In blustery conditions at Mars Stadium in Ballarat, the Bulldogs claimed a hard-fought 19 point victory over Brisbane. The reality is though, I’m only calling it “hard-fought” due to the Bulldogs’ inaccuracy around goals, as they were unable to truly land the finishing blow. The final score read 10.13 73 to 8.6 54, keeping the Bulldogs top of the ladder and leaving the Brisbane Lions with just a solitary win from their first four games.

Let’s take a look at how this game played out.

 

TALL TIMBER

Despite Oscar McInerney returning from an ankle injury and having to ruck solo, the Bulldogs opted to go with Stefan Martin as the main ruck for the majority of this contest, and not tag-team the role. This, in turn, enabled the Bulldogs to line up with an imposing forward line led by Tim English, Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce.

Despite the swirly conditions, it was an enthralling contest throughout the game. Early on, Harris Andrews got stuck a few times under the high ball and the mobility of English was causing headaches. In the first half when the Bulldogs threatened to run away with the game, it was Darcy Gardiner who stepped up massively for the visitors. He had 13 disposals and six marks in the first half alone. In the second half, Andrews managed to create some distance and get a run at the high ball, as opposed to being bodied up in the first half. His impact really held the Bulldogs in the second half. The Lions’ defensive duo combined for 45 touches (25 intercept possessions), 19 marks and even pegged back a goal following a 50m penalty to Andrews at centre half back

For the Bulldogs, the inaccuracy of the key forwards was a huge contributor in the game remaining close. Despite Naughton and English being prominent in the air, they did not capitalise as much as they should haved in front of goals. Those two combined for 17 total marks (eight contested) and a combined scoreboard impact of 5.8 for the day. Both groups could hold their heads high as the units played ripper games, the goalkicking inaccuracy was the factor.

 

GAMEPLAN

With Brisbane winning the toss, they opted to kick with a swirly breeze, however, they ultimately failed to utilise it forward of centre. Daniher and Hipwood were often caught out of position, through no fault of their own. Brisbane often just relied on the wind to do the work, especially outside defensive 50. Rushed clearances and bombed entries were a feature of the day, whereas when it was the Bulldogs’ turn, they used it to aid them when they needed it, preferring often to cut through it with running linkup play and clean disposal to open things up.

When the rain hit after half time, the game turned into more of a contested style, which slowed the Bulldogs outside run, however, the Lions simply ran out of time. Had Brisbane opted for a more direct attack into forward 50 in dangerous positions rather than going for distance at all costs, they may have been in a better place to challenge, opposed to being 26 points down at the main break. They looked much more composed in the second half with everybody lifting

 

ENGINE ROOM

Brisbane found the going tough on the inside early, as the Bulldogs were prominent in the contest in the first half. The inside grunt work of Josh Dunkley with 15 first-half possessions, combining nicely with Treloar (also 15 in the first half) routinely got clean ball to the outside. The acceleration and elusiveness of Treloar, in particular, was on full display as he twice evaded multiple tacklers to unleash clean delivery inside 50. It appears he is starting to feel very comfortable in the Bulldogs system.

Once the rain hit it became Macrae’s time to shine as he accumulated 20 second half touches, helping weather the storm as Brisbane mounted their fightback.

Early on for Brisbane, their midfield didn’t seem to be working very effectively. Often, they looked to be rushed with their disposal and often got caught out on the defensive side. It became a whole new ball game in the second half as Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons began to work inside to out and almost dragged the Lions back into the contest. Neale and McInerney combined for a mammoth 16 clearances for the game. The midfield group had enough of the ball to be damaging, however, their inside 50 deliveries were horrible and gave the forwards hardly any opportunity to do much with. Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson the prime offenders with 15 turnovers from 40 possessions combined. Both were guilty of often prioritising distance over quality.

 

HUGH GAME

The desire of Hugh McCluggage should never be questioned. He almost played a lone hand in the Brisbane midfield group for the first half.

The star wingman was everywhere for Brisbane, trying to stem the bleeding from the repeated attacks by the Bulldogs. In the second quarter alone, when Bulldogs had the breeze, McCluggage had a staggering 10 disposals and eight marks. He was largely opposed by Lachie Hunter and Bailey Smith who both had down games. He finished with 25 touches, 12 marks, and a goal in a dominant display. I know Harris Andrews is the Vice-Captain but I firmly believe McCluggage should be the next captain of the Lions.

 

LIONS FORWARDS

People will be very quick to whack Daniher and Hipwood in this game, but frankly… they don’t deserve it.
The midfield group made life about as tough as it could have been for the forwards. Regularly, Daniher, in particular, had created separation, for the kick to fade, or go over his head. Despite that, credit must go to him for not dropping his head.

The same can be said for Hipwood who was quite often forced outside 50, and as far up as the wing to get a clean attack on the ball. I barely recall any legitimate one-on-one contest inside 50 when Daniher or Hipwood had a ball come in that actually favoured them. In that regard, it also makes it extremely tough to judge the efficiency of the Bulldogs key defenders, as life was made pretty easy.

Brisbane at times appeared to be short on forwards as Tom Fullarton provided a body, Lincoln Mccarthy was often at the wrong spot, it was actually mentioned that the influence of Caleb Daniel was quelled so perhaps McCarthy was responsible for this, however, this was rarely evident during the broadcast, so it may have been a “team tag”, with all forwards taking responsibility for Daniel when they were without the footy.

Charlie Cameron though had a pretty awful game. With the conditions favouring the long high ball, many believed Cameron would be in his element, able to shark off packs. He looked dangerous in one-on-one contests when in space, however, he got caught a few times and threw up hospital handballs. His confidence looked completely shot. In the last quarter, with little time remaining, he looked tentative in taking possession of a loose ball, choosing to tap defensively when he had to attack. The Lions need the 2020 version back, and fast.

