Melbourne v Brisbane – The Big Questions

In a brutal display of pressure football, the reigning champs slammed on six goals in the second quarter to turn away the challenge of the Brisbane Lions and reclaim top spot on the AFL Ladder.

Prior to the bye, there were those who openly wondered whether the wheels were getting a little shaky at Melbourne. They had not fallen off, but they appeared as though they were starting to wobble. Three consecutive losses had the Dees looking vulnerable, but after a week off, the big test loomed.

This was the chance for the Lions.

Finally getting to set foot on the MCG – and how stupid is it that a contender is only now getting a chance to play at the venue the Grand Final will be held – a win here would have made a major statement.

There was a statement made – by both teams, in fact.

For the Dees, they announced that reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. Meanwhile, the Lions announced that when the pressure gauge is turned up, they struggle to go with the best. And they also announced to the world some glaring weaknesses we’ll get into.

A heap to work through in this one – let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

 

WAS THAT SECOND QUARTER THE BEST MELBOURNE FOOTY SINCE THE GRAND FINAL?

That was fierce.

We saw Melbourne break the Lions at one point as they simply flat out refused to succumb to the Brisbane pressure and raised their own levels so high that the Lions wilted. It was about a 90-second patch in the Melbourne defence – the Lions were tackling, hustling, bustling… they tried everything to crack the Demons, but the red and blue stood firm.

Lever, May, Petty, Hibberd, Bowey, Brayshaw… they were all cracking in, forcing Brisbane back outside 50 to try their luck again, and when they did, the Dees worked even harder to clear the footy.

When they finally won this battle, they landed a heavy blow that went a long way to winning the war. They swept the ball up the field to create a stoppage of their own, for Charlie Spargo to feed Alex Neal-Bullen for a goal.

And the resolve of the Lions broke.

They’d thrown everything they had at Melbourne, and the premiership mettle of the Dees steered them through little gaps to turn the tables.

This was the Melbourne Football Club that had been missing for weeks. This was the type of relentless pressure and consistent harassing that made Melbourne so tough to handle through the first ten games, but in this case, it was dialled up even further.

Was it the best footy since the Grand Final?

Hard to say – it reaped the best results, but this was a different type of “best”. This best was built on pressure and lacked the avalanche of goals, yet it was just as satisfying. This was a Melbourne team saying “our best is THE best” and you know what?

That’s hard to argue against.

 

HOW MUCH OF A MISSED OPPORTUNITY WAS THE FIRST QUARTER FOR BRISBANE?

When you look at what occurred in the second quarter, this was huge. Instead of having a three or four-goal buffer to keep things on an even keel when the Dees turned up the heat, the Lions went into quarter time just six points up.

Two misses to Joe Daniher hurt. McInerney missed a very gettable shot, and Cam Rayner missed a sitter.

Those shots come back to haunt you when you’re playing a quality team, and as we witnessed, quality does not come much higher than that of the Demons.

From where I sat, the Lions played all over the top of the Dees in the first quarter. That was their chance. They blew it. And they’ll be ruing it as they watch it back as part f the review process.

Chris Fagan likes to either win, or learn. I reckon the lesson here is a simple one – make the most of your chances; they’re not infinite.

 

IS THIS THE PREMIERSHIP DEFENCE?

Well, it’s the reigning premiership defence, and matched up against the three-headed monster of the Brisbane forward line, this was a pretty decent test for them.

The Dees have had their best back six play together far too seldom this season, so against Daniher, Hipwood, and McStay, it was always going to be interesting how they worked together.

In short, it worked like a well-oiled machine. The Dees dusted off the old girl, turned it over and the machine hummed. It was music to their ears.

May saw Daniher get a few shots early before tightening the screws. Lever intercepted everything that came within shouting distance of him, whilst Petty attacked every contest as though it was a personal affront that his opponent thought he could compete. The big three of the Lions combined for just 11 marks and the majority of them were on searching leads up the ground.

Add to this the work of Michael Hibberd and Jake Bowey who switched on Charlie Cameron and made him redundant, and you have a defence that controlled this game and made Brisbane look second-rate. On Hibberd, he is one of the more underrated defenders in the game, now – amazing, considering he’s got an All-Australian blazer. People seem to forget that now that he is an elder statesman in the league, but if you find that you’ve got him as your opponent, you’re in for a tough night at the office.

So, let’s assume this group out there right now – Brayshaw included – get a clean run up until September; is this the premiership defence?

Look, making idiotic statements with eight weeks to go before finals has a habit of coming back to bite – ask me how I know. All it takes is one bad day to bring things crashing down – ask Geelong in ‘08 or Richmond in ‘18 about that. The best sides don’t always win the flag, but if you have this defence up and running as August grinds to a halt, you’d be feeling pretty bloody excited if you were a Melbourne supporter.

