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Brisbane Lions mid-season review

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14th June, 2019
10

You have to take this article with a grain of salt as most of it was thought up prior to the horrendous loss against a resurgent from a Carlton mob hell bent on following in the Lions’ footsteps.

If Carlton trade in a seasoned hard nut inside mid (a Jarryd Lyons-type) then they are well on their way.

The season so far
The Brisbane Lions are sitting in the top eight with a 7-5 record built mostly off home wins. Their percentage is a bit low at 103, as they haven’t really blown anyone off the park.

They’ve beaten last year’s premiers, Port Adelaide and Adelaide of the other top eight teams. Only Essendon and the Pies have got hold of them. Their run home doesn’t look easy, with GWS, Geelong and Richmond but, with five home games, they should make the 12-13 wins and book themselves in for their first finals appearance in a decade.

Best 22
B: Luke Hodge, Harris Andrews, Noah Answerth
HB: Daniel Rich, Darcy Gardiner, Alex Witherden
C: Hugh McCluggage, Jarryd Lyons, Mitch Robinson
HF: Lincoln McCarthy, Eric Hipwood, Lewis Taylor
F: Charlie Cameron, Daniel McStay, Cam Rayner
Fol: Stefan Martin, Lachie Neale, Dayne Zorko
Int: Oscar McInerney, Jarrod Berry, Zac Bailey, Whoever

Best game
Great come from behind win over the Hawks in Round 11 built on high intensity pressure. When they’re on, they’re hard to beat and this win cemented them in the top eight.

Worst game
A shocking loss to Carlton based on Patrick Cripps – who should get six Brownlow votes – is actually second.

Brisbane’s game against Essondon was their worst performance. They looked like witch’s hats from start to finish.

The game plan
The Lions are in the top three for scoring from stoppages and centre clearances. They strive to win the clearance and contested possession count and use it to find classy runners and ball users to access a dynamic forward line that leads the comp in scoring shots from inside 50 percentage. If only they could kick straight!

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They use a high zone defence to try and lock it inside the forward 50 and, more often than not, win the territory battle.

With a plethora of intercept possessions down back, Brisbane play the percentages down the line to two ruckmen and two tall forwards before looking infield to generate drive. All their forwards can stick a mark, kick from outside 50 and have pace to burn.

The downside
They get destroyed on the turnover. Fast sides that attack the corridor find easy goals out the back as Brisbane’s zone is quite high and they lack pace in their back six.

When they lose the contested ball count then they, well, lose.

They can get rushed and just hack the ball out of the back 50 resulting in repeat entries by the opposition.

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Their forwards couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a Mack truck from 30 out, dead in front. Going into quarter time with six behinds to their name is par for the course.

The coach
I have watched every piece of media Chris Fagan has had published this year. It’s so repetitive.

“It’s about building belief, showing resilience, playing their role, showing selflessness, driven by the players, playing an exciting brand of footy, backing yourself in, driving the culture.”

Rinse and repeat.

But my god it has sunk in! After ten years of being an integral part of the Alastair Clarkson Football University, Fagan coaches like a seasoned lecturer: constantly reinforcing the fundamentals that mould great teams into winners.

Fagan likes to go on walks in the evening. He takes his phone and calls his players. Some calls last two minutes and some last 20. He drops by Hodgey’s house sometimes and has dinner with Leigh Matthews once a week. Anyone’s welcome to join. He has built a family where everyone feels like they belong and have a voice.

Sound familiar?

The elite
Lachie Neale has been the recruit of the year. With the huge shoes of Dayne Beams to fill, I reckon he’s got toe cramps.

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First in the league for disposals, his ability to find a mate in space with bullseye handballs puts him in the same boat as Tom Mitchell. I dare say he’s on track for a Brownlow too.

Dayne Zorko is top five in the league in a fair few stats; inside 50s, goal assists, pressure acts and tackles plus probably a few others I’ve missed. Gone are the days of 35 touches and three goals, now he leads his team much like Trent Cotchin, doing all the basics the best at insane intensity.

Dayne Zorko

Dayne Zorko has been excellent. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Harris Andrews may well push the likes of Darcy Moore to the bench or back pocket come All Australian selection. He’s taken his unbelievable spoiling reach and added intercept marking to his bag. Never looks rattled, rarely gets beaten and disposes of the ball with expert decision making. Hodge has trained him well and he’ll lead the back line for the next decade once Fossil hangs up the boots.

Charlie Cameron should be well entrenched as one of the game’s elite small forwards, if only he could kick set shots from 30 out, dead in front. From everywhere else on the field he is a dynamo with explosive pace and creative genius. He only needs five minutes and three touches to turn a game on its head and is the barometer for when Brisbane is on.

Having been held goalless in three of their five losses, his scoring ability sparks excitement among his teammates.

The breakouts
Daniel Rich was drafted in 2008, scored a Rising Star gong then produced a decade of the same: 16 touches, one tackle and maybe a goal. Not any more.

Rich plays for four quarters, runs both ways and has bulked up big time. Now he takes contested marks and lays bone crunching tackles while still keeping his rocket launcher of a left boot. Great season so far.

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Hugh McCluggage is coming. And he’s going to be good. Very good. Playing as a first receiver, he’s able to dance through traffic and create good options. He doesn’t have Neale’s bullet passes but uses deft handballs and chip kicks in front of players to generate drive. Lowers his eyes going inside 50 and is quick to get ball to boot for a sneaky goal.

Is evasive rather than explosive but may well explode into the competition’s top echelon very soon.

Special mentions
I had Mitch Robinson down for only a handful of games this year as he made may for younger talent. I have already wiped the egg off my face. He has single-handedly ignited the spark for a couple of wins through combative explosiveness, massive tackles and clutch goals.

He’s a frustrating beast as he gives away a goal or two a game through silly free kicks and 50-metre penalties, but he’s worth the bargain basement contract he’s on.

Eric Hipwood and Dan McStay have the athletic capability and physical traits to tear games to shreds but, like Charlie, struggle with their set shot kicking. They both need to spend the entire offseason with a specialist goal kicking coach and, if it’s successful, they could prove to be the juggernauts that lead Brisbane to glory.

Darcy Gardiner started the season with a dislocated shoulder. Two years ago I thought he should have been delisted but was voted most improved by his peers last year and elevated to the leadership group. Took him awhile to get up and running this year, but his last three games have been top shelf. Great role player and contributor.

Last of all is Cam Rayner. He spent his offseason using his first pick match payments shouting his mates to nightclubs. Can’t blame the guy, but he ain’t fit, has no thigh gap, and can sprint for about seven seconds. Should be in the reserves but the game time he’s getting will be invaluable once he dedicates an off season to running.

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The seconds
The Lions NEAFL team is unbeaten on top of the ladder. Their injury list is almost non existent so there’s players pushing for selection every week.

All in all Brisbane are a vastly improved side that can match it with most. They have talent on every line, on-field coaches turbo charging the development and a coaching group that is building belief among the entire club.

They should make the finals and my fingers are crossed.

Their list is a bit inexperienced to be pushing for a flag this year or next, but the list is there, the game plan is there, the home ground advantage is there so the window has been cracked open and we all know stranger things have happened.

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Go Lions!