Whilst many have speculated that winning away from home may be an issue for Brisbane, the Lions dispensed with that criticism to despatch of the GWS Giants on the road.
Doing the job without a dominant effort from Lachie Neale, the Lions used two excellent performances in defence to springboard them forward to a tough win over a team that now finds themselves headed into a Grand Final rematch with their season teetering on the precipice of failure.
The Lions turned in a complete performance, with several players stepping up in key moments to stifle the Giants and were deserving winners.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
Yes, Harris Andrews will get the votes, and his first half was one for the books, but I want to pay some respect to a bloke who is seen as Robin to his Batman.
Darcy Gardiner took on the big job for the most part this afternoon. I’ll get to Andrews in a minute, but with the All-Australian fullback occupied elsewhere, it was left to Gardiner to subdue the GWS spearhead, and for the record he did a fantastic job of it.
Several times this season I have watched Gardiner rack up intercept possessions and spoils only for everyone to laud Andrews after the fact. It has probably been unfair on Gardiner, who continues to play an excellent support role for Andrews but gets little external praise. I’d like to think it is heaped upon him internally at the Lions.
He had ten intercept possessions in this game, doing what the GWS defenders were simply unable to do at the other end and win contests. Yes, he was caught with the ball once and cleanly beaten once, or maybe twice, but on the whole as a secondary defender he was exceptionally good. Basically, he played the Nick Haynes role for the Lions, and he played it better than Haynes normally would for the Giants.
I didn’t mean to belittle the importance of Harris Andrews by lauding his counterpart first and if it came across that way, it was definitely not my intention.
Andrews was a monster in this game. In the first half, he owned an entire half of the field, marshalling the troops and leading by example as he picked up eight intercept possessions and seven spoils at the main break.
Fifteen contests controlled is the kind of result most defenders would take for the whole game, but here was Andrews racking up those numbers in a half. He’s a freak!
He went on to narrowly miss his second defensive double-double of the season, with ten intercept possessions and nine one percenters for the game but the way he consistently put himself in the right spots and repelled the attack of the Giants in the first half was mesmerising to watch.
If there can be a knock on his game, it would be that Harry Himmelberg was able to conjure three goals whilst matched up on him – two early in the game and one late. With Andrews so focused on controlling the defensive arc, I suppose he does give you a chance to kick a couple on him if you’re a bit of a sneaky bugger.
Andrews would almost be unbackable to repeat in the fullback position in this season’s AA team. Leading the competition in spoils coming into this round he was also sitting second in intercepts. What a player!
HEATER V CHARLIE
So we heard the lamentations of the commentators when they saw Nick Haynes matched up on the dangerous Charlie Cameron, and as Charlie slipped out the back a couple of times, we could understand why.
With their best interceptor failing to impact contests, and in the process leaving Charlie Cameron alone and dangerous, a move had to be made.
And so it was that heath Shaw, playing his 315th game, was thrown one of the most daunting challenges in the game – limiting the impact of one of the Coleman favourites. I have to admit, I wondered whether Charlie would be a little too much for Shaw – at this stage of his career I think it could be construed as an indictment on the GWS list managers that they have no one else to slot into the role. I know Zac Williams is injured, but with him out of contract, who else can pick up the slack?
Regardless of where they find a Heath Shaw replacement, the duel between Heater and Charlie was fantastic. The Brisbane forward got off the leash a couple of times on kicks inside 50 but with the ball on the deck, Shaw still had enough in the tank to match him and get the better of him at points.
Charlie ended up with two first half goals but didn’t add to that total once Shaw went to him. In fairness, he did have a couple of kickable shots but failed to convert.
Seeing two competitors the likes of Charlie Cameron and Heath Shaw battle it out like these two did today warms the heart.
DE BOER V NEALE
I love watching a contest unfold when Matt de Boer goes to a gun midfielder.
Some get angry. Some give up. And some start to see their role a little differently and lay blocks and shepherds for their teammates to remain involved until the tag is either broken or released.
It was the third option we saw from Lachie Neale in this game as it took until the last quarter for the reigning best and fairest to get off the chain and get his hands on the footy.
As we turned for home and entered the last quarter, Neale was being completely blanketed by de Boer and had just 11 touches to his name. It was an interesting setup by Leon Cameron, refusing to throw his tagger into the middle at centre bounces and having him immediately go to Neale once the ball was in play. He was also refusing to follow Neale deep inside 50, which saw some confusion in the first quarter allow Neale to stroll into goal and kick one from the goal line, uncontested.
