Considering all the news from the last 24 to 48 hours about Eagles players getting Covid, injuries mounting and news about some of the players going out to a Perth nightclub after being belted by Richmond, how many of us were expecting the Brisbane Lions to really destroy them this weekend?
I’ll be honest, I was probably very eager to raise my hand up and say that this had the hallmarks for records to tumble – Brisbane dropping a 200-point game, potentially even giving the record a shake has certainly been in the conversation of many a football fan.
But as the rain poured down at the Gabba on this Saturday night, it is true what they say about the rain being hailed as an equaliser; In the first half of this contest, the Eagles tried to make a fist of things against a Brisbane side highly fancied as Grand Final aspirants this year.
But as the game progressed, the Lions found winners that the Eagles simply lacked. One look at the 75-point margin and you’ll probably scoff and put it down to another deplorable West Coast performance.
But Eagles fans can walk away from this game content with the effort. Brisbane at the Gabba is a hard proposition for anyone, but in wet and greasy conditions, the Eagles did what they could from a dire situation, but the strength of this Lions team shone through in this game.
It’s the weekend time to unravel this game with another autopsy.
THE POLISH HAMMERS
Wrestling fans will be disappointed because I’m not talking about the actual wrestling move.
But in a game where the conditions give the battlers a real fighting chance, two players at Brisbane were incredible with their ball use and their handling of the ball as if it was another evening at the office.
Hugh McCluggage was best on ground in this game, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if Dayne Zorko is right behind him. For those who are crying out Lachie Neale, don’t worry, we’ll get to him.
Having played a local game today in the pouring rain, handling the ball is a bastard at the best of times, but both McCluggage and Zorko were consistently brilliant with their use of the ball, especially by foot.
McCluggage’s four goals in this game is phenomenal when you consider his patchy history in front of goals over the past few years, but it wasn’t just the only impressive thing about his game in this one; he had seven inside 50s, 10 score involvements, including three goal assists and 12 of his 26 disposals were contested possessions. He also laid 10 tackles in this one.
He was a wingman once upon a time, but he’s a genuine midfield star now.
Zorko has spent less time in the midfield now and more around the forward half, being the high, half-forward option. He went scoreless in this one, but 26 disposals, two goal assists, eight tackles and seven inside 50s at 85 percent efficiency is a big night in the office, regardless of the opposition.
FLORENCA IS THE MACHINE
Not bad from a top-up player on debut, hey?
Jake Florenca’s life story was summed up by the commentators on Fox Footy (I didn’t want to listen to Kelli, but it is what it is), but his story of being a carpenter by trade and this contested beast in the WAFL on weekends has piqued the interest of many observers in the lead up to this game.
Just to reference his stats at state-level, Florenca has averaged 30 disposals in his first three games this year. In this game, he had the 19 disposals, and was second of all players on the ground for contested possessions with 13 for the game – only Lachie Neale had more.
In a game where all you can ask from your players is a desire to win the ball and a desire to want to be the first to the football, Florenca has done his bit in this team, can they keep top-up players on board for next weekend?
Defensively, I liked him as well, he was equal-first of all Eagles players (along with Jamaine Jones) for tackles as well, laying seven tackles in this one.
Considering the players out… Shuey, Yeo, Sheed and even consider Greg Clark, who was one of their best players last week in a belting, and considering that Tim Kelly hasn’t been in great form so far this year (although he was better this week) and Jack Redden is hanging on to his spot because he’s keeping his nose clean, the Eagles have unearthed themselves a nice player.
He’s 24 – and if he plays and gets some more experience, those players mentioned above (with the exception of Clark) won’t feature in the next premiership. He wouldn’t be a bad little player going forward to help kids like Brady Hough, Campbell Chesser, Zane Trew and Isiah Winder ease into it rather than have them face a baptism of fire.
BIG CHOCCY NEALE
Credit to the Eagles’ midfield for sticking with the Lions; they ended -1 in clearances, -2 in contested possessions and only -10 in tackles, which is a solid effort all things considered.
But one man who could not be stopped in the clinches was Lachie Neale. Whilst Hugh McCluggage was out kicking goals with the manner and the grace of a Rolls-Royce and Dayne Zorko was hitting his mates on the chest inside 50 with regularity, Neale was the grunt in the middle getting it all started.
Even in the wet, his vision and composure in the contest is something that very few midfielders can challenge in the competition. Neale’s 10 clearances, including five from centre bounces, were instrumental in setting up a lot of Brisbane’s scoring chains in this game.
One passage of play that astounded me, was his extraction from the centre bounce to feed Zac Bailey out the back, who then cleared it out to Hugh McCluggage just outside attacking 50, for him to find a target inside 50 and end up with it being a goal.
On top of that, I mentioned earlier that for both McCluggage and Zorko to find the footy and use it like it’s another dry game, Neale hunts the footy with the same likeness – very rarely did he fumble a ground ball in this one and he had 11 ground ball gets overall – the most of any Lion.
Despite singing the praises of a guy like Florenca just before, and yes Tim Kelly was good, not great – the Eagles had no answers to the sheer brute strength and work rate of Lachie Neale in this game and the wet-weather games are tailor-made for a guy like him.
Brisbane had 66 inside 50s in this game – I think there’s a whole lot of boys in Eagles colours that will be lining up to buy Jeremy McGovern and Shannon Hurn beers after this game, because both of them saved this game from being blown out even further.
I’ll briefly touch on McGovern first, because it’s Hurn’s work I’d really like to talk about. But McGovern’s penchant for picking off passes was at its very best in this game, 12 intercept possessions, four spoils and two intercept marks to go along with his 21 disposals was a big positive on a dour night for the Eagles.
