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The Roar



'We have our flag favourites': Talking points from Melbourne's masterclass

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28th August, 2021
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It wasn’t as ugly as the other qualifying final on Friday night, but Melbourne were comprehensive victors over Brisbane in tonight’s game and are now the firm premiership favourites.

As impressive as the Demons were, the Lions were bitterly disappointing in a performance that saw them completely outworked and outcoached. Here are my talking points from the match.

Can anyone beat Melbourne from here?

Both qualifying final winners look to have massively shortened their odds with dominant performances in the first week.

But the minor premiers look to have stamped their authority as 2021’s team to beat at just the right time with a masterful effort that ticked all the right boxes.

They monstered the Lions in contested ball (163-141), inside 50s (68-45), marks inside 50 (15-5) and contested marks (12-3).

Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, Clayton Oliver, Max Gawn, Alex Neal-Bullen and Angus Brayshaw all ran rampant in the middle, their defensive setup seemed impenetrable at times and it was only some inaccuracy in front of goal on their part that prevented the margin from blowing out beyond five and a half goals.

The Demons were dominant in their home-and-away meeting with fellow preliminary finalist Port Adelaide and have won three of four meetings against their potential preliminary final opponents in Geelong and GWS – putting them in pole position to claim this year’s flag.

Charlie Spargo of the Demons celebrates a goal

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


Jason Dunstall heralded the performance as a real coming of age for the Dees in Fox Footy’s commentary.

“They now have the belief that what they’re doing is right and is going to take them all the way,” he said.

“This feels like Richmond in 2017,” added Jonathan Brown.

“Feels like a similar storyline … the energy, the emotion and this whole storyline around Melbourne, feels like that Richmond run of 2017.”

Midfield bloodbath leaves a lot for Brisbane to ponder…

Lachie Neale has been credited, at times, with single-handedly turning Brisbane into a contender – and he was the only Lions midfielder who could walk off with his head held high.

He was everywhere with 46 disposals, 13 clearances and five score involvements, but had virtually no hope from his engine room teammates.

Jarryd Lyons rebounded from an eight-disposal first half to finish with 27, but went at sub-50 per cent disposal efficiency.


McCluggage improved his half time tally of ten touches to 24, but had very little impact. Dayne Zorko battled hard to finish with 20, Mitch Robinson uncharacteristically finished with the solitary tackle, while Daniel Rich’s 26 out of defence made him the only other Lion with 20 or more touches.

It was a stunningly poor performance from Brisbane’s midfielders – especially in the first half – and, while they were able to catch up somewhat in the second stanza, the damage had well and truly been done.

They’ll need a massive improvement if they’re to avoid a straight sets exit at the hands of either the Bulldogs or Bombers next week.

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…and it was the same story down back as well

The marks inside 50 stat told two stories.

Brisbane’s tally of five – less than half of their season average – tells you they struggled to work out a new structure after Daniel McStay was subbed out with concussion in the first quarter and that Melbourne’s intercepting defenders were switched on.

But Melbourne’s tally of 15 earned the Lions back six the ire of the Fox Footy panel at half time.

Jonathan Brown said the Brisbane defenders were “all at sea”, with Nick Riewoldt saying “all at sea is putting it kindly.”

Riewoldt singled out Harris Andrews for criticism, saying “that’s as bad a half of footy as I’ve seen him play. The complete lack of desperation to actually play on someone and beat someone; you can’t get it all on your own terms all the time, trying to zone off and play pretty intercept footy.”

Harris Andrew of the Lions kicks

Harris Andrews (Photo by Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Jason Dunstall expanded that to the entire Lions back six.


“When you look at the positioning of the Lions defenders … it’s like they don’t know whether to play in front, whether to play behind, whether to sag off – they’re getting caught out all the time,” he said.

The stats make it hard to argue with that assessment. Ben Brown played one his best games for his new club with nine marks and six score involvements, while Bayley Fritsch got off the chain with four goals in a night that saw Andrews and Marcus Adams have their colours lowered.

Outcoached, outworked or both?

Brisbane’s gameplan was, in fairness, thrown a significant curveball in McStay’s early injury.

The addition of a second genuine key forward had been immense for the Lions all season and their struggles to adapt after Eric Hipwood’s season-ending injury made that plain.

So, when McStay went down and Chris Fagan had only Rhys Mathieson to replace him with, magnets needed to be shuffled.

But did Fagan shuffle them enough, or in time?

Ex-Brisbane coach Justin Leppitsch felt in commentary that his successor had failed to adapt his team’s strategy after seeing kick after kick inside 50 inflict no damage on the Demon defence.


“When you’ve got no Daniel McStay and Eric Hipwood’s out of your team, if you move slow, that means you have to kick it long. If you kick it long, you need talls so if you don’t have talls, you’ve got to play fast footy,” he said.

Lions coach Chris Fagan

Chris Fagan (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Matthew Richardson, on the other hand, noted a gulf in the work rate between the two midfield brigades.

“The Melbourne midfielders are getting goal side of the Brisbane midfielders, they’re just running harder defensively at the moment. That was just a wave of runners … they had options galore,” he said in relation to Fritsch’s second goal.

“Just working a bit harder both ways at the moment,” he added.

Whichever factor was the true culprit in Brisbane’s bad loss, they need it sorted quickly.