The question was posed in the Mongrel group chat after Saturday’s games as to whether we’d has a truly entertaining, re-watchable game so far in the 2019 season. Well, it took until the 16th match of the year for us to get one but Sunday’s clash at Marvel was a belter. The contest see-sawed, we saw some outstanding midfield work and a close game that only blew out in the last few minutes.
For North supporters, after last week’s effort, or lack thereof, you’d have to be impressed with the improvement from your boys, who definitely came to play against the Lions. Conversely, the relatively long-suffering Brisbane faithful would have to be rapt with the way their team has kicked off this season, one in which they’ve been tipped to climb up the ladder. No one is saying the F word yet, but it’s easier to play September footy starting from 2-0 rather than 0-2.
So, to cut to the chase, what happened?
It may not be a successful year for North, but they’ll be better in the long run for it
Round One form is almost always overplayed in the media, and that’s fair enough. After a long off-season, it’s easy to base judgments off 120 minutes of football. What has to be kept in mind is that North Melbourne, last weekend, completed one of the most notoriously difficult road trips in the competition with a backline held together by more tape than Chris Judd’s shoulders, and while they did get belted in the process, that shouldn’t necessarily mean anyone in the media should write them off straight away. They looked better today, and clearly the absence of Scott Thompson hurt them more than we recognised last week.
Additionally, their much maligned recruiting process might actually be starting to pay off. With the news being confirmed this week that the club offered Jordan de Goey a million dollars a year over five years only to be turned down, it might have been fair to continue to question the policy of throwing cash at every free agent under the sun but the additions of Aaron Hall, Jared Polec, and to a lesser extent Jasper Pittard and Dom Tyson have added some necessary run to complement the hard-nosed midfield of Higgins and Cunnington.
Hall is something of an early season specialist, as Jonathan Brown described him on the broadcast. At the Gold Coast he polled nine Brownlow votes in the first three games of the 2016 season, and at his new club today he showed some of his evident talent, with his 26 touches coming at 81% efficiency and including 7 inside 50’s, a goal and 569 metres gained.
He was quieter after half time as North dropped off, but he absolutely makes this side better, relieving some of the dependence on the two midfield bulls. Polec was also very handy today, and provided a lot of run with two goals and 635 metres gained. North might not win many games this year, but these two, in addition to Cunnington, Higgins and Ziebell, who I will get to, are too proud, and too talented, to just roll over.
On those last three, I feel they continue to be underrated outside the four walls of Arden Street. Higgins and Cunnington had 74 touches between them today, and if the Roos had won, it would pretty much have been off their backs. Ziebell also bobbed up with two important goals, and looks like North’s second most dangerous forward. A good move by Brad Scott to throw him up there last year and to stick with it now. Ultimately the Roos definitely had their chances to win this one, but were over-run by the better side on the day.
Brisbane rushed themselves too much early, but showed again they can fight their way back into games
For the second week in a row, Brisbane found themselves trailing by a considerable margin in the first quarter. For the second week in a row, Brisbane walk away with four points under their belts. We’re seeing the building blocks here of what will be a very good side sooner rather than later, and despite letting their opposition get the jump on them again, the Lions showed they will be no easy beats this year.
Early in the game, Brisbane had their chances for sure, with a high number of inside 50’s. Is there a more overrated stat in footy than that though? Quantitatively, winning the inside 50 count, as Melbourne showed this weekend, does not automatically lead to scoreboard ascendancy, and the quality of Brisbane’s inside 50’s early on was subpar at best. I’ll get to their forwards later in this article but they clearly need big output from their smalls to win games at the moment, with Hipwood and McStay not able to be relied upon to take marks and kick bags.
It may partially be a case of Brisbane’s young players getting easily frustrated that leads to their opposition being able to pile on goals quickly. Although North didn’t capitalise on their ascendancy as much as they should have, they have a good blend of experienced players that are able to pull the kids into line. On that, I really loved the game of Mitch Robinson today. He is more than capable of doing something absolutely stupid and getting himself rubbed out, but he never shirks a contest and his mark late in the last quarter, running back with the flight, essentially sealed the game for his side.
