I don’t think anyone will be sitting down with a hot coffee, whacking a recording of this game on to watch the skills of Aussie Rules Football, will they?

In a game that meant a lot in terms of finals seeding, St Kilda brought the heat early, with their small forwards creating opportunities, but the Lions soon settled in and the teams slugged it out.

Speaking about the pressure, and I will be diving deeply into this as part of the review, the umpires seemed to be on a mission to stamp out any physicality. A free-kick to Charlie Cameron after a goal from Joe Daniher gave the Lions their second major of the game, and from that point right up until halftime, this game became a showcase of how you SHOULD NOT umpire Aussie Rules.

Free kicks for abuse, fifty-metre penalties, and deliberate calls overshadowed what should have been a great game. Instead, this led to a stop-start contest that left you wondering when the next whistle would blow and what the hell the decision would be for?

Anyway, to their credit, the Lions were too strong for the admittedly injury-depleted Saints, holding them at bay in the last quarter before finally delivering the killing blow to run out 21-point winners.

There was plenty to like, plenty to dislike, and a few questions to be answered as we work through this game. Let’s jump into HB’s Loves and Hates of the Lions and Saints.

 

 

LOVE – CLEAN HANDS

Lachie Neale, this one is for you.

In a game where plenty of players double-grabbed and missed opportunities to open up the game for their teammates as a result, Lachie Neale was the point of difference. His work at ground level in this game was second to none, and whilst that aspect of his game may have deserted him somewhat during the 2021 season, it is now back with a vengeance.

Over the course of the year, there are always players you watch play the game who are just better at handling the ball than others. Blokes like Scott Pendlebury always seem to glove the footy perfectly. Hell, even Tom Green from GWS looks like he was born with a footy in his hands. That would have been a pretty difficult birth, come to think of it.

And as I watched Neale go about his work in this game, it soon became apparent that none of them are better than him. Neale’s ability to be the footy equivalent of a one-touch player gave the Lions first use of the footy. He had 16 contested touches and seven clearances for the game as he worked diligently to find more than just space, but the right space to run to, or deliver the footy to.

At points, I have heard people say that players like Neale, or Tom Mitchell for that matter, have a heap of touches, but don’t hurt teams. That’s complete bullshit and is the result of lazy analysis. The stats will tell you that he had seven turnovers and “only” ran at 65% efficiency, but that is the issue with stats – they are often misleading. Neale was back to his best in this game, and if you don’t see him pick up three votes on Brownlow evening, I would be very surprised.

 

HATE – SOFTNESS

And Brad Hill, this one is for you.

Sometimes you can see turnovers coming when Brad Hill is involved. It has “turnover” written all over it when the ball is not delivered to him perfectly and he has to earn it. Cam Rayner was aware of it, and gave Hill a big stiff arm fend off when he attempted to tackle the Lion late in the contest – he just knew he could brush off whatever Hill tried to pass off as a tackle attempt.

And he did.

Hill’s dropped mark in the last quarter also led to the Hugh McCluggage goal that opened up a match-winning margin for the Lions. It just isn’t good enough that seemingly every time there is physical pressure in a contest, or even perceived pressure in the case of the dropped mark, Hill is likely to step aside rather than step up.

Look, there will be games where Hill stars – we saw it a couple of weeks ago when both he and Jack Sinclair tore North Melbourne to bits, but confronted with a team that actually does more than claim to be an AFL team, Hill was exposed.

I know it’s not his forte. I know his role is that of outside runner and rebounder, but hell, Jake Lloyd wins the hard footy in Sydney. Sam Docherty doesn’t have to rely on his teammates to constantly feed him to fill his belly at Carlton. And Caleb Daniel isn’t completely dependent on those around him at the Western Bulldogs. All of those blokes put their head down, their bum up, and win the footy.

Why can’t Brad Hill? Those three contested touches he had in this game must have occurred via accident.

If you could take Ben Long’s heart and attack on the contest and combine it with the tank and skill of Brad Hill, you’d just about have the perfect footballer. As it stands, you have two halves, and the half Brad Hill doesn’t have, you simply cannot teach.

