After the most disappointing outing of the year against Melbourne last week, the Brisbane Lions regrouped, took some punches early on, and then landed some heavy blows of their own as they dispensed with the Western Bulldogs.

Early on, it seemed as though the Dogs were on. They boxed the Lions into their own defensive half, preventing any meaningful run and carry, whilst moving the footy freely, themselves.

The Lions made the necessary adjustments at quarter time and turned the tables on the Dogs, making them pay for what was a wasted opportunity to capitalise on a quarter of superior play. From that point on, it was all Brisbane.

As the second quarter commenced, it was the Lions making the running and more often than not, it seemed as though the Dogs were forced into a stop-start style of game, which limited the quality supply to their forwards. At the other end, the Lions feasted.

In the end, Brisbane ran out convincing winners; two late goals to Cody Weightman and Rhylee West brought the margin back to 41.

Plenty to get through in this one – time to jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

WHAT DO THESE LIONS HAVE IN KEIDEAN COLEMAN?

Hmmm, it seems they have quite a bit, doesn’t it?

With Daniel Rich sitting on the bench with some hamstring tightness, it became Keidean Coleman that provided the spark from half-back as the Lions rebounded. His work as both an interceptor and an attacking defender was first-class, and his impact on the game in the third quarter gave the Lions the stability behind the ball they needed in Rich’s absence.

A couple of years back, I wondered whether Daniel Rich would be able to fill the void left by Luke Hodge in the Lions’ back six. I mean, Rich wasn’t really the type that exuded leadership prior to Hodge’s arrival, but after his departure, he really stepped up, started demanding the footy, and worked into a position to be the Lions’ most dangerous weapon coming off half-back. If he had any doubts about the role he was being asked to play in Hodge’s absence, they were not echoed by his coach, who placed complete faith in him.

Between Rich and Harris Andrews, the Lions had an excellent one-two punch. It was only when one of them wasn’t present that I ever started to worry about the structure, and when Rich hit the pine in this game, I was quickly looking through notes as to who the Lions would have to replace his long, penetrating kicking.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out, as Coleman took the role on and made it his own as Rich iced up. He finished with 24 touches, five of both inside 50s and rebound 50s, and notched 16 touches after halftime as the Lions put their foot down.

With nine score involvements from half-back, teams will need to put some work into Coleman over the next little while, but given the Lions are adept at working Rich free, if they apply the same to Coleman, we may be about to witness another Lion take the next step.

 

HOW GUTSY IS NOAH ANSWERTH?

Really, I don’t give a shit what the stats say, whether he gets his name in the best players, or how many people take notice of what this guy is doing, but no player on the field put their body on the line more often than Noah Answerth in this game.

None.

I counted four different occasions where he stood under the footy, held his ground and was smashed into by either opponents or teammates, but every time, he dragged himself back up and got back involved in the game.

There is a great quote from that master orator, Sylvester Stallone in the maligned Rocky V – I don’t blame you if you don’t remember it; that movie was the worst of the Rocky flicks. I think it applies to Noah Answerth in this game.

But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you.

Take a bow, Noah Answerth – that was a fantastic game from you, and I am willing to bet that Chris Fagan and your teammates all realise it. The press might miss it and the attention and adulation may be bestowed upon others, but we see you, mate. Great game.

 

HOW MUCH DID THE DOGS MISS TAYLOR DURYEA?

Well, it was pretty evident, wasn’t it?

I kind of felt sorry for Anthony Scott. He was obviously ill-equipped to do the job on a talent like Charlie Cameron, yet there he was, stuck on him in defensive 50. In a lot of ways, Scott looked a bit like the new guy in prison. He knew his fate – he knew what was coming… he just didn’t know when.

Sadly for him, the answer was “often” and “repeatedly”.

