Hird backs Bombers ruck plan for Port

Essendon’s decision to leave ruckman Jonathan Giles languishing in the VFL is about backing elevated rookie Shaun McKernan in, says coach James Hird.

With Port Adelaide set to feature Matthew Lobbe and Paddy Ryder in the ruck at different stages on Saturday night, the Bombers raised eyebrows when they again failed to pick the former Greater Western Sydney big man, despite McKernan’s recent struggles.

Essendon lost the hitouts 58 to 20 in last week’s loss to North Melbourne, leading to renewed calls for Giles to be handed a long-awaited debut for the club he joined at the end of last season.

“I don’t think it’s about Jonathan, I think it’s more about Shaun,” Hird said on Friday.

“I don’t believe that after one performance where you get beaten that you throw a player out.

“I think Shaun’s brought something to the team, which has been good. I certainly don’t believe that you throw a player away and go and get another one on one bad performance.”

Essendon trumped several other suitors, including Adelaide, for Giles’ signature on a two-year deal during last year’s trade period.

Fellow ruck options Tom Bellchambers and Jake Carlisle have been out injured for several weeks now for the Bombers, who are ranked last in the AFL for average hitouts per game this season, making the decision not to play Giles a curious one.

The ex-Giant was rated best-afield in the reserves last week with 29 hitouts and two goals, but Hird said that he wanted to see more consistency from Giles before he gets a look-in at AFL level.

Ryder will face off against his old team for the first time since his departure at the end of last season, with Hird agreeing the Bombers had missed his influence at the stoppages.

The Power ruckman admitted he was dealing with some nerves ahead of the clash at Etihad Stadium, but Hird didn’t think his players would be going out of their way to sledge their former teammate.

“Whether the players get under his skin or not, we want our players to go and win the contested footy, defend well and use the ball well,” he said.

“What happens on the field in terms of banter will be between good friends … I think it will all be done in the right spirit.”

Meanwhile, veteran defender Dustin Fletcher remains on the injury list indefinitely with an abdominal strain, but Hird said he was committed to working with the 40-year-old in a bid to get him back on the field for what would likely be a farewell game late in the season.

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