As for Hurn, I think it’s highly doubtful he’ll be in the votes when it’s all said and done, but I think he was West Coast’s best player. A bit harrowing thinking that a 34, going on 35-year old man is still trying to hold it down in the West Coast backline.
But it goes without saying, he was fantastic. He set the tone early with a great tackle on Charlie Cameron who was caught trying to be fleet of foot when he really should’ve just tried to throw it on the boot as promptly as possible.
It was then followed up with smart positioning and elite foot skills in trying conditions. Out of his 27 disposals, he had eight intercept possessions and five intercept marks for the game. On top of that, he had 23 kicks at 91 percent efficiency and with nine rebound 50s and 413 metres gained, it’s hard to suggest that a lot of it was sideways chipping.
Alex Witherden didn’t play this game, but I hope that he takes some notes. He is a player of similar ilk to Hurn, in the sense that he can rebound out of defence well and he’s got the height and overhead marking capabilities to be a very good defender in the competition.
Because you can sense that this could be Hurn’s last season in the blue and gold before he hangs them up.
WHAT DOES THE DANIEL MCSTAY INJURY MEAN TO THEIR FORWARD LINE?
With Joe Daniher out for the next month at least and Eric Hipwood on the way back from an ACL injury, Dan McStay had a big month coming up on the field.
Unfortunately, all it took was one misstep onto an opposition’s foot and a bad ankle roll and it changes the dynamic completely.
Whilst it remains to be seen just how much football he’ll miss, the big fat swelling on his ankle suggests that it might be a little while before we see him back out on the football field, which does mean Hipwood’s inclusion and expected impact is going to be very harsh on their chances in the coming month and a half.
Charlie Cameron kicked four goals and was, by and large, their most dangerous forward of the night, but another player that took me by surprise was Cameron Rayner.
You may scoff at the thought of me being surprised by a former number one pick, but I thought his attack on the ball and his leading patterns in this game were quite strong in this game – 2.2 could’ve just as easily have been another player with a four-goal bag if it weren’t for a few stray misses.
But I liked what I saw from him, He took two of his three marks inside 50, meaning he presented himself to the ball good enough and his pressure overall was solid as well. Three tackles might not sound like much, but 18 pressure acts as a forward is pretty nice numbers and something to work with going forward, after kicking three on the Swans last week.
As far as keys go, well they’ve got Jack Payne, who despite kicking a goal in the third quarter, didn’t feature as prominently as he would hope. They’ve also got Tom Fullarton in the magoos currently, and having seen him in the past year, I think that would go down about as well as what Payne offered up in this game.
And as far as playing Darcy Fort and Oscar McInerney as more permanent forwards… no.
No pressure when you come back, Eric.
Another fine game from Daniel Rich in this game, kicked the ball sublimely in the conditions and rebounded solidly – kicked at 79 percent efficiency and took eight marks in this game, linking up well.
I think with all the turmoil the Eagles have faced this year, I think Jamaine Jones has been a positive for the Eagles this year – have enjoyed his aggression towards both ball and opposition and he always looks to take the game on.
Marcus Adams would have to be up there as an All-Australian centre-half back, wouldn’t he? Maybe not his most prominent game in this one, but still finished with eight intercept possessions, a pair of intercept marks and six spoils.
There’s been a bit of discussion about Patty Naish’s kicking efficiency around the Mongrel writers these past few weeks. This week he went at 50 percent and turned the ball over directly five times from 17 disposals, but I can’t fault his work rate.
Liked Noah Answerth’s game, finished with eight tackles, seven marks and 20 pressure acts. I think he’s built himself up a solid season to date. Glad to see him back out on the deck after not featuring at all in 2021 and playing just the nine games in 2022.
I suppose we should touch on Liam Ryan, he kicked three of his side’s four goals, which is commendable, and four tackles and 17 pressure acts is very good too. But I was bothered by the lack of effort to shepherd Ryan Lester, it would’ve resulted in a goal to Jones.
Once again, a Zac Bailey report, because I absolutely love the man. Thought he was quiet early on, but kicked a goal late and settled in as the game progressed – finished with 21 disposals, kicked at 71 percent efficiency and eight inside 50s for four score involvements.
Brandon Starcevich gets plenty of good wraps for his negation work in this game, but I thought his ability to float off and intercept mark was a highlight in this game; took three of them – which is a team-high.
Dirty night in the office for Josh Kennedy, had to battle Harris Andrews for most of the night and probably the only time he got away from him was late in the game.
Every Eagles’ game I’ve seen so far this year, Sam Petrevski-Seton looks like he’s just going through the motions. I thought a few of his efforts in this game were very uninspiring.
Interesting to see both McInerney and Fort try to body their opponents out of the contests at various points in stoppages – they had Callum Jamieson, only in his second game, Harry Edwards was there to pinch hit as well. 58 hitouts and 12 to advantage for the pair.
But I suppose that goes with saying, I liked the efforts of Jamieson to get around the ground and compete. It’s obvious that he is still very raw in terms of his body not being able to handle the rigours of ruck contests, but I think the kids got some enthusiasm with the way he goes about it.
I didn’t mind seeing Matthew Knights switch the magnets around in that third quarter – Jack Darling being moved into defence and Tom Barrass into the forward line – both men struggled to make a real impact on the game in this one.
And I suppose with all of that said, that’s a wrap on this game.
Brisbane are 7-1 and are continually breathing down the neck of Melbourne, who are currently undefeated, but will be bound to slip up eventually. The Lions take on Adelaide next Saturday night at the Adelaide Oval in what should be their eighth win of the season.
Speaking of Melbourne, that’s exactly who the Eagles get next weekend as they return home. It can’t be any worse than their last home game, can it?