Brisbane v Collingwood – The Big Questions

 

Easter weekend.

Lots of shops closed. The Good Friday Appeal. And Round Five of the AFL season spread out over five days. What a time to be alive…

The round opened with the Brisbane Lions defending their home turf against a plucky Magpies outfit, running out seven-point winners as Darcy Moore slotted a goal on the siren to reduce the margin. Brisbane were challenged in this one, and they responded in the manner of a contender, landing some heavy blows of their own to squash the Pies’ resistance.

We saw marquee clashes, with Lachie Neale gaining a tip of the hat from Collingwood coach, Craig McRae by allocating Scott Pendlebury to him at stoppages, and we were treated to a classic forward versus defender matchup with a bit of feeling added to the mix, as Darcy Gardiner and Nathan Kreuger went toe-to-toe for the majority of the evening.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

DID SCOTT PENDLEBURY ON LACHIE NEALE WORK?

Hmmm, it depends on how you look at it.

Remember in Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi flat out lied to Luke Skywalker about his father dying? Then in Return of the Jedi, Luke confronts the spooky ghost version of Old Ben with what he has learnt about himself and his ancestory, and Kenobi tries to gaslight him and tell him he did tell the truth “from a certain point of view”.

It was an asshole thing to do to him, but in terms of the Pendles v Neale matchup, we’re going to have to adopt Kenobi’s warped way of looking at the world… or the galaxy if you prefer, to get to the bottom of the matter.

Firstly, I enjoyed seeing how it played out, and if the objective of having Pendles play on Neale was simply to subdue the Brownlow Medallist at clearances, that’s fine – the job was done. However, if it was to subdue Neale in the chain of possessions stemming from the stoppage…. then that is another matter altogether.

The stats sheet will indicate that Neale had only four clearances for the game, and there’ll be a few people who look at that and state that Pendles did his job well. They may be correct, if indeed that was all that was required of him, but Neale had ten of his 33 touches around the centre circle, with many of them coming in creative little flurries to set up teammates running forward. He did not get first hands on the footy, but his involvement as the second and third man in the chain was just as damaging. His second-quarter, alone, was crucial in the Lions setting up their lead. He had 14 touches in that quarter to combine with Hugh McCluggage (nine touches) as a dominant force in the middle.

For Pendles, the way he made things work for him was via his efforts with the footy in hand. Some of his passes inside 50 were sublime, doing EXACTLY as a midfielder should do and kicking the footy to the space in front of the leading forward and not plonking it on his head as about 80% of mids seem to do way too often.

Pendlebury (which I always thought would be a good name for a Hobbit, or a penguin) had eight of his 27 touches in and around that centre circle, so he just about broke even with Neale.

When it comes down to separating players in a contest like this, I often look to see how many times their work resulted in scoring opportunities. Neale had nine score involvements to lead all players. Pendles had six.

No direct goal assists for Neale, but Pendles was responsible for three goals for his teammates.

This one is too close to call. Was it effective? Yes, inasmuch as Pendles was able to match it with Neale. Was it effective in terms of slowing Neale down? No, not really.

So, who won?

Well, that’s up to you, really. I guess you could argue the case for either… from a certain point of view.

 

WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR JOE DANIHER IF HE IS SERIOUS ABOUT HIS FOOTY?

It’s the Coleman Medal in 2022 – that’s what Joe Daniher is capable of, and despite his goofy 1941 British fighter pilot appearance, Joe looks like he is dialled in this season, ready to finally deliver on the immense potential he demonstrated several years back in red and black.

Daniher always looked like a bloke who enjoyed being part of the game. He was laughing, joking, sitting on fences… basically having a good time while he was out there. It was actually refreshing to see a young bloke having a ball playing AFL footy. Honestly, it is a little too rare.

And then injuries, combined with the weight of the world and a famous name seemed to kill off that enjoyment. He played like a man who hated his job and couldn’t wait to kick the boots off, slip into a dressing gown and watch reruns of Blackadder goes Fourth. I reckon his moustache was inspired by Rick Mayall’s brilliant portrayal of Lord Flashheart.

The move to Brisbane was met with scepticism, and people had every right to question Daniher’s commitment heading into 2021. He responded by playing every game and performing above expectations – make no mistake, there were plenty of people who thought he was cooked.

I reckon those people watching him against the Pies may rue voicing their opinion back then.

Joe’s timing, his launches at the footy, and his second efforts were excellent. He played like a man who knows that these Lions will only go as far as he can carry them in 2022. Not that he’ll have to do it alone, but his role in this team will be vital to their success, and he is well aware of the responsibility on his shoulders.

