Uncertain AFL pre-season tough: Hooker

Essendon defender Cale Hooker says his AFL club’s pre-season about nothing was one of the most challenging aspects of the ASADA saga.

The Bombers were sweating on the verdict of the AFL’s anti-doping tribunal until March 31, the first week of the season.

Some 13 players failed to take part in a single pre-season fixture as they pondered potential bans.

“During the pre-season this year. I think that was the toughest time for the players because we had so much uncertainty,” Hooker told the Seven Network on Sunday.

“A lot of us weren’t playing and we didn’t know when we’d be playing football again, so we were training without a (return) date.

“That was quite tough for the players.

“Since that, we’ve got the decision … it’s like a weight off the shoulders.”

The Bombers have excelled despite their limited pre-season, testing Sydney then toppling reigning premiers Hawthorn in round two.

James Hird’s men defeated Carlton last Saturday and next face Collingwood in their annual Anzac Day fixture.

“Somehow we’ve come out a better team and a better playing group than we were at the start of it (the drawn-out ASADA affair),” Hooker said.

“Jobe Watson deserves a lot of the credit, because he was just a pillar of strength the whole time.”

Brendon Goddard was also full of praise for Watson, saying the Bombers captain has taken his game to another level in 2015.

“In my opinion he is a better player than he was in his Brownlow year (2012). He’s a more rounded player,” Goddard told Seven.

“His ability to defend now and join in team defence is a lot better than what it was.”

The Bombers have suffered fourth-quarter fadeouts in all three rounds of the season, but Goddard insisted match fitness was no longer an issue.

“There probably was a little bit of that earlier, but now with three games under our belt we can push that aside as an excuse,” he said.

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