 

LET’S GET PHYSICAL

This game was played on edge for a fair portion of the contest. Both teams have players that are ultra-competitive and are at their best when they walk the line. However, there were multiple instances where the physicality worked against them, or was non-existent when it had to be present.

For starters, one of the most basic skills you’re ever taught in junior football is how to shepherd. This skill was seemingly unknown by the Lions as they often had even numbers at a contest with nobody electing to take one for the team and throw on a block.

At every opportunity a Bulldog could get in the way to impede a tackler, they did. Bailey Smith set the tone in the very first quarter. After a miskick from Naughton on a switch across attacking 50, Smith chased down Berry to knock him off the loose ball, gather possession and get a handball off. While getting dragged down he dived in the way and blocked the incoming tackler, enabling his teammate to drive the ball inside 50. The Doggies also smothered about a dozen kicks, and it really put a halt on the forward drive of the Lions, also placing the defence under increased pressure.

The desperation of the Bulldogs ultimately won this game, with a massive edge in tackles of 31. This increased pressure, combined with the undisciplined Lions accounted for the +14 differential in the free-kick count. Over the course of the game, Brisbane gave away three down field free kicks for late hits (two for Robinson)

 

BRETT’S BLAST

For this game I have to go straight to the top…

Question. Who leads the AFL in Free Kicks Against?

Yes that’s correct, Dayne Zorko

Brisbane in 2021 have fallen short of their expectations so far. They have largely been let down by their discipline. A lot of people (me included) attributed that to the addition of Joe Daniher, who, let’s be honest, had a history of being somewhat of an antagonist. Combine that with Mitch Robinson who also has that type of nature.

However, after today, I’m pointing the finger at the leadership (or lack of) from the Captain.
The Captain is supposed to be leading by example, so it’s hard to blame the rest of the Brisbane team when your captain gives away more free-kicks than any other player in the competition. If it was a key position player it would make sense, due to size and jostling for position, but a player that measures up at 175cm and 78kg would not be doing a lot of fighting under a high ball. This indicates an overly aggressive approach that brings back a memory of a teammate that suffered from “Little Man Syndrome” back from my Colts days.

Zorko’s poor discipline is more damaging due to his free-kicks being given away in the midfield, compared to a forward who might initiate contact. While his count is largely due to his aggression, I will concede that he has shown a lack of awareness and has been caught holding the ball a few times. If the discipline is to change for the Lions, it has to start from the top.

In this game, he fought hard with 23 touches and six score involvements, however also fought hard with conceding five free kicks. Zorko also leads the league in “Clangers” four games in

QUICK TAKES

Lachie Neale has every right to be pissed. When Brisbane were up and running in 2020, Neale was untouchable. That was due to not only his form, but also the protection from his teammates. I’ve not seen any of them stick up for him in 2021.

Jason Johannison up forward was a move I liked – he can cause havoc with his pace, and also restricts the ability to tag him. He can still switch to half back or a wing to inject some pace if required.

Being a WA lad, I was high on Deven Robertson in the 2019 draft. I hope the 19-year-old gets more opportunities for Brisbane this season as his composure and IQ could be a welcome addition to the midfield.

The Lions need to add a defensive-minded medium defender. The tandem of Birchall and Rich provide no defensive assistance to Andrews and the rest of the bigger defenders. The two left footers are damaging with ball in hand, however when one of them has the ball, the other doesn’t. I believe Andrews is still feeling the loss of Luke Hodge

I mentioned in this week’s edition of “In The Spotlight” that Tom Fullarton had to stand up to help McInerney… Well, the Big O battled manfully against English and Martin, however, got no support from Fullarton, who failed to shine. If it wasn’t in Chris Fagan’s plans to ruck him, he shouldn’t have been selected at all. With eight disposals and two marks, he won’t survive the axe.

Bailey Dale for AA? He is an afterthought in the stacked Bulldogs team, however, he is averaging a tick under 20 disposals, 6.8 intercept possessions and 2.5 intercept marks a game. On the surface those numbers look “solid” but a deeper dive show that his improvement is staggering, his career numbers are 13.5 disposals a game, 1.8 intercept possessions and 0.4 intercept marks a game.

What to do with Zac… This is likely an unpopular opinion, however, I think a week in the seconds will do Zac Bailey the world of good. He has no problems finding the football, yet once he has it that’s another story. It looks like he is still adjusting to the pace of the game. Maybe, as previously mentioned, there is a lack of communication in the Brisbane midfield. But often it looks like he is either trying to do too much, or making one too many moves in possession. He doesn’t play aggressively, yet he has given away 12 free kicks. Problem is, he has been a very handy accumulator, so likely they let him learn on the fly, and get the good with the bad.

Aside from Caleb Daniel, perhaps the Bulldogs have found the blueprint to build the foundation of a backline. They are prioritising aerial steadiness and clean disposal above dash and pure pace. The precision of the Doggies defence is capable of carving up the most precise of teams. They have ironed out their system to perfection and they have the pieces in place for the present and future.  I was very impressed with Lewis Young down back.

Daniher should take all of the boundary throw ins within attacking 50,. His ruckwork was something special and he had three consecutive taps to dangerous position, leading to a goal for Lyons, and should have had a second one. Let the big man go to work – there are hardly any other big forwards as creative as him and in the ruck, he is guaranteed a one-on-one.

Good to see the former Bulldog Marcus Adams have a good game. Very unassuming and just gets his job done with zero fuss. He stepped up in the absence of Jack Payne and had the measure of Josh Bruce when switched to him.

 

 

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