You have to wonder how this four week block of games is going to shape the season, don’t you?
Brisbane have been able to get home after a loss to the Hawks in Round One, and now sit at 2-1. The West Coast Eagles are also settling in Queensland, and they’re not liking the environment anywhere near as much as their opponents of tonight.
The Lions weren’t all that convincing against Fremantle last week, but did enough to get the points. Still, the work of the West Coast Eagles in falling to Gold Coast made everyone else look like world beaters.
And so it was that two teams sitting on one win apiece clashed in Round Three. Both had designs on the premiership, and both had been rather underwhelming to this point.
Something had to give, and for the second week in a row, it was the resolve of the Eagles that faltered.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
It’s no coincidence that once Hugh McCluggage started motoring in the third quarter, we started to see the Brisbane Lions hit their stride.
I’ve been conducting a weekly Wingman ratings column for the first two rounds (and will continue for every round – see below) and conspicuous by his absence the first two rounds was McCluggage. It was a little bit concerning for me as I was a big wrap for him in 2019, and expected the improvement to continue this season.
Alas, in the first two games the Brisbane star in the making failed to hit the 20-disposal mark, and the Lions really missed his run and moreso his composure.
Luckily, it was not lacking at all in this game.
McCluggage led all players with ten score involvements and though a few of his kicks were errant, the way he stepped up in the third quarter, where he collected nine of his 26 touches set the scene for the Lions to put some distance between them and their rivals.
With a total of 611 metres gained for the night, McCluggage was back to playing similarly to last season, winning the majority of his footy forward of centre, and ensuring the Lions got deep entries.
Whilst not up there with his absolute best outings, McCluggage showed plenty of signs that it was the form he showed in the first two rounds that was the aberration, and if he continues to accumulate touches on the outside like he did against the Eagles, he will be a key to Brisbane being a very active member of the 2020 finals.
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
If you ever have any doubt as to whether Lachie Neale hurts teams, I reckon asking the West Coast Eagles this evening would give you a good indication as to not IF he hurts, but how much. Neale cruised to the lazy 32 touches and snuck forward to punish the Eagles with two telling goals.
His ability to handle the greasy ball and offload it without even looking as though he was going to fumble made an enormous difference in a game where just about every player on the park double-grabbed at points with the slippery ball becoming a problem for even the most skilled performers in the game.
Except for Neale, of course. But he isn’t like everyone else, is he?
Adding to his heap of touches were seven clearances and seven tackles, as he combined with his other strong-bodied inside mids to power the footy forward (see below).
Neale has been one of the few big name players in the league that has not had a down week to this point of the season, and would be a wise bet at this stage either for the Brownlow, or a second Lions Best and Fairest. He is a star of this competition, and just finds a way to get his hands on the footy more than anyone else.
With Dayne Zorko going out of the side, not only did the Lions miss a great midfielder, but they also lost one of the best pressure players inside 50. The amount of work Zorko does to tackle in the forward line, particularly as his role is primarily in the guts, is a hard one to fill.
But the Lions didn’t need someone to play Zorko’s role in these conditions. They needed someone big, strong and able to stand strong over the footy. They got that in Cam Ellis-Yolmen, and his combination with Jarryd Lyons provided a double act that was just too good for the Eagles.
CEY and Lyons had 15 clearances between them on the game, and their strength over the footy proved to be something the Eagles could not combat.
Brisbane needed their mids to stand up to the likes of Yeo, Kelly and Shuey. Not only did they do that, they beat them by being harder for longer in the slippery conditions, and in the process sent the 2018 premiers to 1-2 with two more hub games to come.
THE BERRY ON TOP
Three goals to Jarrod Berry is the kind of result you would take in a heartbeat if you were offered it before the game. You could just see Chris Fagan nodding so vigorously that his head would almost bloody fall off!
Berry split time between the middle and half forward and was able to both place pressure on the West Coast defenders and hit become a vital scoring option for his team. It wasn’t just the three goals he kicked- Berry bobbed up to have two more shots himself as he made himself a target inside 50. He was probably one more goal away from pinching some votes in this one.
Jarrod Berry spent a heap of last season following some of the best mids in the game around, both tagging them and learning from them in the process. Released forward now, he is a player that understands the delicate balance between winning your own footy and accountability. His time tagging has served him well for the long haul.
THE FORCE OF NATURE
I felt for the Big O at stages, having this mountain of a man rumbling toward him in the ruck and shaking the ground beneath him.