He was all business in this one, taking all before him en route to four goals from three big contested grabs. If this is who Joe Daniher is in 2022, then we are looking at the Coleman Medallist. It’s been a long time coming, but the mature, and brilliant version of Joe Daniher is finally here.

And it is spectacular.

 

IS DAYNE ZORKO A POTENTIAL ALL-AUSTRALIAN HALF-BACK?

Bloody Brisbane already have one, with Daniel Rich picking up his first blazer last year, but I simply cannot look past the damage Zorko is doing with the footy from half-back at the moment.

Years of playing in the cut and thrust of the midfield have refined Zorko’s reflexes. He does not need time and space to make teams pay. He gets the footy, surveys the landscape quickly and effectively, and makes the right decision. If there is a player open in space, he finds him. If there is a player with space open to the left, right, or behind him, Zorko directs his kick to the spot that leaves his teammate no choice but to make ground and find the footy. He is a conductor compelling the orchestra to make beautiful music…

… and he looks as though he is doing it on one leg.

In another stellar effort, he picked up two direct goal assists as he worked through the middle of the ground and used that laser-like boot of his to spot up targets. He covered over 600 metres gained and had eight intercepts as his positioning and ability to read the flight of the ball made penetrating the Lions’ defence a tough ask.

So, in answer to the question – is he a potential All-Australian half-back…. hell yes he is. There are a number of strong contenders for that role, but given how effective he is right now, we’re getting to the point where opposition coaches may wish to play someone that will take some responsibility for Zorko.

Once that happens, you know he is well and truly in the frame – it only happens to the absolute best half-backs.

 

WHAT CAN NATHAN KREUGER PROVIDE THIS COLLINGWOOD TEAM OVER THE LONG HAUL?

Hmmm, he is probably a little too much like Brody Mihocek to play them both in the role they’re best at, which is a shame, but you cannot help but love his intensity, his attack on the ball, and his willingness to mix it up if need be.

His war with Darcy Gardiner was a personal little highlight for me. In a game where defences rotate heavily (and this game was no real exception), we got to see plenty of one-on-one clashes between the two, and you could tell things were just starting to get a little heated at points.

With Mason Cox playing like he was lost, and Darcy Cameron not exactly setting the world on fire, either, Kreuger was able to draw the footy, compete hard, and more than justify his place. He tried to take some hangers, almost killed himself in the process, and got up to keep presenting.

To see him finish with a couple of goals was gratifying, however, the most pleasing aspect of his game was the way he threw himself into every physical confrontation he could. I know we live in a world right now where everything needs to be blissful and lovely so as not to upset anyone, but there is still a place in footy for a bloke who plays with a fair amount of mongrel in them, and that’s what the Pies get now, and should continue to get from Kreuger. If he is giving you that week-in and week-out, he should be one of the first picked – he plays like his career depends on it. If only a few more did.

 

WILL NICK DAICOS BE MORE THAN AN ACCUMULATOR?

Look, he might be, or he could fall into the trap of racking up big numbers and assuming that’s his job.

I suppose I look at it like this – he had 27 disposals, knows how to position himself to get the footy, but how many of his disposals made you sit up and think “what was great”?

I cannot think of one. Looking at the stats, of those 27 touches, he did not deliver the footy inside 50 once. For a kid of his skill, and with the amount of footy he is finding, that needs to be better. I like that McRae is playing him off half-back, but he has the capacity to push forward as well, and it is when he does that we could see him go from being a good accumulator of the footy to a star of the game.

And, I have to stop myself there, because I am speaking about a 19-year-old who probably doesn’t deserve the pressure.

When the Pies need something special over the next month or two – and there will be times when they do – my hope is that Nick Daicos starts to be considered as someone capable of playing that role. We know he is good, but I reckon we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment.

 

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME MITCH ROBINSON LOWERED HIS EYES?

The consensus amongst the Mongrel writers is that was somewhere around 2003.

Our official stat keepers of the league tell me that Mitch Robinson had 20 touches and ran at 70% efficiency for the game, which is great – I am happy for him.

How many of those 14 effective touches came as a result of luck?

Not luck in finding the footy – that is not luck. Mitch wins the footy the hard way, but he also disposes of the ball in the quickest, easiest way possible, by banging the ball on his boot and hoping for the best. In a way, he is a complete throwback to an 80s player, slamming the footy and long and high as he possibly can every time he touches it. Under pressure or not, when Robbo gets the footy, you know he is going long and direct.

And so does the opposition.

He only had three turnovers in this game, but on another day – and you can go back and watch this game again to see what I mean – there is no guarantee that ten of his hack forward kicks don’t land with the opposition.

