The Brisbane Lions reversed the result from their earlier meeting this season to record an impressive 18-point victory to maintain a seven-game winning streak that stretches back to June 8. Despite the contrasting ladder positions before the bounce, this game was considered vitally important to the finals chances of both sides, Brisbane to consolidate a top 4 placing and even a home Qualifying final up for grabs, while the Dogs were hoping to claim that final spot in the top 8, and from there anything could happen, remember 2016?
The match itself was played at a frenetic pace throughout the evening, both sides employing an exciting brand of attacking play where the aim is to outscore their opponent rather than just restrict. The Lions jumped out to a 4 goal lead at quarter time thanks to greater composure with the ball in hand moving forward. While both teams attacked through the midfield hoping to burst through the high defensive lines, Brisbane proved more adept and were able to keep the good ball users, Suckling, Crozier and Daniel relatively quiet. The flow-on effect meant poor users, Cordy, Trengove and skipper Wood (only 50% disposal efficiency on the night) were usually the ones clearing the ball and led to a large discrepancy in turnover numbers.
The workrate and discipline required by the Brisbane forwards to prevent the better Bulldogs users getting the ball was a real credit to strategy and the maturity of this group.
One of the major beneficiaries early on was the re-invented Mitch Robinson, a player who perfectly encapsulates the Fagan era at Brisbane – fearless, offensive-minded, aggressive to the point to self-harm – but in wonderful form. His 24 touches, eight marks, six desperate tackles, four inside 50s and two goals, the second from a towering mark just before half-time saw him claim back-to-back best afield honours.
The Bulldogs dominated the statistics in the first half, leading possessions by 34, inside 50s 30-28, clearances 17-11, tackles 30-27, but the intercept possession count of 45-39 to Brisbane led to a five goals six to three behinds monstering in scores from turnovers. To further illustrate the team first ethos of the home side they led 1%ers 40-23, which would no doubt please the Brisbane hierarchy.
Brisbane’s clean and efficient ball movement inside 50 was in direct contrast to their opponent, and the polar opposite of their earlier clash in Ballarat which saw them squander opportunities to build a match-wining lead on that occasion. The Dogs meanwhile repeatedly took the wrong options, Lachie Hunter one of the main offenders, repeatedly turning certain goals into clearances by a well organised Lions defence led by the general Luke Hodge and complemented by talls Andrews, Gardiner and Adams with Witherden and the impressive Answerth providing safe hands and dash.
Hodge again ruled the defence as he has done for the better part of two decades and in spite of his 35 years. His 14 disposals coming at the incredible rate of 100% efficiency, he has the rare ability to make time stand still when in possession which is even more surprising as he once lost a sprint to racecar driver Mark Winterbottom in a Channel 9 cross-promotional series. If he somehow manages to lead this club to premiership glory, he may just inch ahead as the best player of his generation. Regardless he has certainly elevated his legacy from unanimous first ballot Hall-of-Famer to almost certain Legend.
The commentators asked the question asked if more teams should try the Luke Hodge recruiting route, the problem with this is that it is hard to replicate one of the best players the game has seen. Longevity, impact, match-winning capability, and aura have been easily translated by this giant to a hungry team in the Queensland sun.
The Dogs were best served by their midfield maestro’s Bontempelli and Macrae. The still somehow underrated Macrae ended with 45 disposals, 12 clearances, 21 contested possessions and eight I50s. If it was possible the Bont was even more impressive and may add another two Brownlow votes in pursuit of who I think is the current leader, Lachie Neale. Bontempelli finished with 35 disposals, seven tackles and five each of I50s, R50s and clearances. He also kicked a wonderful goal late in the last to breathe life into the Dogs challenge before the Lions steadied.
