How did the Giants win that?

That’s the question many will ask over the next 24 hours, and I’ll try to answer it in this review, but the short form answer is that Greater Western Sydney refused to lay down, despite the Lions peppering the goals in the last quarter. Propped up by their inspirational captain and his blonde lieutenant in defence, the Giants stood tall as Brisbane failed to capitalise on their huge inside 50 advantage.

We’re lucky enough to have a large number of GWS supporters who follow us at The Mongrel, and as the siren went, I found my mind drifting to them. In hostile territory (very hostile at times), and with their backs against the wall, their team had one of the greatest wins in their short history.

It was gutsy, it was ballsy, and it was fantastic.

Now, before we begin, let’s address the elephant in the room here – the umpiring.

I usually don’t make too much of a point about poor umpiring, but I don’t know how I can let this slide. The first half of this game was an absolute disgrace. You know why? Because rather than allowing the game to play out and make decisions based on what was obvious, the umpires decided that they were going to control every part of the game. They would dictate tempo, they would dictate the level of aggression, and they would pay every free kick they could.

Whistle after whistle stopped play, and left supporters of both teams… as well as one particular Mongrel, very frustrated. Perhaps the reputation of the Giants preceded them here? There were 62 free kicks awarded in their victory over the Bulldogs last week, and that was backed up by 54 in this one. No other game has cracked the 50-mark this finals series.

The umps were onto everything – dogs wandering around the nearby neighbourhood would have been going nuts at the sound of repeated whistling throughout the first half, and as the teams walked off at half time, both had a right to feel as though the game was being over-officiated.

Because it was.

Unfortunately for the umpires, once they started calling everything so early in the piece, it left them nowhere to go when it became apparent that the teams were not going to relent in regard to the physical pressure. Here’s the thing – footy is a contact sport. Some may not like it, but bodies will collide and there will be contact. Just because two players come into contact, it does not mean umpires have to blow the whistle and find a free kick. The obvious ones will be paid because… get this, they’re obvious.

Give me a Walkley now, damn it!

The ticky-touch ones… stop searching for them. If they were meant to be paid, they’d be part of the group we just categorised as “obvious”, wouldn’t they?

Well… obviously.

It’s a damn shame that the umpiring was such a feature of the game. I’m sure you’ve heard people state that when the umpires aren’t noticed, they’re doing a good job, right? Well, not only were they noticed, but when the game concluded I knew a couple of them by name. That’s not a good thing.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly

THE GOOD

THE TWIN TOWERS STILL STANDING

I’ve been singing the praises of Phil Davis and Nick Haynes to anyone and everyone who’ll listen this season, and tonight, in a stand-alone, do-or-die final, they both demonstrated to the football world just how damn good they are.

The Giants were under siege in the last quarter. The Lions peppered the goals and looked to be about to wash over the Giants en route to a Preliminary Final.

But not if these two wonderful defenders had anything to do with it. Intercept mark after intercept mark, Haynes and Davis repelled the Brisbane attack. They were a one-two punch that landed several knock out blows to the young and enthusiastic Lions as they simply refused to yield in the face of growing adversity.

During the last quarter, one of our Mongrel writers said that he didn’t realise Haynes was this good. He needs to watch more GWS games, as do many fans because they are missing out on some of the most unsung stars of this competition if they don’t.

Get this – Phil Davis has NEVER made an All-Australian team. Just writing that seems very weird, because he plays like someone who has two or three blazers. Haynes made the squad this season, which was reward for a couple of years of high quality defence and intercept marking.

Between them, they intercepted the ball 21 times tonight and in the end, it was their presence in the back half that provided the difference between the two teams. Composed, resolute and calm, Davis and Haynes may just be the season’s best key defensive duo. They were enormous this evening.

MATT DE BOER AND NICK ROBERSTON

Long term readers will know I am a fan of an accountable midfielder, and this evening we had two at the top of their game.

Here’s the deal – Lachie Neale has had more disposals this season than any Brisbane Lion in history. He is one of the Brownlow favourites and has been roundly recognised as one of the big factors in Brisbane’s climb up the ladder and into the finals this season. I’ve heard from many people that players like Neale are untaggable due to the way they collect the contested footy at stoppages.

