MIXED FEELINGS: Matthew Leuenberger of the Bombers will front up against his old mates from his former team, the Brisbane Lions, in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
MIXED FEELINGS: Matthew Leuenberger of the Bombers will front up against his old mates from his former team, the Brisbane Lions, in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon. TONY MCDONOUGH

Leuenberger in for the long haul with embattled Bombers

IT'S FAIR to say Matthew Leuenberger didn't quite get what he bargained for when moving to Essendon for the 2016 season.

Sure, becoming the Bombers' No.1 big man was on his radar, but so was rucking to the likes of Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell and Brent Stanton, not necessarily Darcy Parish, Orazio Fantasia and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.

Not that the 28-year-old sees that as a bad thing.

Leuenberger relocated from Brisbane with his young family for a fresh start last October, but by January a bitter wind had swept through, with 12 players receiving doping bans.

The flow-on effect from that has meant his new club is now battling with his old one to avoid the wooden spoon.

"I think initially it (the bans) was just shock - no one saw it coming," Leuenberger told Australian Regional Media ahead of the clash with the Lions at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

"There was a bit of a mourning process - you obviously felt very sorry for all the blokes that would be missing a year of footy. But we had no real other choice but to get on with it. The blokes that were still there had to front up for the season."

Having moved to get his own career back on track after it had stalled at the Gabba, Leuenberger was also committed to helping the Bombers during their darkest hour.

"I didn't sign for one year - I signed for three," he said, confident that with the development of Parish, Fantasia and Aaron Francis, who will debut tomorrow, and the return of the suspended 12, the Bombers "can turn things around pretty quickly".

"I think our list will be in pretty good shape," he said.

Leuenberger certainly has no regrets about the move after Stefan Martin had taken over primary rucking duties at Brisbane.

"Last year I was basically playing as a key forward," he recalled.

"It just wouldn't have made sense from my personal career to stay in Brisbane and try and play as a key forward because that's not what I am.

"It was a pretty simple decision really."

Leuenberger settled on a move to Melbourne, and specifically Essendon.

"I am a Perth boy, but I felt the way my career had been playing out, not having to travel every second week would be amazing for my body," he said.

"The level of fatigue this year is nowhere near the level of years gone by."

The 203cm Leuenberger was drafted with the coveted No.4 pick in 2006 national draft, some said as "the next Dean Cox", but played just 108 games with Brisbane, his time there littered with injuries - knee in 2008, knee in 2009, achilles in 2012 and another knee in 2014.

"It was hard," he said.

"I guess people have high hopes for you … but you don't get a chance to prove yourself when you're riding a stationary bike for most of the year.

"I did struggle with it early, but I had good support around."

Leuenberger, who did manage to play all 22 games in 2010 and 2011, understandably still has a soft spot for Brisbane.

"Hopefully they get some good youngsters coming through and they can turn it around pretty quickly," he said.

But not too quickly, of course, as Leuenberger comes face to face with old mates such as Daniel Rich and opposite number Martin tomorrow.

"He's a good mate of mine," he said of the big Lion. "(But) we're all competitors when it matters, whether we're training or playing.

"I'm looking forward to it. It should be good."