Hooker kicks five for Bombers in AFL win

Essendon’s Cale Hooker was a long way from the best forward on the ground for most of Saturday’s AFL shootout against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium.

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But Hooker was the central figure when the game was in the balance, booting four of his equal career-best five goals in a purple patch in the final quarter opposed to third-gamer Dan Nielson.

The Bombers quelled a brave challenge from the under-manned Kangaroos to win by 27 points. The 20.12 (132) to 16.9 (105) victory lifted Essendon back into the eight, while condemning 17th-placed North Melbourne to a seventh-straight loss.

There were still plenty of positives for the Kangaroos, whose personnel woes went from very bad to worse when star defender Robbie Tarrant hurt his back in the warm-up, gifting a shock debut to Josh Williams.

With skipper Jack Ziebell and Marley Williams also among the absentees and Todd Goldstein and Lindsay Thomas dropped to the VFL, the Kangaroos – including seven players with less than 10 games’ senior experience – looked ripe for the picking.

For three quarters at least, they took it right up to the Bombers.

Coleman Medal contender Ben Brown continued his career-best season, kicking six goals, taking five contested marks and seeing off the challenges of Michael Hartley and Essendon’s most-accomplished defender Michael Hurley.

Veteran duo Jarrad Waite (four goals) and fullback Scott Thompson were also very good, as was Taylor Garner.

But Essendon – and Hooker – were better when it mattered most in the final quarter, as the home side won three games on the trot for the first time in three years.

Small forwards Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti combined for seven goals, with the Bombers spreading the attacking load on a rare quiet day for Joe Daniher.

“It was obviously a very tight game for a fair part of the game, a bit of a contested game, a one-on-one game that North brought,” said Essendon coach John Worsfold.

“I thought they handled it better than us early in terms of getting outside that contest.

“But what I was rapt with was that we stayed in that contest the whole time.”

Essendon’s Tom Bellchambers had the better of an intriguing duel with Majak Daw, who copped a huge spray from coach Brad Scott during the third quarter after coming up second-best in several physical exchanges.

“I was disappointed with a few of Majak’s efforts but he’s still learning the game,” said Scott.

“The challenge for him is still the technical nature of the game, because it’s a bit incongruous that the strongest man ever to play the game at AFL level is getting pushed out of the way.”

The Bombers improved their win-loss record to 9-8 ahead of next Sunday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs back at Etihad Stadium.