 

LOVE – OLD-FASHIONED FORWARD V DEFENDER CLASHES

Like Joe Ganino at a swingers’ convention, we really got it at both ends in this one.

We got Harris Andrews playing a very solid game on Max King, using his body well to take away King’s run and jump at the footy for the majority of the contest. It was interesting – as soon as Andrews allowed King any space whatsoever, King was leaping at the footy like he had wings on his boots.

I reckon the runner may have come out early in the piece with a gentle reminder for Harris to stay a bit closer to King and leave the intercepting to Marcus Adams, Keidean Coleman, and Daniel Rich.

And Andrews took plenty of notice.

The frustration on the face of King after being legally bodied out of contests spoke of a young man who knew he was being outplayed. That said, had he kicked straight, we are looking at a 4-5 goal game, and if that occurs, we may be speaking about the competitors differently.

Down the other end, Joe Daniher matched up on Dougal Howard… or the other way around if you prefer.

Daniher finished with three goals, but aside from one excellent contested grab, it seemed as though Howard had the better of him in the air.

I guess that’s why it’s lucky that Daniher is so good at ground level, as well, huh?

I’ll tell you a secret? It’s not luck. It happens way too often to be considered lucky.

Joe Daniher has the capacity to be the man for the Lions in 2022. He has all the tools to turn a big finals game into the Joe Show, and I reckon it may be just about time he does it.

Oh, and I know there is some sentiment out there that Wane Carey is a crap commentator and doesn’t offer enough… or whatever is upsetting you. That said, his calls about Daniher’s kicking mechanics were absolutely spot on. One of my fellow Mongrels mentioned that even a broken clock is wrong twice a day… well, those broken clocks are right a hell of a lot more than plenty of AFL experts. In this case, Carey was right on the money.

 

HATE – OVER-UMPIRING

Okey doke… buckle up.

Through the first half, this game was on the verge of being ruined by over-officiating for the sake of it. Pardon my inner nuffie, here, but I am pretty sick and tired of umps panicking at the first sign of a push and shove and then coming down hard on tiny little aspects of the game.

Here are three free kicks, and/or penalties awarded in this game that would have had the live crowd scratching their heads, wondering what was going on in the sport they used to know pretty well.

1ST QUARTER – CHARLIE CAMERON AWARDED FREE-KICK AFTER JOE DANIHER’S GOAL

So, we all saw this, right?

One of the Lions shoves Brad Crouch into Charlie and he hangs onto him and drags him down. A free-kick is awarded and after dominating the first portion of the game, that soft free-kick allows the Lions to hit the front.

Was the free-kick there? To the letter of the law, yes it was – as Crouch collided with Cameron, he did grab him around the neck, however, Crouch was not involved in anything untoward until he was shoved in the back and into Cameron by one of Cameron’s own teammates. In effect, the Lions actually created that situation and the retaliator got caught. What was it the umps were preaching just a couple of weeks back? Was it common sense?

It would have been nice if a bit of that was applied here. Instead, they were basically conned into giving the Lions a free shot at goal.

But hey, at least we got to hear Country Road by John Denver again… I dig that.

2ND QUARTER – DELIBERATE BEHIND AWARDED AGAINST HUGH MCCLUGGAGE

Oh yes, he was “outside the nine”… like that means anything when a Jade Gresham is right on his hammer. McCluggage tapped the ball back toward his own goal under pressure when his only recourse seemed to be to grab the footy and get tackled immediately, or tap it toward the boundary line, which didn’t make too much sense.

Gresham was so close to touching the ball and perhaps tapping it through, himself, that had McCluggage for half a second more, the contest would have been lost and a chance at a goal would have been manufactured. As it turned out, a chance was manufactured anyway… by the umpire, because… you know, it’s the rules and they’re there for a reason!

Doesn’t make it right. It’s a terrible interpretation of a rule intended to stop players walking it over the line, ala the Hawks in the 08 Grand Final.

