On Tuesday evening, despite some initial technical issues, we got a first glimpse of how domestic Australian football will look in its new home on Channel Ten.
Brisbane Roar played neighbours and NPL leaders Peninsula Power were the first A-League side to appear on the ‘free-to-air’ streaming channel. The Power were the nominal home side, but the tie was played at the Roar’s usual base, the Moreton Daily Stadium, due to its larger capacity, which is a mere 20-minute walk away from AJ Kelly Park and located in the same suburb of Brisbane, Redcliffe.
The NPL side were outclassed in every department – fitness, tactics, execution and individual quality.
Warren Moon showed the utmost respect to the Power by picking what was effectively ten of his first-choice 11, and so the Power would have had to have been at its best given the already challenging situation of part-timers against professionals.
Consequently, it gave us a glimpse of what remains in place from the team that finished in fourth place last year and what further tweaks we can expect to see in the coming season.
There’s been a huge change between the sticks for the Roar, with Jamie Young departing for Western United. Young had been a stalwart for the club ever since ousting Michael Theo as the number one in 2014, and the shot stopper sits as the Roar’s seventh all-time appearance-maker, with 163 games for the club across seven seasons.
Warren Moon has appeared to be putting his faith in 22-year-old Macklin Freke, with the returning 24-year-old Jordan Holmes recently signed as his competition for the number one spot. Against the Power it was hard to get gauge Freke’s level, as he was rarely tested, making only one save of note, and his main function was organising his defence when the Power won set pieces.
Last season he did impress in the two A-League games in which he was picked, in particular against Newcastle when he made a host of saves, but the sample size is limited, and so this change does represent a risk given the stature at the club of the man he is replacing.
The most commonly used backline last season was left-back Corey Brown, centre-back pairing Tom Aldred and Macaulay Gillesphey, with one of Jack Hingert, and Scott Neville or youngster Josh Brindell-South playing on the right. Gillesphey returning to England leaves a huge hole at the back after playing 52 times for the club over the last past two seasons. However, the rest of the backline currently remain with the club.
Hingert now sits as the clubs second highest appearance-maker after playing over 200 games for Brisbane, and he’s one of the few remnants from the side’s golden era ten years ago. Neville, meanwhile, also offers a lot of experience as an A-League mercenary.
The 27-year-old Corey Brown has returned after an unsuccessful spell at the Victory and feels more at home in Brisbane, as shown by his strong performances at left-back. Another full season for him and he will overtake Jamie Young when it comes to Roar games.
While 31-year old captain Tom Aldred is a rock at the back and will enter his third season at the club. Brindell-South is also 27 and will hope to build on his great 2020-21 campaign in his second season at the club. He offers a lot, being able to play on both sides as a fullback.
Youngsters Hassan Ramazani, Izaack Powell and in particular utility player Kai Trewin will all hope for more game time as they look to break into the side.
Against the Power, Moon used Hingert, Neville, Aldred and Brown, which represents a lot of experience and stability. Aldred was always the last man and the organiser, while defensive partner Neville, the more mobile of the two, would sometimes venture forward but often came steaming back to make last-ditch tackles. In one instance he nearly scored an own goal, but his all-action style has always been a feature of his play as a fullback converted into a centre back, and his forward-thinking style brings with it some unavoidable risk.
Expect whoever plays at right centre back, along with both fullbacks, to be a key avenue for assists based on how Brisbane set up on Tuesday night.
Only Sydney FC had a better defensive record than Brisbane last year, and so the side will hope to build on this defensive stability. This is the area of the pitch that has seen the least change.
Jay O’Shea sat out of the game on Tuesday and instead Moon played a very industrious combination of new signing Matti Steinmann flanked by the energy of academy products Kai Trewin and Jesse Daley.
In addition, the most interesting tweak from last season was the role that Rahmat Akbari was given that saw him play a part of a front three and given licence to take players on.
He was by far Brisbane’s best player on the night, always looking to win the ball in high positions and creating a host of chances for his forward players. To finish with a 66 per cent pass completion was a telling stat given that most of these passes were executed in the final third of the pitch.
It will be interesting to see if Akbari drops back into the role that Daley played as a box-to-box player with O’Shea coming back into the team or whether this wide-right position is now Akbari’s to lose.
Steinmann, on the other hand, will be a mainstay in the middle of the park, and his experience will help not only Trewin and Daley but also other prospects, such as Cyrus Dehmie, develop into key parts of the Roar midfield over the next few seasons.
It’s in attack that the club has seen the most change. Out have gone key attackers Dylan-Wenzel Halls and Joey Champness and fringe players Golgol Mebrahtu and Masato Kudo, while the departure of Scott McDonald midway through 2020-21 was never fully accounted for.
In came former Adelaide attacker Nikola Mileusnic after a stint in Denmark, exciting 21-year-old Luke Ivanovic from Sydney FC and 28-year-old Argentine striker Juan Lescano.
With two out of three of these scoring on the competitive debuts, the signs are good. Ivanovic in particular looked very bright and was a strong contender for man of the match along with Akbari.
Mileusnic worked hard, but more end product will be expected from him in this Roar side than was on display during Tuesday’s game. As he showed at Adelaide, he is more than capable. This is despite his underlying stats being impressive – his 70 per cent pass completion rate was the best of the front five.
Lescanois more of an unknown, but a goal on debut is a great way of settling any nerves.
The joker in the pack is 21-year-old Alex Parsons, who appeared as a late substitute in the FFA Cup but scored three goals in the A-League last year and will hope to put pressure on the three new signings and get more game time himself.
Tougher tests will come than the Peninsula Power, but the signs are there that Warren Moon’s side can not only achieve another top-four finish but possibly go on a cup run and bring the FFA cup to Queensland for the first time.
After inheriting a side built by Robbie Fowler, Moon has been able to shape it into his own during the summer, and with a mix of new signings, defensive stalwarts and exciting youth players blossoming, the Roar could well and truly be the surprise package of the season.