Nic Nat secured a game-high nine clearances as he played 70% of game time but could not drag his team over the line. As great as he was at extracting the footy at stoppages, his midfielders could not replicate his success.
Whilst I enjoyed watching the big fella, am I the only one that thinks he looked like he had completely run out of petrol in the last quarter?
THE OTHER RUNNING MAN
These conditions should not have been conducive to Andrew Gaff picking up a ton of the footy, but in line with his form in the first two rounds, Gaff was not be denied, and had the ball on a string in the first quarter.
Playing out the back of the pack at stoppages – the absolute best position for him and one disposal removed from the high-impact action, Gaff was able to pick up 22 contested touches as he went about his business of picking up 565 metres for his team.
In terms of wingmen, Gaff remains at the pointy end of the table in our weekly ratings – his consistency has been excellent thus far this season, but I cannot help but feel we will see him hit his absolute best once the Eagles are able to head back to some drier weather.
CAMERON V SHEPPARD
I love a good one-on-one clash, and we got just that with Brad Sheppard standing Charlie Cameron.
The two engaged in a ripping contest, with both doing enough to lay claim to a win in individual battles. But who won the war? Cameron looked bloody dangerous early, but Sheppard was able to stifle him and run off him a few times in the second and third quarters.
Charlie may have pulled the wool over the eyes of the umpire when he snuck in and claimed an out-on-the-full free kick that definitely should have been awarded to Lincoln McCarthy in the third quarter, but his shot at goal made me forgive his dirty deception as he guided the footy home from a tough angle and gave us the motorbike celebration in the process.
Cameron is one of the genuine x-factors in the league, and Sheppard was given a huge task in this game. The conditions should have played into Cameron’s hands, but the diligence of Sheppard meant that he did not get it all his own way by any stretch.
GENUINE CROWD NOISE
Oh, there were only two thousand people there, but they were loud. In the midst of my state (idiot Victoria) having to tighten restrictions again because, basically, we’re dickheads, to hear the heartfelt reactions of people in attendance at a game of footy again was brilliant.
You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – stay healthy up there in Queensland. We’re screwed down here.
Two of the best spoilers in the game were strutting their stuff in this game, in Harris Andrews and Tom Barrass.
Between them, they had a massive 25 spoils, and it is only when you throw in the efforts of Darcy Gardiner to the mix (12 spoils of his own) that you can see how the Brisbane defence was able to combat the might of the Eagles forward line.
Were the Eagles a little too top-heavy for this game? I’ll address it below, but whilst we didn’t see anyone clunking huge marks or kicking big bags, those who appreciate the impact of a good defensive punch would be pretty pleased watching the exploits of Andrews, Barrass and Gardiner.
Andrews would be odds-on to go back-to-back as the AA full back, but if he fell at some stage to an injury (not wishing it on him), it would be interesting to see where people rated Barrass in terms of being a chance to slot into that role. He’s been pretty good this season after a poor finish to 2019.
FUMBLES AND AWARENESS
Well, it was always going to happen. Tim Kelly was going to take a little while to find his feet, and you’d think that having played two seasons on Kardinia Park that he’d be used to handling the slippery balls (it’s called the ‘Joe Ganino’ move).
Alas, Kelly double grabbed at the footy more than I’ve seen in recent seasons and appeared to have the footy spent before taking possession a few times. When he did manage to get his hands on it, he ran at just 29% efficiency for the game. That’s a dirty night with the footy in hand
The other player, for the second week in a row in this section is… *gulp* Shannon Hurn.
Whether it was not sticking tackles (Jarrod Berry), getting hit straight in the face by the footy (happens to the best of us) or being run down in a tackle (some talk would be nice, teammates), Hurn has looked a little Un-Hurn-Like in the last couple of weeks.
That usually rock-solid defence of the Eagles has started to look shaky, and the pillars that would usually hold it up (the legs of McGovern and Hurn) have both been under more stress than they’re used to.
I heard someone say he was cooked during the week. Cooked? Far out…
Hurn is far from cooked, but to spare him from this section would be wallpapering over what is a problem right now.
He needs a big game against the Power next week, with sure hands and the huge leg of his breaking the game open.
THAT IS NOT A DANGEROUS TACKLE
This is becoming a bit ridiculous, and it cost the West Coast Eagles a goal at a crucial point in the game.
Lewis Jetta executed a tackle against Jarrod Berry that was just about perfect. Inside defensive 50, he dragged the Brisbane midfielder to the ground, pinning one arm and doing it all in one motion.