Their Brisbane counterparts were perhaps more subdued on the night, but the slack was well and truly picked up by others as the Lions delivered a team victory. Neale burst to life after half-time adding nine disposals and a crucial goal, but 20 touches was well down on his season average of 30.9, Zorko was important in the second quarter, his precision kicking setting up multiple shots on goal and he appeared ready to assume his usual impact until a hamstring injury ended his day. He was confident after the match it was nothing major, but a regulation strain would mean he won’t be seen again until the first week of finals. The decrease in output by the Lions prime movers was more than made up for by a breakout game from Jarrod Berry who repeatedly won the hard ball inside and then forced his way outside to drive his team forward. 25 touches and eight inside 50s don’t do justice to the impact he had on the match result as one of the best three afield.
The third quarter showcased the best of both teams, firstly Brisbane peppered the goals without success until a deft tap by Martin to Neale ended with the ever-dangerous Charlie Cameron, then big Oscar McInerney turned provided for a clever left foot snap by the silky McCluggage. When Dan Rich’s rocket foot launched the Sherrin which dropped gently into Cameron’s lap for a third the Lions had skipped out to a 43-point built on selfless footy by their forwards, great leading patterns to allow one on one contests.
Stefan Martin was a star throughout the night, his 21 disposals made up of a game high 15 contested to go along with 32 hit outs and six clearances. Perhaps stung by his poor showing earlier in the year when Trengove gave him a bath, Martin returned the favour on the unfortunate Tim English who shows huge potential but is regularly beaten badly by his opponent. Charlie Cameron was again busy, adding four goals to his All Australian resume from 13 disposals at a spectacular 92.5% efficiency.
With the result teetering on the edge the Dogs were stung into action, Dunkley (31 disposals and nine tackles), Bailey Smith and Johaniessen pairing with their two aforementioned stars to provide the impetus for four unanswered goals to drag the margin back to a manageable 17 points at three-quarter time. Former Lion Josh Schache was good throughout the night, as boos resonated throughout the crowd accompanying each of his possessions.
The Dogs renaissance built on a tweak in their execution moving forward with short precise kicks inside fifty replacing the previous haphazard long ball which was easily stymied by the home side. No surprise that elite users Suckling and Crozier found more time and space on the outside to correspond with this change.
The last quarter was an arm wrestle with Brisbane dominating for long periods but unable to put the four points away, while the Dogs were able to score just often enough to keep in touch. It took Eric Hipwood to finally ice the game, and his 14-disposal night punctuated with 10 marks could’ve been much more productive than two goals if he had converted better.
TOP 5 INTEREST POINTS:
The Bulldogs finished with 72 more disposals, ten more clearances and 4 more inside 50 entries, but Brisbane had eight players with over 80% disposal efficiency compared to the Dogs two.
Easton Wood had a shocking evening, recording the lowest disposal efficiency of just 50 for his side, and after returning late in the game from a head knock proceeded to turn over the ball again for the goal that cemented the loss.
Lincoln McCarthy with a 33% efficiency was perhaps even worse, and what began as a bright evening with several fierce attacks on the ball and score involvements took a dramatic turn for the worst as he somehow messed up a simple goal when he fumbled the ball in an empty goal square.
Cam Rayner showed significant improvement in work rate during the game adding a bone-crushing hip and shoulder to JJ shortly after converting an excellent contested mark.
Dwayne Russell claimed the silver-tongue mantle from Dennis Commetti with this gem after Ed Richards inexcusably slipped on the pristine surface while attempting to shoot on goal, “Like a little dog on lino”.
WHERE TO NOW?
The Lions lost second spot on percentage to the Eagles but have now joined Geelong in a tussle for top spot. They host the hapless Suns next week in the Q-clash and a big win could be important in their hopes to secure two games at the Gabbatoir in September. The likely loss of their captain Zorko will hurt, but the possible return of Tom Cutler could offset that with big assignments on the horizon against the Cats and Tigers.
The Dogs missed a chance to draw level with eighth-placed Adelaide on ten wins, but still have the opportunity to win their next two against the Bombers and Giants to set up a round 23 elimination final with the Crows.