Still, the attention seemed to rattle Neale a little as he was unable to exert his normal influence in the guts, amassing just one clearance through the first three quarters.
De Boer managed to sneak forward and slot a goal himself as the Giants challenged and threatened to take control of the game in the third quarter, but as the Lions settled, it was Neale working into the game and collecting nine touches to help the Lions over the line.
Amazingly, the last quarter burst saw Neale finish as the top disposal winner for the Lions, with 20 for the game but I was quite shocked to hear the Foxtel commentators mention his name in regard to possible Brownlow votes. Surely not?
THE THIRD WINGMAN
We all know the big two wingmen for the Lions, don’t we?
The smooth-moving, damaging Hugh McCluggage and the hard hitting brute by the name of Mitch Robinson. When these two are up and about, the Lions become the kind of attacking weapon that can tear a game open.
They looked good in the first quarter, with McCluggage in particular running through the middle with the footy and causing enormous headaches for the Giants. However, it was the guy who relives these two and takes their place on a wing that caused damage in this game.
Zac Bailey is often overlooked when the Lions are discussed. Taken at pick 15 back in 2017, he has been a bit of a slow burn for the Lions, but is now entering the window where his best should be on display for all.
He slotted two goals in this one to go along with his 18 touches as he worked tirelessly at both ends of the ground.
Having Bailey to slot in as a replacement for one of the big two is such a luxury for Chris Fagan as he adds something different for the Lions. He is a hybrid between the physical Robinson and the classy McCluggage, offering a bit of what both do, and bridging the gap between the skillsets.
HARD WORK OF THE FORWARDS
Sometimes in a game, you cannot really assess the value of a forward by the amount of goals they kick.
That sounds pretty dumb, doesn’t it? Well, I actually believe it to be true when you have a game like this to prove it. I want to throw some numbers at you and once I do, you can shrug and act like you’re completely unimpressed, okay?
Daniel McStay – 11 touches and no goals
Eric Hipwood – 15 touches and one goal
Cam Rayner – Eight touches and two goals
Nothing to write home about, right? Normally, I would agree, and I have stated many times that I have not liked the contributions of the Brisbane talls, but when you look at the next set of numbers, it becomes apparent that this was one of those games where locking it inside forward 50 and ensuring the ball wasn’t cleared or, more importantly, intercept marked was vitally important.
Phil Davis – Seven touches and three marks.
Nick Haynes – 12 touches and two marks.
These two players are rebound kings. Not only do they consistently beat their direct opponents; they also provide a springboard for the GWS half backs and wings to run forward in waves. They are the spark that can light the fire, but in this game it was the diligence of the tall forwards to compete – not to win, but to compete and ensure the GWS key defenders were unable to clunk marks and undo the hard work of the Lions mids.
For further clarification, Haynes and Davis combined for just nine intercept possessions in this game. Not marks – total intercept disposals. In the games prior to this one, the pair had averaged 13 per game, with Haynes having three games in double figures by himself.
It may not have resulted in a goal avalanche, but the efforts of the talls were not lost on me this afternoon.
We often hear about the ridiculous depth of the GWS Giants and how it is almost unfair that they have so many stars on their list. A team of champions… because they are not playing like a champion team.
They had a few players out there this afternoon that would be termed “borderline best 22” and based on their performances, you can see why.
Zac Langdon made some statement in the pre-season with some great Marsh Series form. That form deserted him today as he managed just five touches for the day.
Bobby Hill looked all sizzle and no steak in this game, threatening on a couple of occasions without really delivering much. That said, his mid-air handball was a lovely bit of sizzle.
Jeremy Finlayson looked like he may have been ready to have one of those games where he slips under the radar. With Gardiner and Andrews busy tag-teaming Jeremy Cameron and Himmelberg, the scene was set for Finlayson to step up, but after a great goal from the boundary early, he was rarely sighted after.
With Tom Green and Toby Greene sitting on the sidelines, you’d think that Hill and Langdon will be having a rest next week
UNDOING GOOD WORK
Eric Hipwood really let Lachie Keeffe off the hook early in the last quarter when he missed a very kickable goal.
Keeffe gave away what had to be the stupidest 50 metre penalty of the season when he threw the footy back at Hipwood in frustration. At this point, the Giants were within three goals of the Lions and were still a legitimate threat to make a run and pinch the game. What he was thinking, I do not know, but I would hasten to guess that it wasn’t much.