 

WHY DOES HARRIS ANDREWS NO LONGER KILL CONTESTS?

I don’t know what it is with Harris at the moment, but in my notes, twice I wrote that he spoiled a contest “like a pussy”.

Now, I know that isn’t the type of thing that you’d normally read in a game review, and it probably casts me in a poor light in terms of what goes through my head when I am watching a game, but there were three or four occasions in this game where he just seemed content with his fist grazing the footy and not smashing it away over the line or out of the immediate area.

It struck me as weird, given my memories of Andrews consist of this contest destroyer, attacking the footy like it had insulted his younger sister. He was a defender that spoiled with malice, and now he is this big bloke who holds his fist toward the ball and watches it slide off. Up the other end, you had Steven May and Harrison Petty absolutely annihilating the footy. Meanwhile, Andrews was just tapping the footy like he was trying not to wake it.

I know the stats say he had 15 one percenters – the majority of them were spoils, but a couple of his ineffective spoils led directly to goals and in years gone past, he would have sent that footy thirty metres away from where he made contact.

Overall, you look at the game of Harris Andrews and you’d say he played well. Ben Brown and Sam Weideman had no impact up forward, so he did what he had to do, right? But when you drill down and watch the defensive acts closely, Andrews reminds me of Rocky Balboa at the start of Rocky 3… he has lost that eye of the tiger and he has forgotten what got him to the dance, and to two All-Australian selections.

I don’t know who his Apollo Creed is, but I hope he finds him soon and starts beating the living shit out of the footy and getting it out of the area, because this softly-softly approach to spoiling may count on the stats sheet, but it doesn’t do a helluva lot of good when the opposition run onto the ground ball and kick goals.

 

GIVEN HIS TIME AGAIN, WOULD CHRIS FAGAN PLAY MARCUS ADAMS ON BAYLEY FRITSCH?

I suppose it comes down to who else is at his disposal. I was thinking someone like Brandon Starcevich would be better – an intelligent defender who is pretty good overhead, but can match Fritsch when he makes repeat efforts.

As good as Marcus Adams is overhead, Fritsch was able to turn this contest to his advantage in the second quarter and finish as one of the Dees’ best.

But before we go any further, let’s look at the first quarter.

I hated Bayley Fritsch’s efforts in the opening period. He completely burnt Christian Petracca by not dishing off and shepherding, getting caught with the footy when an open goal beckoned. Then, he tried a lazy chest mark on the lead, allowing Adams to close the gap, make the desperate spoil, and shut him down. If you stopped the game at quarter time, Marcus Adams would have been one of the best on ground.

I reckon someone had a word to Fritsch at quarter time, because he came out on a mission. He started to hit the wings and made Adams chase him. Then he doubled back and used his versatility and speed to push inside fifty to contest again. It was indicative of the pressure and hard work the Dees were willing to commit to, and in the process, it exposed Adams for his lack of mobility.

I was quite surprised that Chris Fagan persevered with the matchup once it became apparent that Fritsch had worked out how to get the better of Adams, but as the Melbourne forward slotted his third of the game to lead all players, the horse had well and truly bolted.

I’m not sure we see Adams line up on Fritsch when these teams meet again this season. Maybe Darcy Gardiner could be entrusted with the job when he returns, but if the positions on the ladder are set when these two teams tangle again, I wouldn’t mind seeing Fages start to experiment a bit more.

Geez… I sound like his missus.

 

WAS THIS THE GAME JAKE LEVER NEEDED?

Everyone needs a game like this. Hell, I would have liked one when I played.

Lever simply ruled the skies in the Melbourne defensive fifty, imposing his will on the contest and continually cut the Lions’ attack off at the knees. An All-Australian in 2021, it is fair to say that his form had somewhat deserted him this season, but to see him come in against a team that believed they had a real shot of knocking the Dees over… it’s the type of boost to the confidence you can only get by playing your best footy.

Lever revelled in the Lions’ haphazard forward 50 entries, picking them off like grapes off a vine as he continually zoned off his man (McStay, Rayner, Hipwood all at different points) to clunk marks and turn defence into attack. He added eight one-percenters to his totals, and unlike Harris Andrews, made them count.

I know some people had Jack Viney as the best player on the ground. For me, it was a toss-up between him and Lever, but I do think that Lever played a more difficult role, and did it so well that I cannot help giving him the honours.

 

HOW TEMPTING IS IT TO MOVE HUGH MCCLUGGAGE BACK TO A WING?

It must be crossing Chris Fagan’s mind, particularly given the way Clug continued to hack at the footy in this one.

