As the Bombers recover from a disastrous finish to their season, they received what could be described as a real kick in the guts this week.
The news came through on Wednesday morning that key defender, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, had requested a trade away from the club.
Drafted in 2017, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher has been a slow burn at Tullamarine, and that was to be expected. Key defenders take time, and the club has invested in the development of the young man as he filled out and started finding himself capable of mixing it with the bigger forwards in the game. Or most of them, anyway.
With 51 games to his name following a 2023 season where he played 22 games, Zerk-Thatcher has requested a trade to Port Adelaide, effectively gutting the Essendon back six, already overly reliant on Jayden Laverde too often punching above his weight division.
With Port Adelaide reportedly in the market for Brodie Grundy, as well as looking to trade for Esava Ratugolea, the club is attracting interest from all over the league. Essendon, on the other hand, is fast becoming a defensive wasteland, and it is something they need to rectify immediately.
Zerk-Thatcher’s rise to prominence in 2023 came after a Round Seven drubbing at the hands of Tom Hawkins (I did say that he has been able to handle “most” big forwards – Hawkins is the biggest of them all, and the one that really got a hold of BZerk this year). Following that Hawkins bag of eight, BZT knuckled down and really began to carve out a niche for himself in the Essendon back half. He had three games in 2023 where he achieved a defensive double-double, reading 10+ in one-percenters and intercepts in the same game (Round 10, 17, and 21 for those playing at home) which indicates his growing ability to both kill contests and intercept when necessary.
And just like that, the patience and work put into him are gone. Essendon’s loss and Port Adelaide’s game. Such is life in the world of footy.
So, what do the Bombers do to compensate for the loss of a 25-year-old coming into his peak?
You channel your efforts into getting another one.
Most would rate North Melbourne’s Ben McKay as an upgrade on Zerk-Thatcher. Whilst BZerk struggled a little (or a lot if it was Hawkins) against true power forwards, McKay has the body to take on all comers, and would make the loss of Zerk-Thatcher more than a little palatable.
However, they’ll have to pay a handsome price for that privilege, however.
North Melbourne want a top-end compensation pick for McKay. They have intimated that if they believe offers for the Restricted Free-Agent are what they would consider “low ball” offers, they would match the bids and force a trade. So, the departure of Zerk-Thatcher could have the ripple effect of making Essendon a little keener to overpay for McKay out of necessity.
McKay’s management would be licking their lips!
If they opt not to pay, how does their defence look?
McGrath, Heppell, Redman, Laverde, Ridley, and Jake Kelly? Yeeee-ouch. They may be able to throw Sam Weideman into defence, as the club was silly enough to give him two years. Maybe Zach Reid starts making progress, but he is still just 21 and perpetually injured, and whilst Nik Cox was played back there late in the season, he is not a key position answer, is he? You get the feeling that this departure is forcing the Bombers’ hand, and the Kangaroos would be smiling, just a little bit at what it all means.
On the surface, we have one trade request. Brandon Zerk-Thatcher will head to Port and won’t cost them too much, but unless the Bombers are ready to shell out big money to land their replacement, I am afraid we could be looking at tough times for a little longer at Tullamarine.
Time to break out the chequebook. The club has to pay.
One way, or another.
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