I guess those people never told Matt de Boer that, huh?

Had de Boer not suffered a shoulder injury against North Melbourne earlier this season, he could very well have been the lynchpin of the GWS finals surge. He was adding names to his list of victims weekly before he was dumped on his shoulder by a frustrated Ben Cunnington and sidelined for weeks. He has made a huge splash in these finals, rendering first Marcus Bontempelli relatively useless and doing the same this week to Lachie Neale. You’re going to read plenty of praise for others in this column, but I hold none in higher regard than I do Matt de Boer. In an age where players think about stats and how they reflect on them as players, de Boer is all about the team, and anything he gets personally along the way is like a bonus.

The one change for Brisbane this weekend was Nick Robertson coming in for Mitch Robinson, and though he was never going to give the Lions what Mitch does, Robertson provided something else – a tenacious defensive accountability. The player that felt the brunt of that effort was Lachie Whitfield.

Whitfield had a blinder last week, and is one of the more damaging players in the game when up and running, but against Robertson, Whitfield found himself harassed and under pressure every time he went near the ball.

So intense was the Robertson pressure that even when Whitfield did find a couple of metres of space, the implied pressure was enough to see him rush the disposal and turn it over. It got to the point where Whitfield started feeling as though he needed to do something special to impact the game. He flew into packs courageously and came off second best, and when he finally did get the ball and get running, he’d sell a teammate into trouble by trying to hold onto the footy for too long before dishing off.

There were some lessons learnt in the game tonight.

One – Both Lachies are susceptible to close attention.

Two – Don’t screw with Matt de Boer

Three – Nick Robertson may have found his calling.

DANIEL RICH

With the news coming through that Luke Hodge has officially hung up the boots (again), there will be a lot of eyes on Daniel Rich next year as he is elevated to the role of general in the Lions back half.

Hodge has been immense for the Lions, but in that time, the blossoming of Daniel Rich into the player everyone thought he’d be when he won the Rising Star award all those years ago has been a wonderful addition to the Lions’ story this season.

Averaging career-highs in disposals and rebound 50s, Rich has benefited not only from the influence of Hodge, but from Chris Fagan constructing his defence to give Rich every chance to excel.

If I asked you right now what Rich’s greatest weapon was, the answer is quite simple, isn’t it? It’s that cannon on the end of his leg that shoots the ball downfield. Well, he was able to employ that to great effect as he had yet another game picking up 25 touches across half back and gaining an amazing 747 metres for the Lions.

Now, whilst those two stats are impressive, the fact he did it whilst running at 84% efficiency makes it even better. Not only was Rich hitting targets, he was hitting long targets.

So, how will Rich fare without Hodge back there to direct traffic next season? Will the structures hold and will he have as much time and space to work in as he did this season? With the Lions bowing out in straight sets, there is plenty to work on, and Rich will have to replicate what he’s been able to accomplish this season if Brisbane are to return to the finals.

There are no guarantees in footy. Just ask Melbourne.

STEF MARTIN

So half way through last year, there were three big rucks in the league. Max Gawn, Brodie Grundy and this bloke – Stef Martin.

He was just as important to the Lions as the other two were to their teams, but as the season wore on, Gawn and Grundy cemented themselves as the best big men in the game.

It should have come as no real surprise that just over 12 months later, Martin had the ability to tear a game apart the way he did in this one. If not for a series of cramps, we may have seen Martin have a larger influence on the result. He dominated the ruck contests against Shane Mumford, drawing free kick after free kick, using Mumford’s bulk against him. He utilised his superior judgement to accrue 11 clearances for the game.

If there was one contest that looked as though it could swing the game, it was Martin’s dominance in the ruck, but fatigue conspired to rob Martin of the chance to do that.

Still, with 19 contested touches as part of his 23 touches, Martin has a huge influence on the contest when he was able to get around. This may have been his most complete ruck game ever.

MY MAN TOBY

So I just want to float this now – is there a chance that Toby Greene might be this season’s Mr September?

