against Port Adelaide – they roughed half the opposition up off the ball, they ran hard, they fought ferociously for the hard ball, with Andrew McGrath’s perfectly executed bump up the midriff of Connor Rozee the most obvious example. They laid a more than creditable 65 tackles, 14 of them inside 50, despite having more disposals too.

And they were utterly shown up in every facet by a Power team – and specifically, a Power midfield – that was stronger, quicker, smarter, tougher, and just plain better. 69 points better, to be exact.

The moment the ball left a stoppage, usually in the hands of Rozee or Horne-Francis, the aggressive facade the Bombers have adorned themselves with melted away: suddenly they looked a bunch of slow, limited jobbers running ten metres behind some of the game’s modern greats, like Cale Hooker endlessly chasing Lance Franklin down the MCG only metaphorically.

The Essendon Edge had seen the Bombers fight out an honourable loss to a superior Sydney outfit, and keep themselves in the hunt for long enough to sneak a win over a St Kilda side that butchered its chances. It will, for the long term, hold them in good stead.

But the Essendon Edge can do nothing against Rozee’s brilliance, or Horne-Francis’ obscene strength for such a young man, or Zak Butters’ elusiveness. It can’t change the fact that Zach Merrett, for all his kicking prowess and leadership, or Darcy Parish, or Will Setterfield, lack the led speed the Power trio have – and use – in abundance.

The skipper smothers and scores!

Three goals in as many minutes to start this one ????#AFLPowerDons

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 5, 2024

For the first time this season, the Bombers’ midfield – a facet of their game which has improved considerably under Brad Scott – was obliterated. With it, the Dons’ style of play, both with and without the ball, proved woefully inadequate, and the holes in their system became abundantly clear.

A serious team doesn’t get ripped to pieces so frequently, and for such obvious reasons, as the Bombers do by the opposition’s best midfielder. For the first half especially, Rozee had an acre of space every time he touched the footy, and with 20 disposals to the main break, he had it an awful lot.

It would be a coach-killing crime at most other teams to give anyone the freedom afforded to Rozee in the below clip, let alone the most damaging player on the ground whose chances of making the most of the space was in the 99th percentile.

“That is leading from the front, just love to see that out of your captain.”

Seriously impressive first half from Connor Rozee ????#AFLPowerDons

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 5, 2024

After a largely even, or even Essendon-controlled, first quarter, Port’s response was eye-opening: around stoppages, they abandoned any extra numbers, went man on man in defence, and made the game a series of individual duels.

The Bombers lacked the wherewithal to stop them until it was much too late, but there was only so much they could do: from centre bounces, where the laws of the game mandate a four-on-four contest, Horne-Francis and Rozee were empowered to surge forward viciously, attack the footy without worrying about risking turnovers, and let Butters and the criminally underrated Willem Drew do the defensive work.

Rozee is the complete midfielder: beautifully skilled, perfectly balanced, quick as a flash of both body and mind and with a killer instinct that is perfectly suited to a side whose base mode is attack.

By half time, he had three goals, all from general play, all exquisite finishes, all completed as Bombers swirled around him like fish in the ocean with no one even attempting a tackle until it’s much, much too late.

Captain Rozee is next level ????#AFLPowerDons

— AFL (@AFL) April 5, 2024

It’s not just the goals, either: the captain had seven score involvements and four inside 50s – the former a game high, the latter second to the equally brilliant Horne-Francis. Everything he does is designed to cut up the opposition; cheap touches, or even gritty ones, are few and far between.

Speaking of Horne-Francis, the former Roo is a perfect foil in so many ways. Rozee glides around the field as if his feet barely touch the ground: Horne-Francis runs at every contest as if daring someone to tackle him so he can shove them off.

Both of their first instincts are to kick – Rozee is more polished, but Horne-Francis’ explosiveness is reminiscent of a young Patrick Dangerfield. And on a night like this, with an unmatched defence caught one out and being peppered, he can get away with banging the ball forwards as often as he does.

“When your midfielders have the ability to get out of traffic like that, you’re in good shape!”

– Matthew Richardson. #AFLPowerDons

— 7AFL (@7AFL) April 5, 2024

Butters, meanwhile, could play third fiddle – his stats are still impressive, but he was very clearly George Harrison to Rozee and Horne-Francis’ Lennon and McCartney. (In case you were wondering: Ivan Soldo is Ringo.) And that neatly sums up the embarrassment of riches that is Port’s midfield.

Going into the game, the Power had scored from a league-best 34 per cent of their clearances thus far in 2024, and particularly from the centre, that power from stoppages was again on display. It’s a unique strength in a league dominated by teams scoring the bulk of their points from turnovers – though in fairness, they outscored the Bombers by a street from that source too.

However, the numbers there were stark, too – Port had just two extra turnovers for the evening, 75 to 73. Higher-quality defensive outfits won’t be so leaky as to concede 11 goals to them, while more skillful, quicker-moving teams than the Bombers will be able to punish a Power defence that is still vulnerable with more than three goals against.

Connor Rozee celebrates a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Sombre analysis might claim nothing more than that the Bombers were beaten by a better opposition; but that’s kind of the point. The Dons are regularly chicken feed against the best midfielders in the game, and the numbers across 15 months of Scott’s coaching have made for stark reading.

Last year Rozee had a combined 52 disposals, 12 inside 50s and four goals in his two matches on the Bombers; Tom Green, the GWS star, had 73 from his two games. Nick Daicos, of course, had 40 disposals and two goal on Anzac Day; Shai Bolton 28 and two goals in Dreamtime at the ‘G; Marcus Bontempelli 29 and two goals in a season-ruining loss; Patrick Dangerfield 15 inside 50s; Errol Gulden 37 disposals and a goal.

Sports opinion delivered daily 


The lack of respect shown to Rozee, and inability to stop Horne-Francis, for nearly all of the evening in Adelaide is a trend now: whether a direct run-with role or more desire to stop spreading on-ballers away from stoppages, the Dons can’t continue to give up numbers like this to the game’s guns. They’re guns for a reason, after all.

One bump aside, the Essendon Edge seemingly didn’t apply to Port’s biggest two stars at the Adelaide Oval.

The Swans couldn’t finish them off. The Saints – and Hawthorn in Round 1 – butchered their chances. But the Power showed just how far the Bombers still have to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.