Jobe Watson has his mojo back, and Essendon coach John Worsfold couldn’t be happier despite his side losing their AFL pre-season opener.
The Bombers led Collingwood by 23 points at the final break of Thursday night’s clash but faded in the final term, going down 2.13.9 (105) to 0.14.10 (94) at Etihad Stadium.
For Worsfold – and probably most Bombers fans – the scoreline mattered little.
Watson was one of six Bombers, alongside new captain Dyson Heppell, Michael Hurley, Travis Colyer, David Myers and Ben Howlett, making their comebacks after serving doping bans for all of last season.
There were questions about how they would handle the physical demands after a year out of the AFL and in Watson’s case, whether he still truly loved the game after enduring the most tumultuous year of his life.
Worsfold had admitted in November that Watson appeared to have lost his passion for football after being stripped of his 2012 Brownlow Medal.
But the former skipper soon put any doubts to rest, clearly enjoying himself as he gathered 19 touches in a strong comeback.
“I think I’m going to be pretty pleased with Jobe most weeks,” Worsfold said with a grin after the game.
“I thought they were all good. I know they are all going to get better but I’m really pleased.”
There was plenty to like for the Essendon faithful with the side looking to bounce back from their last-placed finish last year.
Heppell was quiet by his usual standards but worked his way into the game, Colyer booted two handy goals and Hurley was solid down back before sitting out the second half.
Gun youngster Zach Merrett (25 touches) looks set to take his game to the next level, Darcy Parish also impressed and No.1 draft pick Andrew McGrath showed plenty of poise.
The Bombers will travel to Queensland next Sunday to face Gold Coast, with spearhead Joe Daniher a chance to return from his knee injury.
Cale Hooker (hamstring) is likely to be back for Essendon’s final pre-season game against Geelong in Bendigo on March 12.