Cale Hooker (L) kicked three vital goals as the Bombers stunned the Crows at Docklands. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Essendon has stunned last year’s losing grand finalists Adelaide, coming from behind in a thrilling final quarter to win by 12 points at Docklands.
On Thursday night the defending premiers Richmond had kicked off the season with a win over Carlton, but the Crows were unable to match them.
Adelaide was already missing Taylor Walker and Brad Crouch through injury, and the loss of forward Tom Lynch pre-game made things more difficult for the visitors.
The Bombers gave signs of a side on the rise when they made the finals in 2017, but their performance — particularly the final quarter — sends a signal to the rest of the league that they will be extremely tough to beat this season.
The Bombers were 20 points down at three quarter time against the highest-scoring team of last season, but they kicked the last five goals of the game to get off to a winning start.
The absence of Walker and Lynch made life very difficult for the Crows, who lacked their normal structure up forward.
Lynch’s usual marking and link play at half-forward and Walker’s work as a spearhead were both missing and Adelaide’s usual dynamic attack suffered as a result.
On the other side, the Bombers had plenty of tall targets up forward, and they took 19 marks inside 50.
Their attack struggled to score at times during the game, but Essendon’s ability to rack up 60 forward entries and win contested possessions by 14 showed the potential to improve in 2018.
Cale Hooker and James Stewart booted three goals each, while small forward Josh Green and Joe Daniher both kicked two.
The Bombers had added Jake Stringer (ex-Western Bulldogs), Devon Smith (ex-GWS) and Adam Saad (ex-Gold Coast) in the off-season, and all three contributed in the victory.
Rory Sloane had a relatively quiet game for the Crows, but in one positive for Adelaide fans, the side’s new recruit Bryce Gibbs kicked two goals in three minutes just after half-time, and his 35 disposal-game — along with defender Rory Laird’s 40-possession performance — was close to the Crows’ best.
The Crows would also have been pleased with the debut of forward Darcy Fogarty — carrying the number 32 formerly worn by Mark Ricciuto — kicked two goals in a solid performance.
Another debutant at the other end was Tom Doedee, who had 21 disposals and seven marks in his first outing for Adelaide.
There was also controversy, with Adelaide’s Richard Douglas reported for rough conduct after his bump on Essendon’s Zach Merrett led to the Bombers’ gun midfielder being taken out of the game with concussion.
The incident came late in the first quarter — Douglas laid a heavy bump, and Merrett got up bleeding from the mouth.
He believed he was fine to continue, but after undergoing an assessment on the sidelines, he was ruled out of the rest of the game, limiting Essendon’s rotations.
The Bombers will be concerned about Merrett’s situation, given that the 22-year-old was ruled out of a preseason game against Richmond in Wangaratta a month ago.