The negatives need to be put aside for a moment, as another Essendon drug saga ramification pops up. However, this pre-season could be one of real opportunity for many in the red and black. For Essendon fans, there is so much promise on offer if the Bombers do field teams in their NAB Challenge games.

VFL players earn a chance to prove themselves
Essendon has had several of their VFL-listed players become interests come draft time in the past few years. Tom Campbell was taken by the Bulldogs, and Ben Duscher’s name was constantly thrown around for years. Now it’s the likes of Aaron Heppell, Sam Heavyside, Jordan Schroder, Sam Tagliabue and James Polkinghorne who could show their talents if the Bombers are allowed to use top up players from their VFL team.

In particular, Heppell and Heavyside showed plenty in the TAC Cup and in the VFL, but there were queries about their disposal efficiency and height respectively. A chance to play against AFL talent could again put their names into recruiters’ minds.

Time for draftees to shine
In the past three years, recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro has selected Joe Daniher, Zach Merrett and Patrick Ambrose. He looks to have struck again, with Jayden Laverde and Kyle Langford landed at the Bombers. Those who haven’t seen much of Langford aren’t sure what to make of him. He has the height of a key forward, but a lanky frame. His skill set is vast, but not quite polished. Indeed, his potential is enormous. Langford would suit the NAB Challenge, as he wouldn’t be bullied by too many bigger bodies, and he can display his versatility as coach Hird allows him to show off in different positions.

Laverde too could prove Dodoro right. Many draft experts had Laverde going as high as pick five not too long before the draft, His flight, polish and prototypical AFL frame should prove to pay off for Dodoro and the Bombers. Laverde plays like Adam Ramanauskas used to and he could prove to be an early fan favourite.

Joe Daniher has a point to prove
Daniher’s development has come quicker than expected, and now with Matthew Lloyd helping him with his kicking routine, the key forward will want to come out firing early. The NAB Challenge might not mean too much to some players, but Daniher is a player who needs all the confidence he can get. If he can show he has gotten rid of the yips before the season starts, then he won’t have as much internal or external pressure.

The right environment for Jake Long
Most would argue that Essendon would be a hard club to develop at given the circumstances, but Jake Long is the type of player who needs to be at the right place to come along. Putting the drug saga aside, Long has shown he can play a decent cameo role already at VFL level, and his kicking looks superb already. With the likes of Courtenay Dempsey, Michael Hibberd, Brendon Goddard, Dyson Heppell and Mark Baguley ahead of him as accomplished defenders, Long has positive influences around him and a chance to play NAB Challenge would boost his confidence.

A mix of youth and experience
Whilst a majority of Essendon’s elder statesmen would be unavailable, the NAB Challenge is the perfect time to see how the likes of Adam Cooney, Jon Giles, Shaun McKernan and James Gwilt fit in with the group. Paul Chapman and Goddard would get a chance to stretch their legs again, too.