AFL 2023: Jake Stringer, Mason Redman in practice match; Dustin Martin geared up for the big year forward, Jacob Hopper

Things got personal at the Bombers’ preseason practice on Friday when two competitive beasts had to be separated from teammates. Plus all the important news from the track.

Preseason training is intensifying as the 2023 AFL season fast approaches.

Here’s the latest from Essendon after the club completed a two-hour training session in the sunshine at Tullamarine on Friday morning.

Fiery Friday

As competing beasts, Jake Stringer and Mason Redman know only one way.

Team-mates are often not given much leeway during practice and tensions between the pair boiled over during a partial match simulation on Friday.

The two had to be separated from their teammates after being shoved and shoved a little after a competition.

A few choice words were exchanged before the couple parted and moved on.


Recruit Sam Weideman had a minor setback in his preparations for the upcoming season after pinching a calf.

The former key Melbourne striker had light duties in Friday’s training session, jogging a few laps for much of the session.

The Bombers are hoping Weideman can play a significant role in their attack this year as a second major option alongside Peter Wright.

He is expected to be fit to return to main training after the players enjoyed a five-day long weekend starting from Australia Day.

James Stewart (foot), Nik Cox (ankle) and Anthony Munkara (managed) also remain on light duty.


Essendon has one spot left on the list after father-son conscript Jayden Davey was moved to his inactive list as he continues his recovery from an ACL injury.

Former Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Mitch Szybkowski and ex-Oakleigh Chargers ruckman Hudson O’Keefe have been training with the club this month in a bid to secure last spot and worked hard at the track on Friday.

However, it doesn’t look like a decision on that last spot on the list will be made anytime soon.

Reports from Western Australia this week say 188cm tall Jack Cleaver, from East Fremantle, will also join training from January 30 following a late interest from Essendon.

The Bombers have until February 15 to sign a player for the Pre-Season Supplementary Selection Period.


Zac Merrett appears to be establishing himself as Essendon’s next captain.

The midfielder has had a strong summer and veteran track watchers have noted he has been quite vocal.

Merrett, 27, again provided a bit of cue and direction during Friday’s drills, leading from the front with his actions and work rate.

Dyson Heppell, 30, has yet to officially step down as skipper but has said he would happily step down if it was in the best interest of the club.

Heppell has been captain since 2017.

NO.1 IN NO.5

He wore a No. 5 top, but Harley Reid is widely expected to be the No. 1 draft pick this season.

The talented young star didn’t look out of place as he first trained with the Bombers as part of the AFL Academy program.

Hailing from the Victorian country town of Tongala, Reid played last year’s junior season as a versatile player who could make a serious impact in any position he played.

He seems to have added a bit more size and height in the off-season and big things are expected of him this year.

But unfortunately for the Bombers, he’s unlikely to end up in red and black unless disaster strikes and the Bombers end up on the ladder this year.

Reid will also train with the club next week from Monday to Wednesday.


Young Bombers key forward Harrison Jones is back in full training and has even put in some extra work as he prepares for what Essendon hopes will be a big year.

Jones practiced with teammates for most of Friday’s main session before doing additional work on his competitive one-on-ones and leadership patterns with the help of development coaches Michael Hurley and Travis Cloke on the secondary oval at Tullamarine.

The 21-year-old has struggled with foot and ankle problems over the past two seasons and only managed 10 games last season.

Jones had come onto the scene in 2021 and had scored 20 goals in his first 16 AFL games.


Jay Clark

Richmond superstar Dustin Martin is ready to get back to his best after two years plagued by injuries, according to teammate Liam Baker.

The three-time Norm Smith medalist is about to wrap up a full preseason and is expected to spend more time up front after another impressive performance in Thursday’s game simulation.

New signings Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper stood out in the 20-minute scratch match at center and are expected to lead the engine room in 2023, allowing Martin to play closer to goal.

Looking in phenomenal physical condition, Martin displayed his signature strength in traffic jams on Punt Rd after being marred by a serious kidney injury and repeated hamstring problems for two years.