There was no sling, there was no malice – it was just a good, hard tackle.
Unfortunately for Berry, as he was taken to ground, he got a face full of grass. The whistle blew and the umpire informed us that it was a free kick for a “dangerous tackle”. This is starting to piss me right off.
I get the idea around preventing head injuries and educating players when they deliberately drive a player’s head into the ground, but the ONLY option Jetta had in this instance was to release the tackle completely and allow Berry the opportunity to get rid of the ball. The umpire stated that it was the responsibility of the tackler to look after the other player. I have to ask, what about the fucking responsibility to the game of football to tackle hard when you have the opportunity? What about the responsibility he has to his teammates to ensure Berry doesn’t get the ball away and place his team under increased pressure? What about the responsibility of Berry to use his free arm to brace himself instead of opting to hang onto the football?
Lewis Jetta laid a perfect tackle this evening. He wrapped up Jarrod Berry and should have been rewarded for it. Instead, he and his entire team were punished for a rule that is being interpreted wildly different to the way it was when it was introduced.
It is a blight on the game, and will continue to be until the AFL realises that not every tackle is dangerous if the player doesn’t protect himself.
CAN THE EAGLES AFFORD TO PLAY BOTH KENNEDY AND DARLING IN GREASY CONDITIONS?
They get a reprieve for next week as they get the Power during the day, so let’s assume there is no dew on the grass in the middle of the day, but yes… it is concerning.
Not that I want to put anyone out to pasture, but a forward set up with one of Darling and Kennedy, and Liam Ryan/Jamie Cripps was the main forward targets beats the hell out of bombing it long and hoping that someone can take a contested grab.
The Eagles had eight marks inside 50 and just one was taken from the Darling/Kennedy combination. Yes, I know the conditions were not right for them… then why play both?
ARE THE EAGLES HURTING THEMSELVES WITH THE TALK ABOUT NOT LIKING THE HUB?
It doesn’t come across well, does it? It gives the perception that they don’t want to be there and negativity can permeate through a playing list really easily.
Listening to a couple of Eagles supporters tonight, they were questioning the effort of the team. I don’t think that was an issue from the outside looking in, but negativity… it’s a beast that can destroy a team pretty quickly, and sometimes the only thing that can turn it all around is a win.
DOES DANIEL MCSTAY DO ANYWHERE NEAR ENOUGH?
In a word, no.
His dropping of the uncontested mark in the second quarter was classic McStay, inasmuch as I kind of expected him to drop it.
He seems to have so many games where he does one thing well and then can’t remember how to do other things. As a player, he is like Homer Simpson going back to school. Every time he learns something new, he forgets something else he learned a while back. If he ever puts it all together over a few weeks, he will look like a monster. As it stands, he is about as scary as Super Grover.
DID WE SEE A BIT FROM CAM RAYNER TONIGHT?
A bit… just a bit.
I’m not sure he is ever going to be dominant, but if he can do the little things well in flashes, I reckon he is more Christian Petracca than he is Dustin Martin. That means some weeks he’ll frustrate the hell out of you, and then for one quarter he’ll play like a football god.
But I did love his rundown tackle on Hurn late in the game. It was great.
So, who went missing for the Eagles? It could be a long list. Jack Petruccelle is one doing nowhere near enough for someone with that kind of leg speed.
Nine of Lewis Jetta’s ten disposals were on point, but with a leg that lethal, why aren’t the Eagles working to get him loose the same way Sydney work to get Jake Lloyd loose, or Richmond work to get Bachar Houli loose?
It just seems like a backwards way to use him.
Loved Brandon Ah Chee taking on Harris Andrews, dropping the shoulder into him and setting up Liam Ryan for his third goal. That was toughness in the contest.
I don’t think Callum Ah Chee is a best 22 player at the moment. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he is a best 22 player on Gold Coast either. Lucky to be getting a game for Brisbane.
Still liking what I see from Brandon Starcevich. I reckon the Lions have found one here, and he will be a great asset as an attacking defender for years to come.
And that’ll do me – a solid win to the Lions as they head into their Round Four clash with Adelaide. Depending on what happens tomorrow, the Lions could be the shortest price favourites of the year… but in this season, that means bugger all.
The Eagles get to test out the Power, and get them during the day. Gonna put it out there – next week makes or breaks the Eagles’ season given they get the Tigers in the evening in Round Five. They need to give themselves a shot at leaving the hub with a winning record.