Up until that point, I thought Keeffe had done a pretty good job as the lockdown tall on Hipwood, forcing him far and wide to gain his touches, but this moment… I can’t quite wrap my head around what would compel him to place the welfare of his team in jeopardy the way he did.
It was a head-scratcher to say the least.
CHMISTRY… CEHMISTRY…OH, IT’S JUST NOT WORKING
See what I did there? I just couldn’t get the chemistry right!
I’ll get my coat…
Seriously though, what is going on with this GWS team? Are they going to be yet another team that fought and clawed all the way to the big dance only to fall away and render themselves unable to repeat the effort?
I felt sorry watching Heath Shaw in this one. He felt something last season with this team and wanted to go around again to see if they could go one step further. Instead, they have gone two steps back, failing to click in any meaningful way to this point of the season aside from a belting of Hawthorn… and the jury is well and truly out on the Hawks.
I watch this team – names like Haynes, Davis, Coniglio, Kelly, Cameron, Whitfield… this is as good a list as there is in the competition, but they just do not combine well. They seem to get in each other’s way as much as they run to space. They seem like they’re a team with too many chiefs and not enough Native Americans… is that the politically correct version of the saying, or are we not allowed to use that anymore?
GWS have one week to get their act together. They are now perched in a dangerous position and eyeing off a clash against the team… and Richmond are a real team – that torched them in the Grand Final. It is going to take something special, or this team of champions will have their second successive season all but ended by the same team.
Where they go from there is anyone’s guess.
CAN CHARLIE CAMERON WIN THE COLEMAN
Charlie hasn’t had a big day out in a while, but he looked as though he is cherry ripe to have one, didn’t he? Two goals is an average day for the little champ, but one big day from him could see him vault to the outright lead in what is sure to be a very tight race.
I suppose the problem for Charlie is that he isn’t doing a lot of creating for others on the season. He picked up his first goal assist of the year today. I’d like to see him bring a few more into the game.
IS THE MONGREL READY TO APOLOGISE TO JARRYD LYONS?
When he made his way over from Gold Coast I wondered (and wrote) whether he was damaged goods. To allow him to walk for nothing, I wondered about his attitude.
Well, I am happy to put my hand up and cop one on the chin here – he has been a warrior for this club so far and could be the sort of player that stands up in a big final when the Lions need someone to put his head over the footy and win it.
WHAT TO DO WITH CALLUM AH CHEE?
I’m not sold that he is a defender, but there were points I did like his run through the guts – what a shame the two wing positions are so settled.
Well, not a shame for the Lions – having Robbo and McCluggage firing usually means the team wins, but a bit of a shame for Ah Chee, as I reckon he would excel out wide.
ARE THE GIANTS SCREWED AT THE RUCK POSITION?
Yep. If big Mummy is the preferred option, you have to wonder what they’re thinking around the pick-up of Sam Jacobs.
I like to chuckle at the Mumford clumsiness as much as the next guy, but as the season wears on, are we going to see games where the Giants lose games due to the opposition ruckman getting hold of them?
We already have with Tim English and the Dogs. They may have misstepped with their recruitment of Jacobs.
HAS GRANT BIRCHALL ALREADY JUSTIFIED HIS RECRUITMENT?
He sure has.
I was a bit of a sceptic given his recent injury history, but he has looked classy and has been reliable running off half back. His experience will definitely come in handy if the Lions can manage him through the rest of the season and have him ready for finals.
I still like what I see from Brandon Starcevich. It’s difficult to find young defenders that look composed with the footy, but he fits the bill.
Great to see Dayne Zorko get through the game unscathed. They described his issue as a calf/Achilles complaint and they can take forever. He was pretty explosive early in the piece and his change of direction at the start of the last quarter was brilliant to send the Lions forward.
Harry Perryman still playing half back… I have to say – I hate it. Get him back on the wing and allow him to get forward. Moving him away from the wing after he kicked nine goals in four games was like fixing something that was not broken.
Tim Taranto will be better for the run. Looked a little rusty but if he can return two goals despite not playing for a few months, his second game should be much better.
And that’ll do me. The Lions get an away game down the road against the Demons next week, which is very, very winnable. Meanwhile, the Giants head into a cut throat showdown with the reigning premiers. With a 3-4 record, this highly-talented bunch is looking down the barrel of an unexpected scenario that threatens their finals chances.
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