In terms of experienced heads, Lachie Neale was outstanding today. With no Dayne Beams, the former Freo man looks a more than adequate replacement, and his clearance in the last to get the ball to Charlie Cameron was a thing of absolute beauty. If Brisbane do have success this year, I reckon a lot of it rests on his shoulders as their new number one midfielder.
All in all, a very impressive effort from the Lions to fight back from a 20 point deficit twice. In recent times, if they had managed to claw back a lead and then have the opposition kick away again, they might have given up, but that’s not the case with this side anymore.
There’s still room for an old-fashioned one-on-one
This might be a pretty obvious point, given the introduction of the 6-6-6 rule, but the contest between presumptive All Australian Full Back Harris Andrews and reigning Coleman Medal Runner Up Ben Brown was an enthralling one that proved the days of Jakovich v. Carey aren’t quite forgotten yet.
If Harris Andrews played for a Melbourne side, the football media would be lapping him up. He’s an absolute star, rarely beaten in a contest, and will be the linchpin of Brisbane’s defence for a long time to come. Late in the first quarter, his effort to spoil an incoming ball then tackle the opposition twice and lock the ball up proved that. It’s hard to see him not earning a first All Australian jumper come September, with no Alex Rance to play spoiler.
As for Brown, it’s no secret that he loves a set shot. In my notes I suggested he’s a one trick pony but he proved today he’s a bit better than that, with two of his three goals coming from well-judged snaps. He can be his own worst enemy though, and I think in a forward line that relies almost totally on him, he may need to start going below his knees a bit better. There was an incident in the second quarter where he needed to pick the ball up and dish it off but he couldn’t and Brisbane took it up the other end, where Zorko missed. Also, his effort to win a second 50 metre penalty was a bit foolish, given by the time he ended up taking his shot he’d run upwards of 100 metres and was justifiably exhausted, and missed his shot.
I think Andrews takes the points here, just, and it played a big hand in Brisbane’s win. It might have been viewed differently if Brown had kicked 5.0 instead of 3.2, but I reckon the former’s 14 one percenters show his importance to his team.
The Lions Forward Line will be scary, and soon
In a young side, you’re always going to get flashes of brilliance, but what we’ve seen from Cam Rayner and, to a lesser extent, Eric Hipwood so far this season has shown that the Lions have assembled a stack of young talent on their list.
Rayner had plenty of moments today. I would have loved to see him kick 3 or 4 goals, rather than 1.3, but it’s proof that when he gets going, he will tear games to shreds. He’s kicked 3.6 so far this year, and was unfortunate to go off today with what looked to be a bad corky, but it’s scary to think he’s only in his second year.
Hipwood can be clumsy at the best of times, and his attempted spoil on Ben McKay proved that, but he’s shown equally how classy he can be. His finish late in the third from outside the arc highlighted that, and I would have loved to see him back himself from closer in earlier in that quarter rather than attempting to square the ball. Still, for a big man, he’s very athletic, and his strength will obviously improve. When that happens, he’ll be hard to beat.
I thought Oscar McInerney was Brisbane’s best forward on the day. His three contested marks and two goals came at a critical time as North opened up a game high 22 point lead, and he looked unbeatable in the air. McInerney looks important to Brisbane’s structures, and doesn’t look out of place as a forward, meaning he’ll likely be persisted with.
And to the smalls. Charlie Cameron could genuinely will his side into the top 8 if he continues to perform as he has in the first two rounds. Had only had 5 touches and kicked one goal until the last minute of the third quarter, and had been comprehensively beaten by Marley Williams, but essentially won his side the game after that point and now sits equal second on the Coleman ladder. Lincoln McCarthy, on the other hand, didn’t have a lot of influence early, but still kicked two, including the goal that put Brisbane ahead for good, to take his season tally to 6. He’s a very handy pick up for the Lions.
Ultimately, I think both sides can be happy with the way the game panned out today. North have introduced a lot of youth over the last few seasons and this may be the year they bottom out, but they’ll definitely be better in the long run for doing so. Just look at Brisbane as an example of that. Their game against Port at the Gabba looms as an enthralling clash next week, while North will attempt to break their duck against the Hawks at the G.
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