Did you hear any of the crowd appeal for the free? I know it was a pro Lions crowd, but there was no noise at all, because they seemed to be aware that this rushed behind was part of the play and it was a fair outcome. The call took everyone by surprise, as well, because I am guessing they came to see players play footy, not be gifted goals from terrible decisions like this applied with NO COMMON SENSE!

2ND QUARTER – FREE KICK FOR ABUSE AND 50M PENALTY FOR PROTECTED ZONE INFRINGEMENT

Isn’t this what you come to the footy to see? The high flying free kicks for nasty words way off the footy and the skill of the 50-metre penalty for something so innocuous as entering an imaginary protected zone?

Seriously, they could not make this game more frustrating for spectators if they tried. Zorko was 30-40 metres from the actual play, talking to the umpire. Known to be a bit of a hot-head, he obviously said something that hurt the umpire’s feelings and he paid the free-kick for abuse.

Then, in the ensuing confusion, a Lions player enters the *cue spooky music*  forbidden zone and a 50-metre penalty was paid. And the crowd have no bloody idea what is happening because none of it makes any sense to the people forking out their hard-earned to sit and watch a game where the scoring and key plays are being determined by whether or not an umpire has his feelings hurt.

There were others – the hold on Max King that was paid and nobody knew what was going on, so the ump tells the Brisbane player to “give me the ball”. The 50 metres against Joe Daniher that took Cal Wilkie to within scoring range… guys, nobody gives a shit about these pissy little rules – only you at the AFL seem to need to exert some level of control over an environment that is at its best when it is chaotic. Aussie Rules footy thrives in chaos, but it seems as though those at the AFL – the custodians of the game, mind you – would prefer it was something else entirely.

Every time this game threatened to gain some type of traction and flow, a whistle would blow and halt everything, and then, to top matters off, you had goals overturned by the score review system that look as though they are using footage shot on my old Nokia 3210 and the bloody reviewers didn’t even have goal-line cameras.

F’n bush league!

 

LOVE – THE MONGREL IN BRAD CROUCH

My jury was out on Brad Crouch last season. He seemed, on paper, to be the perfect backup to Jack Steele – a player that could help him at stoppages and start having a physical impact in the middle of the ground.

Only, it didn’t quite play out that way.

The Saints faltered, and with the benefit of hindsight, I was probably expecting a bit too much from Crouch coming into a new system with a new coach to adapt to. But he has made up for it in 2022.

Crouch had ten tackles in this game, finally making it to double figures in 2022, after registering nine tackles on three occasions. Better yet, he made two of them really count, winning two free kicks for holding the footy in a competition that doesn’t seem to like rewarding the tackler that much (the league average for successful tackles is around 5% so 20% for Crouch is a good return).

He was hard at it all game for the Saints as they battled injury and adversity, before succumbing to the Lions.

 

HATE – THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS MITCH ROBINSON

Hate is a strong word, but I did not like what I saw from Robbo in this game, at all. He looked rusty, slow, and had a hard time getting his judgement right on several occasions.

Whilst I suspect he has a role to play, this game was a clear indication as to why Chris Fagan has been patient with bringing him back into the team. You have a young player like Jaxon Prior on the sidelines to make way for Robbo who, aside from his goal, contributed very little to the win.

I feel pretty safe in stating that Robinson is playing his final season of footy at the top level. With Jarrod Berry moving to the wing, we have seen both Callum Ah Chee and Prior spend time out wide, and both have had their moments. In this game, the moments that stood out to me most were Robbo completely missing a spoil in the second quarter, and the Daniel McKenzie mark over him a few minutes later.

Not a great night for Robinson by any stretch, but I reckon he has enough runs on the board for Fagan to back him to be better in a couple of weeks.

And if not, there are at least a couple of others options ready and waiting to step into the role.

 

LOVE – KEIDEAN COLEMAN STEPPING UP

This was a young bloke stepping up into a role in this game.

Keidean Coleman has been viewed as a talented prospect, but some also see him as a fringe player with the Lions.

Well, after 19 touches, nine marks, and seven intercepts, we may have witnessed a young man announcing to his team and the footy world that he has well and truly arrived.

