Essendon coach Mark Thompson is adamant his team will produce a vastly improved performance in its last trial match before the season proper, after the Bombers ended an unsuccessful NAB Challenge series with a 25-point loss to an impressive Port Adelaide on Tuesday night.
"(It) wasn't very good, but we half sort of expected it," Thompson said of the Etihad Stadium defeat. "We're not too concerned about the result, but we're concerned how we played. It wasn't our best night. Very reactive, very slow to make decisions.
"But we play in 10 days time, I think you'll see a better, sharper performance, and then we'll really sharpen up for the start of the season. We'd expect a much better performance next time we play."
Michael Hibberd won't feature in that final tune-up, against Richmond at Punt Rd on March 7, but Thompson said the hard-edged half-back's hamstring strain was at the minor end of the spectrum. "Normal 19-day (rehabilitation), get to round one pretty easily."
Port coach Ken Hinkley was similarly optimistic about forward Jay Schulz's round one prospects, after the high-flyer sent a scare through the Power camp when he hobbled off after landing awkwardly in the third quarter. Hinkley said Schulz was confident he had suffered only a mid-foot sprain, similar to that which he played with for two months last year.
"We're pretty comfortable that he's OK. As I sit here right now I'm very confident about round one, but he's got to go and see the doctor who'll scan it and see what he looks like.
"I asked Jay and he said it's like last year. He played with it last year for eight weeks and got through OK, so that's the management for him."
Schulz and Justin Westhoff (five goals) formed a potent pairing for the Power, taking 16 marks (six contested) between them. Elsewhere the defensive and offensive run and precise delivery that were hallmarks of Port's rise to fifth last season were abundant, and Thompson was impressed.
"They're quick, they're skilful, they move the ball quick, they set the ground up nicely. We knew that coming into the game. it was good practice for us. We just didn't do things well. We'd expect a much better performance next time we play.
"Their big blokes are mobile, they mark, they jump, they kick goals. Their mids are just hard-running, pretty big-bodied. They're pretty good, a good team."
Thompson said 32-year-old triple premiership recruit Paul Chapman looked like he was "playing with strangers" in a first half that amounted to just six touches, but praised his doggedness in lifting for an equal team-high 24-possession night.
"He didn't know what was going on for a while there did he, Chappy. (But) he really dug ... that's the sort of guy he is, when it gets desperate he gets down and dirty. It was good that he got a few kicks, I was worried about him early.
"I could see him just running around in circles, he didn't know what to do. Couldn't get the ball. When it came to him he even fumbled which I'd never seen him do. But he made a contribution."
As did Joe Daniher before fading in the second half, but Thompson was pleased with his efforts - and that of youngsters Martin Gleeson and Zach Merrett - and predicted that Daniher would be an even more potent threat alongside defender-turned-target Jake Carlisle, who missed with flu but will return against the Tigers.
"I think he's had two good games. We probably know he's not going to do full games, not going to do a full season. But it just must be pretty satisfying for our supporters to see somebody mark the ball against one opponent, two opponents sometimes, and really step up when the team isn't going so well.
"It's a lot easier (for Daniher when Carlisle is playing). They've been working together, we want them to have a long career together, and the habits they're forming already have been quite useful."
Hinkley said he instructed his players to treat the Essendon game like the start of the season proper, an approach Port will carry into its final warm-up against former assistant coach Alan Richardson's St Kilda on March 8.
The story Coach sure Bombers will step up a notch in next game first appeared on WA Today.