Credit to the Dees – every way he turned, it seemed as though he was confronted with a Melbourne guernsey, forcing him to throw the ball onto his boot as quickly as possible.

And when you do that, more often than not, you’re not being that effective. McCluggage had 27 touches in this game – ten of them were turnovers, and though he was combative, laying 11 tackles, he is in this side to get out in the open and use the ball well.

And he didn’t in this one.

Clug went at 48% disposal efficiency in this game – of the players you’d expect to pick up plenty of the footy, only Ed Langdon was worse, running at 47% and he had Jarrod Berry for close company most of the game.

Whilst I respect the fact that McCluggage can be a matchwinner, I also think he could be the best wingman in the game if permitted to play the role every week. He is a class ball user (except when kicking for goal) and thrives when permitted space. He hasn’t played on the wing all season, but when you look at what the Lions did in those roles in this game (Mitch Robinson, first-gamer, James Tunstill, and Jarrod Berry running with Langdon), I reckon the side was screaming out for a bit of class to give them some composure with the footy. Stuck on the inside, Clug just added to the Lions woes.

Instead of being the solution, he was just another part of the problem.

 

WHO CAN MATCH THE INTENSITY OF JACK VINEY?

When he is in this type of mood, not many.

Viney was a wrecking ball against the Lions. He bashed and crashed his way through packs, laid tackles, won clearances, and notched 19 contested touches as he compiled 34 touches to be the best of the Melbourne mids.

Oh sure, Clayton Olver did his thing, as well, picking up 35 touches and the standard 21 contested possessions (freak!) but the physical work from Viney elevated him in my esteem.

With Max Gawn out, the question of leadership at the Demons was floated by some prior to the game. It kind of made me smile – did people forget that Jack Viney used to captain this side? I know there are people with a short memory, but at times it is like being a goldfish is a prerequisite for being part of the media.

Viney played like someone who’d been there, done that, and will do it again. He attacked the contest and the opposition with a type of aggression some coaches would kill to see in their teams. Two of his seven tackles ended in holding the ball decisions, but it should have been three, with Viney clearly getting Marcus Adams cold in the first quarter and causing an incorrect disposal right in front of goal. Nope… play on.

He may no longer be the captain of this club, and some may even argue that he was made captain too soon, but this was a performance that screamed leadership from Jack Viney and demonstrated you can play hard, tough footy within the rules. I loved his game.

 

WERE THE COMMENTATORS A LITTLE TOO EXCITED ABOUT THE WORK OF LUKE JACKSON?

I know there’ll be a lot of Dees supporters reading this – it’s the nature of the beast when your team wins, but I thought Oscar McInerney was just as impressive as LJ.

You could argue that these two played to a draw, and I wouldn’t argue too vigorously against you. Jackson’s snap goal and nine tackles probably even things up when you consider the Big O had a career-high 12 clearances in this game.

Both guys had 20+ disposals, and both provided their teams with good marking targets. Big O was +11 in hit outs, but I don’t think he killed it with taps to advantage –  there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between him and the mids, particularly as Lyons was struggling. At the end of the day, I didn’t hear much praise for the work of McInerney at all, which was disappointing – he battled his guts out.

I heard plenty for Jackson… almost as though they were intentionally driving up his price! Maybe he will shout them dinner once he pockets big money?

I’ve long thought Big O was one of the more unsung rucks in the game and I reckon it was proven in this game both by his play, and the commentary around it. Both blokes were good, which, to me, kind of makes one cancel the other out.

 

WHERE’D JOE DANIHER GO?

Oh, he was out there, but after quarter time, Brisbane got a glimpse of 2020 Essendon Joe Daniher… and I am not sure they would have liked what they saw.

Daniher looked on in the first quarter. He led Steven May to the footy, forced him into errors, and set himself up for shots at goal – he cocked most of them up, but the fact he was finding space and drawing free kicks meant that he was inside May’s head. And if he could occupy the Demons full-back, it would open up the forward fifty for others.

Well, nice theory, I guess.

From quarter-time onwards, May spanked Daniher. If we could sneak a camera into the showers, you’d see a big red hand mark right across Joe’s ass! May just maneuvered Daniher out of position, to which Daniher countered by making frowny faces and looking frustrated, time and time again. This allowed Jake Lever to float in and own aerial contests in defensive 50 en route to challenging for best on ground honours.

What you want to see from Daniher is effort. Yeah, it’s great that he was still trying to take mark of the year when the game was slipping away – I am sure there are people who love that, but whilst he was still trying to supply sizzle, the Lions needed steak.

And Joe offered bugger all in that department. He had 1.2 in the first quarter from four touches. He ended with 1.3 from nine touches. At one stage I saw him hobble a little, but to me, it looked like the type of hobble you get when you’re being beaten.