Coleman demonstrated the ability to read the play wonderfully well, and did not hesitate to stand under the footy when it was his time to go. Coming out of this game, I reckon Chris Fagan would be thrilled with the way his young defender attacked the contest and ran to support his teammates. At 22, he would have a fair bit left in terms of his development. The next 12-24 months will be very interesting as he continues to grow into his role at half-back.

 

HATES – WHAT THE SAINTS ARE GETTING FROM ROWAN MARSHALL

I’m not liking this at all.

We’re at the point now – right now – where Rowan Marshall needs to step up and be the number one ruckman for the Saints. Currently, I see him playing a clear second fiddle role to Paddy Ryder, in which there is no shame…

… unless you’re one of the best up-and-coming young ruc… hag on a second, he is not a young, up-and-coming ruckman, is he? He is 26 years old and should be grabbing this position by the scruff of the neck and making people think what a very handy backup Ryder is when h isn’t clunking marks and kicking goals inside 50.

Is he playing hurt? Could that be it?

If the answer to that is no, then it becomes a question of desire. Maybe Marshall is content being the second ruck in a tag team. Maybe he is Marty Jannetty to Ryder’s Shawn Michaels? Hell, I hope Paddy doesn’t get fed up and throw him through the barber shop window as a result!

Look, the Saints will play finals this season. How far they go may come down to which players emerge as stars of the competition over the next few months. Rowan Marshall was touted as a star a couple of years ago – he looked the part and started playing the part.

Now, he looks like the understudy doing Sunday matinees whilst people are lining up at other times to see Ryder be the star. It’s time to reverse that, and it could be the spark that ignites the Saints in the run home.

 

LOVES – BERRY GOOD AGAIN

Another very solid outing from Jarrod Berry in this one, compiling 25 touches and six tackles from his wing.

Organic improvement in players is often the aspect of a team that elevates them to the next level. The Lions are getting exactly that from players like Zac Bailey and Keidean Coleman, but the work of Jarrod Berry out wide has the capacity to add something different to the wing role for Brisbane.

Berry is combative. He is good overhead, wins his own footy, and runs all day. He has taken time to adjust to the wing role, but twice in the last three games, he has been either best on ground, or very close to it..

I loved what I saw from him in this one – he was in control of the situation more often than not, and the way he read the play on the spread was excellent. I did think we’d see Zac Bailey assume a wing position eventually a couple of years back, but it seems as though Jarrod Berry is the best man for that role, and it is difficult to argue against recent results.

 

A COUPLE OF QUICKIES

That about sums up the love life these days, right? Eh? Eh?

Jarryd Lyons had a bit second half in this one. Really lifted after the main break and won a heap of footy in the last quarter. A lot of players looked out on their feet – not him.

Haven’t even mentioned Hugh McCluggage yet, which is really unfair. He did a mountain of work for the Lions and was particularly potent in the first half. Had a bit of a lull through the third, before bouncing back strongly in the last. He was another who refused to slow down when the legs got heavy.

The Saints’ injuries… they had such a tough run in this one. I’d like to say they really could have used Zak Jones in the fourth quarter, but he was pretty ordinary through the first half. It looked to me as though the Saints just had a few who were down on the day – Jones before his injury, Hill, and Jones. Hard to cover injuries, let alone poor form.

Really liked the work of the St Kilda defence in this one. They were being bombarded at one stage, but really stuck it out and the mids worked back hard to bottle it up. It was no surprise that once the sting was out of the legs of the mids, things started to open up a bit.

Cam Rayner is now moving into the zone where he is threatening to take a game over. We’re seeing flashes, and they’re becoming more frequent, but soon… soon he is going to have a ten-minute blast that tears a game usunder.

The Lions get the week off next week, whilst the Saints face the Bombers at Marvel and should fix them up. Good teams should put the Bombers away now. They know they’re cooked and after their 15th celebration emotion is out of the way, St Kilda should be able to put the foot on their throat.

And that’ll do me – massive thanks to our members, as always.

 

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!