Yes, we all love what Robinson brings to the table. He is hard as I am when I wake up from one of my special dreams, but in terms of using the footy… well, I think you know what you’re gonna get from Mitch, and there will be games this season where it is not all that pretty… much like my description of how hard he is, I guess. We all have our moments.

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE STRICTER INTERPRETATION OF HOLDING THE BALL?

So, in order to ascertain the best tacklers in the league that actually get results from their efforts, I have started tracking when players earn holding the ball free kicks. It seems a worthwhile exercise, particularly given the AFL is using a stricter interpretation, right?

Hmmmm… maybe. Get this – in the first half of this game, there were four holding the ball decisions paid. That’s it.

Things picked up in the second half, with seven decisions rewarding the tackler, but with the number of incorrect disposals and players given an extraordinary amount of time to get rid of the footy, it appears as though this stricter interpretation was just another one of those rules that drifted back to the way it was being umpired last year pretty quick…

And then, suddenly, for a moment or two, it wasn’t.

The holding the ball decision against Darcy Gardiner was a joke. He took the footy, had no prior opportunity and was wrapped up immediately. Compare this to the Darcy Moore non-decision in the first quarter, where Moore slipped two tackles and appeared to throw the footy in the third tackle… I am not sure the umps know what they’re doing.

I don’t blame them at all – this is a situation the AFL creates, then modifies, then relaxes, and then forgets about and moves on from. We see it every year with a set of interpretations implemented and then switched up. If you’re going to institute something, stick to it! Don’t just pull it out at random times like Joe Ganino in a public toilet.

Anyway, in a good game of footy, the inconsistency annoyed me.

 

HAS ZAC BAILEY MADE THE NEXT STEP?

Not just yet… but damn it he is soooo close to becoming a freaking star of this competition!

What people are not realising is that Bailey is making a living by crucifying defenders who think it may be a good idea to run off him. All it takes is one miskick, one fumble, and there goes Bailey out the back and the defender is left flailing, desperately attempting to make up ground to spoil him.

It is an exercise in futility.

As is the nature of the game, Bailey had Brayden Maynard, Nick Daicos, and Jack Madgen for company at points. On the whole, he was just too sharp, and too good for them collectively, ending up with 19 touches and three goals as he drifted between the guts and half-forward.

Yep, he is not quite there just yet – he has been doing this stuff for a while – but he is one big day away from putting the footy world on its ear and having them all marvel at the next star of the game unleashed by the Brisbane Lions.

 

WHAT GEAR IS HARRIS ANDREWS TRAVELLING IN RIGHT NOW?

He’s in second gear… just warming into the season, is the big full back, and doing all he needs to do to steer this Brisbane defence in the right direction.

Notice that Andrews was the one to put an arm around Darcy Gardiner late in the game, when his fellow defender had the fourth or fifth thing go against him for the night? Gardiner was having a bit of a dirty night after crashing into the back of Josh Daicos in the first quarter and going into the book for late contact, and a late free-kick against him seemed to be the last straw.

Andrews was the one to settle him down… even though he did give away a 50-metre penalty of his own in the last quarter for… putting his arms out.

Yep, that’s a rule now. Didn’t ya know?

He finished with nine intercepts and eight one-percenters in this one – not vintage Harris Andrews by any stretch, but even in second gear, he is able to do what few others can.

 

DID THE BIG O JUST GET THE BETTER OF BRODIE GRUNDY?

I believe he may have.

I don’t know what to make of Brodie Grundy at times. One week, he looks like a million bucks, and the next he comes across as loose change. He was messy in this one, hacking at the footy and sending it nowhere in particular way too often.

Half of his 14 touches came in the form of clearances (five from the middle) and yet I am unsure whether any of them were what I’d term a clean clearance, allowing Collingwood to stream toward 50.

The Big O, on the other hand, seemed to relish being matched up against the inept Mason Cox at points. McInerney manhandled cox (tee hee) several times in ruck duels to win several of his six clearances, but the big man also followed up his ruck work with six tackles.

Grundy, normally known for his second efforts, had no tackles for the game.

In short, one played like a ruck who had something to prove, whilst the other played like a bloke with a big contract already secured, and to make matters worse, that is not the first time I have thought that when watching Grundy..

 

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FROM MASON COX?

Righto… this is not going to be pretty.

That was bloody horrible. He was close to the worst player on the ground in this game – just a complete liability as soon as the ball hit the deck, and when it was in the air, he did his best to make a meal of every opportunity that came his way. At 30 years of age, he remains easily knocked off balance when approaching marking contests, and I reckon Leigh Matthews had the line of the night when he offered the following.in regard to the eyewear Cox is now sporting.