I know a lot of you will probably rail against the thought, or do the equivalent of stamp your feet and put your fingers in your ears, but with 30 touches and two goals playing 80% of his time as a forward, Greene did some extraordinary things in this game.

His kick out of mid-air for his second goal was spectacular, and his ability to recover from a dropped mark to create space and snap a goal to open his account was almost as good. I get why people hate Toby Greene – I reckon it’s for the same reasons that I like him, but as much as you may hate him, you may also feel some respect for his game.

Greene finished with ten score involvements, five clearances in very limited midfield minutes, four tackles and five inside fifties. Over the first two games of the 2019 finals series he is averaging 25 touches and two and a half goals per game.  That is the sort of output that simply cannot be denied.

With one more solid game, we could see Greene shoot to the lead of the race for the Gary Ayres Medal. Everyone loves the Norm Smith Medal (and let’s not discount him from those calculations just yet) but the Gary Ayres Medal is something that will gain more esteem as years tick by. Already, Dustin Martin and Steele Sidebottom have their name etched in stone as winners of the best player in finals award. Greene is well-placed to join them this season.

Like him, love him or hate him, he has been a spectacular finals player this season, and with the pressure right on him at the start of this game, he did not shy away from getting involved, going after the footy with a little of the rough stuff.

Vintage Toby Greene.

INTESTINAL FORTITUDE

Hats off to Charlie Cameron – arms are not supposed to bend that way, and it looked as though he may have been in for an early night after his first major contest of the game. Cradling his arm, Cameron made his way to the bench.

A few pieces of tape, five minutes to get his composure, and a lot of grimacing, and Cameron was back on the park. He attacked the high ball inside 50 and took a strong mark, but the interesting part came with the spoil from Aidan Corr, who made sure he tested out whether Charlie was going to be okay or not. He barrelled into Charlie, and sent him crashing to the ground. The agony on Cameron’s face told the story of his just how much the elbow was bothering him, but he got up, went back, took his kick and slotted a great goal from the boundary.

That was guts.

I know this is a very different circumstance, but the feel of it all reminded me of the 89 Grand Final, with Dermott Brereton going down early but gathering himself to impact the game soon after. No, Charlie didn’t have the stuffing knocked out of him, but he did have an arm hanging limp by his side for most of the first quarter. Yet there he was, contesting and putting his body on the line – fighting through the pain.

It was a real highlight of the game, and the season, to see Cameron stand up under that sort of pressure. After two less than stellar outings against Dylan Grimes, he risked limping into the off-season with his tail between his legs, but in returning to the field, sucking it up and continuing on, Cameron wrote his own ending to 2019, and it is one that will see him remembered as a courageous young man who put the club before his own safety.

What a shame umpire Shaun Ryan decided to play the role of nurse maid to detract from his efforts.

KELLY COOL UNDER PRESSURE

The Lions were coming late in the last quarter, but Josh Kelly stood tall in two key circumstances to help steer the Giants to the win.

The first came from a huge communication breakdown inside the Giants’ attacking 50 arc, where he was able to find plenty of space out the back when there should have been absolutely none.

Provided with a nice screen by Toby Greene, Kelly was able to take a chest mark uncontested after Jeremy Cameron lowered his eyes and spotted him after signalling he was going to have a shot. Casually, Kelly curled the ball through to give the Giants the lead.

The Lions hit back, and on a 50-50 call, Allen Christensen was awarded a free kick and duly converted to give the Lions the ascendancy again. Back into the centre the ball went and immediately, it was Kelly combining with Toby Greene to clear the ball and get the Giants the next inside 50 to get things going their way again.

Kelly has had an injury-interrupted season. I am quite eager to see what he is able to produce once he gets a clean run at a season, but for the time being, he is definitely producing enough to make the Giants fans thank their lucky stars that he re-signed with them earlier this season.

He finished with 26 touches, eight score involvements and six inside 50s for the game, and when the Giants needed someone to stand up in the last quarter, he was their man.

