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Collingwood back on top

Our footy experts review the weekend's AFL action, including the battle between the Magpies and the Eagles at the MCG.

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ESSENDON needed this. Sure, the win in Perth was important and hey, it even won in June, which was something of a novelty, but it wasn't the bit it needed. What it really needed was Michael Hurley.

With the players missing from the Fremantle side - Stephen Hill, Nathan Fyffe, Hayden Ballantyne, Aaron Sandilands - the Dons should have won in Perth and broken their rough run at that ground. That they did will be satisfying no matter the number of Dockers in dry dock.

It will give them some pep, but there was much more to like about this win, not nearly as much as the sight of the way Hurley moved. Of course we have been here before with Hurley - a few explosive performances that have not built on one another - but he is yet young.

Michael Hurley was one of the Essendon players who stood out against Fremantle.

Michael Hurley was one of the Essendon players who stood out against Fremantle. Photo: Getty Images

On Saturday night he had three goals in the first quarter and added a few more late. He played higher up the ground at centre half-forward and Essendon looked more balanced as a consequence. Of course, whenever a forward is marking and goaling, a team looks more balanced, but Hurley is a player of presence and he provides more of that when he is roaming at centre half-forward.

Hurley was not playing on idiots - Alex Silvagni and Luke McPharlin - and needed this sort of breakout game. His year had been poor - he had kicked only seven goals before Saturday night in his eight other games this season.

A quirky stat reflects poorly on his ability to sustain his effort. Only once - in the first three rounds last year - has he kicked multiple goals in successive games but when he plays like he did on Saturday night, the Dons looks a more complete side.

There were two players who stood out on Saturday night. Hurley was one. The other was his captain.

Jobe Watson has long been an elite player, but on Saturday night he had the sort of influence on the game that few players have had.

Don't want to sound silly here but there was something of James Hird about the way Watson played in the last quarter. He was dead ordinary for three quarters as Ryan Crowley had the better of him, but when the matter was truly in dispute, Watson had a calmness about him. He held the ball and waited on his disposal. It was the difference between watching a tailender and Mark Waugh bat. It was effortless, unpanicked. He had time and timing.

When he leant over to Jake Melksham to talk through a shot at goal, it spoke of his maturity. Melksham obeyed and kicked the goal.

The way he was mobbed when his own kick for goal went through told of the feeling among his players.