“If they were for sale, no one would be buying them”

I know that Lethal was blissfully unaware that Cox suffered an eye injury that he does not want to exacerbate, but he was basically saying what everyone else was thinking. Very rarely has a player garnered the type of attention Cox has without producing something of merit on the field to back it up. It seems as though every time you hear Cox’s name these days, it has something to do with things on the periphery of the game – wearing these glasses, something he said on Twitter – not the actual game, itself.

In this case, it was “oh, look… Cox is wearing sunnies on the field.”

“At night.”

Which was probably fitting, as he played this game like a blind man.

Four disposals, two marks, and one score involvement. This, from the guy who was supposed to fill the void left by a bloke who achieves everything he does via hard work – Brody Mihocek. A disastrous night at the office for Cox, whose best play came when he contested the footy and Tom Wilson was able to rove the spill and kick a goal.

If he could do that more often, and if Collingwood were able to structure their offence to capitalise on him doing that, they’d be in a good space. But he doesn’t. And they don’t. So, that leaves us with a big guy meandering about doing very little of anything for himself, or for others.

They say big guys don’t get any smaller as the game wears on. This is true. They also don’t get any better, and we saw evidence of this in this game.

 

AM I BEING TOO HARSH ON THE PIES? THEY ONLY LOST BY SEVEN POINTS ON THE ROAD!

Not in general, no – on a couple of players, maybe.

I really enjoyed the work of Jack Crisp – he will never die wondering, will he? He takes the game on both offensively and defensively in the name of making the play. It’s also difficult to fault the work of Jordan de Goey – he finished with 21 touches and four goals and is now averaging 23 disposals and two goals per game (it has been over ten years since someone did that over the course of the season).

They really missed Jamie Elliott. He was their hardest physical player last week before being hurt. With him, Beau McCreery, and Brody Mihocek in that forward line, this could have been a very different game.

I like what the Pies are doing and I genuinely believe their best six is as good as any team in the game – they’re just in a spot now that when players like Steele Sidebottom (14 touches) and Callum Brown (12) are being relied upon to provide drive, they’re going to be up against it. Sidey is now hit and miss, whereas I am not convinced this Brown brother will be best-22 if the team is completely healthy. He just doesn’t do enough.

 

ANYTHING ELSE?

Glad I asked.

I liked the work of Dan McStay again in this one. His work to move all the way to half-back to provide an option was excellent. In fact, he was so good at it that I couldn’t count a couple of his marks in the “get out of jail” mark tallies as they were so easy and part of quick plays. In a way, he shot himself in the foot by timing his leads so well and working so damn hard.

I mentioned the holding the ball tackles above – Callum Ah Chee laid the best of them. His effort in the last quarter was an absolute belter and put the brakes on any momentum the Pies seemed to possess at that stage. It was like one of your mates slamming on the handbrake when you weren’t expecting it – things just kind of… stop.

Nice work up forward from Reef McInness, taking the role usually played by Ollie Henry. Whilst McInness did some nice things, one of his goals came on the end of a pass from Pendlebury that was so good, I was surprised it didn’t find its way to his foot and go through for a goal of its own volition. Personally, I’d like to see Henry back in the side – there’s something about him.

Jordan Roughead will be better for the run – he was too easily pushed off the contest in this game, and standing his ground has been a real strength for him in recent seasons.

Eek – Hugh McCluggage will receive no points in the Wingman of the Year award this week after spending the whole game in the guts. I am kind of happy for him, yet a little bit sad. We need great wingmen in the league.

And just one more thing on Cox – showing my age here, but when I was pretty small, I went to see Geelong v North Melbourne at Arden Street with the family. Playing that day was an ageing Sam Newman and he had the audacity to wear white boots. Some of the vitriol hurled at him that day… well, that’s probably the reason I remember it so well. The supporters hated a bloke attempting to stand out.

I get the feeling that Coc elicits that type of reaction from footy fans. Obviously, the levels of abuse are not tolerated the way they were when Newman played, but there seems to be a genuine sense of “look at me” about Cox.

The thing is, we have looked. And since 2018, we haven’t really seen that much. He’s 31 now – he won’t get better. The honeymoon is over with this bloke.

 

And that may just do me.

The Lions have the Queensland Derby next week and, pardon me if I am mistaken, but depending on how the Suns go this week, could this one be the most important one staged? If Gold Coast beat St Kilda… this could be a clash between two finals teams. Giddy up…

As for the Pies… it’s Anzac Day, and that means something amazing will happen, one way or another.

Massive thanks to those who support us by becoming members. If you’re reading this and not a member, mate… this takes a tonne of work – I’d really appreciate your support.

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