THE BAD

ZORKO TALKS THE TALK AND FAILS TO WALK THE WALK

You know what – I liked Zorko’s game, but his constant staging for free kicks and incessant complaining when they don’t go his way just gives me the absolute shits.

When he attacked the footy tonight, he was brilliant. His long kicking inside 50 resulted in a couple of direct goal assists and he was the only player to record double figures in inside 50 deliveries. My beef with him comes from the way he conducts himself once the ball is dead.

Yes, he is yappy and antagonistic, but unlike others, who press the buttons of opponents, Zorko isn’t doing so to fly the flag and make a statement – he is doing it purely to earn a free kick. As soon as some contact comes back the other way he is falling over and throwing himself to the ground to attempt to milk a free. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing way to play. He was told again by the umpire tonight to stop diving (timestamp of around 4.45 remaining in the first quarter if you’d like to check) but that didn’t seem to deter him.

The second dive came just after Charlie Cameron slammed through his monster goal toward the end of the third quarter. Zorko and Heath Shaw got tangled, and it resulted with Zorko ending up on his backside, appealing for the free kick and free shot at goal, then berating the umpire for not indulging him. It’s a damn shame too, as Zorko was in the middle of probably his best five minutes of the game at that stage.

Many have spoken about his leadership this season and how much he has improved as the captain of the club, but when your captain is going limp when an opposition player touches him, I have to ask – is that leadership?

Or is that a sign of weakness?

Dayne Zorko was probably one of the best five players on the park tonight, but his efforts to try to trick the umpires into rewarding him with a free kick just rub me the wrong way. He is a four time best and fairest player at Brisbane and I am sure he is held in the highest regard internally. However in closing, I leave you with one more question regarding how this sort of flopping around reflects in terms of leadership.

How many times did you see Luke Hodge try to milk free kicks tonight?

I rest my case.

MUMFORD DESTROYED

Eight free kicks against… Stef Martin tore Shane Mumford a new one in this game, and did it with apparent ease.

I’ve sung Martin’s praises above, but what we need to do here is focus on how poor big Mummy was. And the reason we need to do this is because in the coming week, he will have to front up against the best ruckman in the league – Brodie Grundy, and this could end up being carnage.

Mummy found it borderline impossible to move Martin, who is a beast of a man, off the spot. Mumford did lay nine tackles (you do that when you’re second to the ball so often) but he was soundly beaten around the ground by his opponent, and also allowed Martin to collect a game high 11 clearances.

Mummy was brought back into the GWS side to aid them with their ruck shortfall. He has battled on admirably, but he was completely exposed in this game. He’ll need to be a lot better next week, or GWS may find they lose the game in the ruck.

THE UGLY

DON’T TOUCH CHARLIE… HEAVEN FORBID

Seriously, I almost fell off the couch when I heard umpire Shaun Ryan wander over and tell Adam Kennedy to more or less leave Charlie Cameron alone.

Shaun… GTFO of here.

This is the AFL finals. This is where players play through pain and stand up to physical intimidation. This is where reputations are made and lost, and before you trotted over to Adam Kennedy like a concerned grandparent at his local junior footy, Charlie Cameron was in the process of creating a lasting memory due to his guts, his will, and his ability to play through pain.

Frankly, he didn’t need your intervention. He was on the park, which to me, intimates that he is healthy. He was competing in a full-contact sport and you decided to interject yourself and warn Kennedy not to touch him again or you’ll be paying a free kick against him?

“Contact… back pocket… stand beside.”

Seriously, that’s netball stuff.

It was bad enough that the whistle was blowing every 15 seconds as it was. What the game didn’t need at that stage was the perception that an umpire was going to start protecting a player from any physical attention.

A few on our Facebook page cited the rule during the game and to the letter of the law, they were right – “A free kick will be awarded if a player makes unreasonable or unnecessary contact with an injured player.”

Fair enough, but this is in place to stop players contacting injured players as they are on the ground or leaving the field of play – those in need of attention, not those on the field 30 minutes after an incident that has evidently not prevented him from playing on.

