After being heavily raided in the off-season two years in a row, you might expect the Lions to be a shambles with very few good players left. Yet somehow they look to have accumulated one of the strongest midfields in the country.
Brisbane appear to have intensified their ‘moving cage’ game plan, which involves flooding around the ball and then sprinting back into an open forward line when they rebound.
Effectively, they’re saying they need to rely on numbers rather than one-on-one when they defend, and need to rely on run rather than long kicking when they rebound.
That’s a brand that suits a team with a lot of runners but it’s also a tiring brand. If they haven’t attained Port Adelaide-like fitness levels, they may find their game plan falling apart in the final quarter of big games.
Does Brisbane’s forward line show signs of improvement?
Well it hasn’t gone backwards, but the lack of a tall focal point stood out again. Brisbane’s two 20-year-old tall forwards, Marco Paparone and Michael Close, did a few good things and both looked mobile but are still learning running patterns, body positioning etc.
Brisbane’s mobile forward line is suitable for applying a strong forward press, but there were no signs that their forward press has become more systematic since 2014. The most positive sign for the forward line was that Josh Green, Lewis Taylor and Dayne Zorko are looking fit, sharp and full of confidence.
Does Brisbane’s backline show signs of improvement?
Daniel Merritt moved to his old position of full back. He’s as good a spoiler as any full back in the game, and he makes forwards think twice about backing back into packs, though his rebounding capacity is limited. Without Joel Patfull’s intercept marking and Pearce Hanley’s creativity, the backline has less rebounding capacity than in 2014.
Brisbane appeared to be trying to counter this deficiency by forcing the Swans wide and flooding their midfielders back quickly to help out. This will be their best strategy to counter-punch, and they did it in a very disciplined way against the Swans, but again it will require supreme fitness to maintain this strategy for four quarters in big matches.
Brisbane’s biggest positive
Both midfields were at full strength, with Mike Pyke rucking to Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker, the Jack brothers, and Tom Mitchell, while Matthew Leuenberger and Stefan Martin rucked to Tom Rockliff, Zorko, the Beams brothers, Daniel Rich and Lewis Taylor. Brisbane won the clearances.
While Leuenberger and Rich looked underdone, the others looked sharp. Zorko in particular may be a major beneficiary of Dayne Beams coming into the team in 2015, since Zorko may get less attention and more freedom to play his creative style.
It’s difficult to draw conclusions about the Swans because it was their first serious hit-out and they were missing key talls like Ted Richards, Adam Goodes, Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett.
Their replacement tall forward, 101-kilogram Toby Nankervis, got to a reasonable number of contests but did not look particularly agile after the ball hit the ground. He will probably get few opportunities this year.
Sam Reid played but once again looked proppy, rolling an ankle and finishing in the red vest.
The Swans’ midfield looked solid, particularly Kennedy and Parker, but was really just blowing out the cobwebs. The Jack brothers were both quiet.
Down back, Rhys Shaw looked like he’s gotten younger rather than older, but with Nick Malceski gone and so many ageing players, overall the Swans’ backline looks like being weaker than last year.
Brisbane will rely heavily on Daniel Merrett in defence and on having supreme fitness. If they can tick both of these boxes, their running brigade could have them knocking on the gates of the eight by season’s end.
The Swans will certainly be in the eight by season’s end, but their game against Brisbane didn’t really clarify their chances of a top-four finish.