The Lions need more from him if they’re going to make it to the last Saturday in September, and in this case, it means steak – not sizzle. Let’s see what he can do when the teams meet again later this season.

 

DID SAM WEIDEMAN DO ENOUGH?

It’s harsh, I know, but probably not.

He came in as the part-time backup ruck and part time forward and excelled at neither. If I described his performance as “workmanlike” it would probably be a little too generous, but he was not terrible, either.

The thing is, spots in this team are not gifts. It doesn’t matter how big you are, how loyal you are (I’ll get to that), or what the team needs – if you’re unable to perform at a very high level, eventually the chances dry up. The reason Sam Weideman is in this team is that the first option to play the role is hurt – he now needs to earn the spot and prove he belongs.

On his loyalty, it raised a few eyebrows when he re-signed with the team despite interest from other clubs. We can look at it a number of ways – either he thought he could genuinely become the man on this Melbourne team up forward. Or he really didn’t want to move elsewhere and have t establish himself all over again. Or… and I know this is contentious… maybe he was content being the third banana?

Maybe there is a bit of Clint Eastwood about him and he realises that a man’s gotta know his limitations?

What I see from Weideman when I watch him is a VFL player getting a chance at the AFL. It’s like promoting the kid from the mail room to the role of marketing manager. He’ll show up to work, he’ll fill the role… he just won’t do a great job of it.

And long term, I am not sure you want the mail room bloke in an important role.

 

IS JAMES JORDON THE MOST UNDERRATED WINGMAN IN THE GAME?

Yes, absolutely he is at the moment.

Some of you may be aware that we have a weekly Wingman of the Year column here, at The Mongrel. If you wren;t, now you are aware. Congrats.

Over this season, watching Jordon mature in the role to the point where he owns one half of the ground has been a pleasure to watch. He has built and built this season to the point where over the last six games, he has averaged 25.5 disposals.

With so much attention going on the run and carry of Ed Langdon (and with it, the defensive efforts of opposition coaches), Jordon has put together an impressive run of games.

Yet, hardly anyone speaks about him.

He snagged two goals to go with his 24 touches in this game, and added four inside 50s as he was once again a valuable contributor. Suffice to say, if the Demons make the big one this year, he won’t be sitting on the bench hoping to be subbed on. This bloke now owns a wing just as much as Ed Langdon does.

 

QUICK BITS

Two goals to Mitch Robinson make his game look a lot better than it was. For the most part, he was unsighted in the first half, with just two touches as he alternated between half-forward and wing. This should be his last season – he has been a great servant of the club, but now has the lateral movement of a refrigerator.

The Brisbane youngsters seemed rather overawed with the game. Dev Robertson usually cracks in, but he was quiet. Tom Berry added very little. And James Tunstill was pushed off the footy too easily, but you expect that against a premiership side. The Dees don’t really have anyone who’ll take it easy on you because you’re new.

Another “almost” game for Christian Petracca. It’s funny that he can now get 30+ disposals and my reaction is “meh… seen better from him.” The thing is, I have seen better, quite often, and whilst 31 disposals are nice, 55% efficiency isn’t.

Angus Brayshaw will be the recruit of the year in 2023. Mark it down now. He has not signed with the Dees and likely won’t, but whoever gets him is getting something special – a bloke who can play anywhere and do it well.

A bit will be made about Lachie Neale’s lack of production after quarter time ( sam as his team, really). He was mostly covered by James Harmes at stoppages, but one thing I did notice was that his defensive intensity wasn’t there in this game. He was very “see ball, get ball”, which is his game, but you have to run both ways. Through the first three quarters, he had just one touch inside defensive 50, which tells me he was either instructed not to get back and help, or he… just didn’t?

Jarrod Berry did a really good job on Ed Langdon, taking the chocolates in their clash. Langdon has not been the same since Tarryn Thomas crunched him in a tackle a month or so ago. He is still running his backside off, but something is just not clicking. I am not sure he can be the AA wingman at this stage.

That ribs/sternum injury to Jarryd Lyons looked nasty. Bayley Fritsch’s knee made such solid contact that I would not be surprised if they report there is some structural damage. Maybe a cracked rib? I really hope it’s not a crack in the sternum…or one of his sternums, hey Hamish?

Saw a bit to like from Jackson Payne in this one. He is a big unit, and looked really good slotting in to take some intercept marks under duress.

 

And that may just do me.

Next week, the Dees head to South Australia to take on the Crows, whilst the Lions head home to welcome the Dogs in what should be a cracker.

As always, massive shout out to our members who support our work. Sincerely… thank you.

 

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