Joel Selwood was reported for pushing his own brother after his sibling tried to clean him up and came off second best. Nick Riewoldt was taken to task when he opted to stay on – thereby declaring himself fit to play against the Lions way back at the beginning of the 2000’s. If you’re gonna stay on the park, you’d best be ready to deal with comes your way.

Charlie Cameron was courageous. Charlie Cameron was inspirational. And Charlie Cameron may have overcome the attention of Adam Kennedy all by himself.

But we’ll never know, because an umpire decided to put a stop to something that was just getting started, and it detracted from the gladiatorial spectacle of such a tough game.

QUICK BITS

Loved the work of Luke Hodge in this one. As I started to write this review, word filtered through that he was hanging up the boots for good. I’m kind of glad he is. I’m sure he smells a premiership with this group of Lions in the not too distant future, but with old legs and long recoveries the order of the day at this stage of his career, it is the right time and the right move for him.

Hodge has been a revelation in Brisbane. I did not expect him to remain as injury-free and as effective as he has, but never have I been more content in being incorrect. Thanks for the last two years, Hodgey… they’ve been great.

It was a nice game of redemption for Eric Hipwood this week, as he was a complete non-factor in the loss to Richmond last weekend. He clunked some marks and converted his opportunities well, and a performance like this in a big final will buoy him with confidence for finals to come.

The Jeremy Cameron v Harris Andrews match-up was always going to be a belter, and though JC ended with 16 touches and three goals, I can’t help but think they battled to a draw. If you said to me before the game that JC would end up with three straight, I really wouldn’t have known what to think in terms of the result. I’ve seen him kick three or four and be a non-factor. Whilst he was far from that this evening, he was not dominant. Just as interesting, however, was the inability of Andrews to zone off Cameron to make pack spoils, so that should be taken into account when assessing their duel as well.

A bit of a quieter one from Tim Taranto this week, but Jacob Hopper was in the thick of things again. I love the way he goes about it, and within the next two years, I reckon we’ll be talking about him as one of the best contested ball players in the game.

I know I went to town on the umpires above, but the second half was better overall. Tell me, if they can let the little things go at that stage of the game, and the game is inarguably better, why not do it earlier as well? GWS were pinged for a couple of ridiculous deliberate out of bounds decisions in the first half, yet late in the game, identical situations warranted nothing but a throw in. It’s all about consistency, isn’t it?

After a good outing last week where he showed that he may be “built for finals”, Cam Rayner went back into his shell this week. He had only five effective touches and a goal, but it is his one tackle that is the damning stat. When you’re not getting a heap of the footy, you’ve got to do the hard stuff to make up for it. Rayner didn’t do that.

The throw from Sam Reid to get the Giants running in the last quarter and ultimately part of the winning play… yeah, that wasn’t a great look, however if we go back just a little bit, I am pretty sure the goal Eric Hipwood kicked to open the last quarter also looked to be the result of a very dubious “handball” from Jarrod Berry. As a matter of fact, it looked very much like Berry handed the ball directly to the running Hipwood to set the goal up. So I reckon those two instances cancel each other out… not that I expect any Lions fans to agree with me on that one, but watch it again- it’s a throw.

Not sure that Adam Tomlinson made the most of his recall to the side. He was a passenger in this one.

Nice end to the season from Jarryd Lyons, who had a fantastic first season for the Lions, shrugging off any questions around the circumstances of his departure from Gold Coast. They really could have used a player capable of collecting 27 touches and five clearances in a high pressure game this season. Alas, they gave him away.

So next week the Giants move into the prelim against the Pies. As strange as it may sound to those who haven’t followed GWS this season, they are a definite chance to get a win here. I watched them tear Collingwood apart at the ‘G last year, and with the talent and attitude they’re demonstrating currently they’d be asking themselves “Why can’t we beat them? We’ve done it before.”

And there’s plenty in that question. Why can’t Jeremy Cameron get a hold of Jordan Roughead or Jeremy Howe? Why can’t Toby Greene get under the guard of Jack Crisp or Brayden Maynard? Why can’t de Boer put the clamps on Scott Pendlebury or Steele Sidebottom?

There are plenty of subplots to next week’s preliminary final, and you’ll read about them all on The Mongrel this week.

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