Baker, who helped launch a new KFC sponsorship at the club on Thursday, said the Tigers had underperformed last year, bombing in the first final defeat to Brisbane Lions after missing September 2021 altogether.

But he said Martin’s return to full fitness along with the arrival of Taranto and Hopper is a huge boost as the 2020 Firsts look to return to the top four this season.

“Dustin is back, he’s fit and he’s had a full preseason which is exciting for us,” Baker said.

“He removed his kidney (last year) but he’s moving well and his time trial (results) was good which bodes well for Dustin.

“Out on the track he’s big and strong pushing people around and we can’t wait for game time.”

Martin averaged the fifth-highest center bounce attendances per game for the Tigers last year, but moves to bring in Taranto and Hopper meant Martin spent more time up front on Thursday, where he’s likely to tie up with Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch, who is in light duties with foot problems.

Baker said early signs from former GWS Giants teammates Taranto and Hopper were encouraging after they traded a string of top draft picks for the gun ball winners.

“Both guys out there just win contested balls, that’s why they’re in here,” Baker said.

“Sometimes I noticed that there was a bit of tweaking (among each other), but they had the ball most of the time because they were in a good position and they are smart players and the best and fairest winners.”

Hard Nut Baker was another standout on a back flank alongside former skipper Trent Cotchin on Wednesday.

Dylan Grimes and Noah Balta led a defensive squad that will be tasked with toughening up in the new season after at times struggling to stop opposition goals in 2022.

Richmond coughed the ninth most points from last year, ranked 13th for conceding one point per 50-yard defensive entry and 15th for points conceded by stoppage.

Young defender Josh Gibcus is set to miss the first month of the season after undergoing surgery on his hamstring injury on Thursday.

Baker said he didn’t expect Richmond’s style of play to change too much this year, as Richmond will play fast and put high pressure on opponents in the front half.

“It’s just about doing what we’re good at, much better,” he said.

“Last year we weren’t quite up to it, but we feel like we can take it a step further with some new guys coming in and some younger guys maturing a little bit.

“We certainly put in the work, like everyone else. Nothing will be given to them, so we’ll continue to do that and hopefully have six weeks to set up the games.”


Gun Key forward Tom Lynch and tenacious midfielder Jack Graham ran laps over the perimeter of Punt Rd as they tried to overcome foot problems. Nick Vlastuin (ribs) and Marlion Pickett (thumb) also had light duties, while Dion Prestia and Trent Cotchin dropped out of some of the early drills as part of their regular training regimens. Jayden Short was another, completing a bit of light running sideways away from the main group and appearing stable at times. Ruckman Ivan Soldo was absent.


Maurice Rioli provided one of the highlights of the session when he delivered a bone-hard tackle to a young teammate that knocked Rioli off the ground. He appeared to take a blow to the shin but would have wowed the coaching staff with his intensity towards the end of the session. He is set to play an important small forward role in 2023, although young defender Kaleb Smith kept him on a tight leash on Thursday.


Former Cat Quinton Narkle has significantly reduced his offer to secure a spot in the additional selection period. The Livewire looked several pounds lighter, sometimes showing silky skill in a defensive rebound roll. Narkle battles Corowa-Rutherglen country star Kaelan Bradtke for last place. Bradtke has also impressed in a key forward role and is under serious consideration as Tiger bosses weigh up whether they need another marking target. Richmond could also keep the list spot open for the midseason draft. Ben Miller trained in a forward role as part of a move from defense on Thursday.


Richmond is expected to unleash another fast-paced style of play this year, with an emphasis on fast and direct ball movement. The Tigers briefly flirted with a slower, more controlled style of play last season, but refrained from doing so to return to high-pressure play after a slow start to the 2022 season. Richmond moved the ball quickly along the boundary most of Wednesday and practiced a switch from defensive drills before the match simulation. Collingwood and Geelong set the pace last year with their offense and quick ball movements, and Richmond looks poised to take on the top two challengers in that area.

Originally posted as 2023 AFL Preseason: Stay up to date with the latest news AFL 2023: Jake Stringer, Mason Redman in practice match; Dustin Martin geared up for the big year forward, Jacob Hopper

Ryan Sederquist

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