Bombers coach lauds reborn Stringer

AFL Rd 5 -  Western Bulldogs v Essendon
Essendon coach Brad Scott has praised star forward Jake Stringer for getting the off-field part of his life ‘right’ and turning around his fitness. Picture: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

Essendon coach Brad Scott has praised Jake Stringer for finding balance off the field and improving his fitness as he leads the Bombers’ promising start to the season.

Stringer has put an indifferent 2023 behind him to lead Essendon’s goalkicking with 13 majors in five games, including 2.1 in the 29-point dismantling of the Western Bulldogs last week.

The 29-year-old revealed in a Channel 7 post-game interview that he was exploring Islamic faith and regularly attending mosques for weekly prayer readings.

Scott said the religious and family lives of his players were off limits to him, but Stringer deserved credit for putting himself in the “right headspace” to rediscover his best football.

Out of contract at the end of the season, the powerfully built forward was one of the competition’s best players in a 41-goal season in 2021 but was restricted to 32 games in the next two seasons as he battled injuries and poor conditioning.

AFL Rd 5 - Western Bulldogs v Essendon
Jake Stringer (left) with former Bulldogs teammate Tom Liberatore after he starred in Essendon’s 29-point win last Friday. Picture: Michael Willson / Getty Images

“I think my view on this … Jake and I talk all the time, but there are boundaries for where my role begins and ends, and my role is primarily one of support,” Scott said when asked about Stringer’s revelations about his faith.

“When you’re dealing with players whether it’s their religious beliefs, their family time, I don’t get involved in that space … it’s not an area I delve into.

“Jake has been quite open with some of the challenges he’s faced in the past. It’s very hard to get physically right when you’re not in the right headspace to do it.

“That was our priority, Jake’s got that right and you can see the physical condition he’s in, so great credit to the work he’s done.”

With Stringer and Kyle Langford providing strong targets, emerging forward Harry Jones looms as the one to make way for Peter Wright when his suspension lifts ahead of Anzac Day, but Scott said he hoped to be put into “a really difficult position” at the selection table.

He said Jones was reaping the rewards of a strong pre-season but would not be “gifted” games if his form did not justify selection.

Port Adelaide vs Essendon
Brad Scott is thrilled with the form of young forward Harry Jones but said he wouldn’t be ‘gifted’ games as Peter Wright’s return from suspension looms next week. Picture: Michael Klein

“Jonesy had his opportunity, and he’s taken it. That’s a great credit to him, and it’s a lesson to everyone,” he said.

“There are no guarantees for anyone … our captain sets the example there. You play each game like it’s your last, you don’t get games gifted to you.

“The reality is we’re 3-2, we’re not sitting on top of the ladder flying, thinking we can manipulate selection to manage different individuals, we’ve got to pick the best team that we’ve got available to win each game.”

Scott said Dylan Shiel would be considered at senior level after a strong hitout in the VFL, but the Bombers wanted to make sure he was “back for good” once he made his return.

The coach said the veteran midfielder was still capable of exerting significant influence at the top level, pointing to the resurgence of Dyson Heppell early this season.

Scott said Archie Perkins had bounced back strongly from a hamstring strain and suggested he could be available for Anzac Day but would still miss Friday night’s clash against Adelaide.

Scott said he also hoped Matt Guelfi (calf) would be available to face Collingwood in round 7.