Charlie Cameron had his way with Scott, and as the Dogs looked for other options to go back and stand the Brisbane superstar, it quickly became apparent that there were simply no other options. The first choice for the role would be Taylor Duryea, who has done the job on many a small forward over the journey, but is still a month away, at least, from playing footy. With games against Sydney (Papley), St Kilda (Higgins, Butler), and Melbourne (Pickett, Spargo) in the next three weeks, the Dogs are stuck playing poor bloody Anthony Scott in a role he will struggle in.

How can a team be so devoid of other options down back?

And it is not just the direct matchup – where was the bloody help for him? Where was Hayden Crozier drifting back to intercept? Where was Tim O’Brien, who was recruited to play that very role? Nowhere to be seen, as Cameron found space and torched Scott.

Ed Richards will be back from a concussion and can play big or small, and though Caleb Daniel plays more of an attacking role, at least he adds some stability back there with his decision-making, but the lack of a quality small defender outside Duryea was highlighted in this game, and if teams were unaware of just how much the Dogs struggle at the position, they are plenty aware of it now.

Hayden Crozier may be called upon to help, but geez the Dogs would give a lot to have Doc Duryea back there at the moment. Look for them to recruit another mid/small size defender this off-season.

 

SPEAKING OF CHARLIE – THREE VOTES?

He’ll be hard to go past – he made things happen in the most difficult position on the ground, and though he finished with just 12 touches, his pressure and ability to create for teammates broke the game open.

As mentioned above, Charlie Cameron had an inexperienced defender on him for the majority of this game, and like the shark he is, as soon as he got the scent of blood, he went straight in for the kill.

I was bopping along at home as John Denver’s Country Road played after each goal, and actually groaned when he dished off his fifth direct goal assist of the night in the last quarter to Cam Rayner, robbing the crowd, and me, damn it, of a fifth rendition of the song. One of our fellow Mongrels, Brett Hodgson commented that if he kicked one more, they might just play the whole song!

Whilst Cameron’s four goals and five assists were the obvious highlights, he broke even in some really important contests where he was at a clear one v two disadvantage. In the past, Charlie has been criticised for dropping his head or not playing as hard defensively as he did when there was a chance to pencil in a goal next to his name, but you would not know it watching him in this one. This was the consummate team game from the soon-to-be 2022 All-Australian forward pocket

Yep, best on ground.

 

WAS THIS THE VERSION OF HARRIS ANDREWS I WANTED TO SEE LAST WEEK?

The overall numbers are probably pretty similar to last week, with the big full back notching a defensive double-double (11 intercepts, 14 one-percenters) but it was the intent when he attacked the contest that was the difference.

Last week, we saw Harris kind of, sort of, halfway get his fist to the footy, and it led to the Melbourne small forwards sharking the spill and hitting the scoreboard. There was none of that in this game – when the big fella made a spoil, he made it bad intentions, thumping it out of the area and away from the hungry little Bulldogs looking for a quick feed.

There were no scraps for Cody Weightman and Rhylee West to feast on in this game, as when the footy hit the deck, it was headed either toward the boundary, or twenty metres away from the initial contest, giving the Lion’s cavalry the opportunity to get back and help out.

Matched up on Jamarra Ugle-Hagan for the most part, Andrews ensured the handovers were performed quickly and without any confusion as to whose responsibility JUH became as he was forced to lead outside 50. In body-to-body contests inside the dangerous area, the clash belonged to the two-time All-Australian, and seeing him killing contests like this would gladden the hearts of Lions supporters who, like me, may have watched last week and just felt a little bit iffy about their big defender.

 

SO, WAS JAMARRA WELL BEATEN?

Inside 50, he was – that’s where he had to body-up against Harris Andrews, but like any intelligent footballer, Jamarra saw what was happening and made moves to change his game.

Instead of just sitting under the high ball and having Andrews (and Adams, and Starcevich, and Payne) crash in over the top of him, he started to lead up to the wings and gave the Dogs’ defenders a marking target as they looked downfield from defensive fifty.

If you’re not aware, we keep a stat called the “Get out of Jail” marks here at The Mongrel, to capture the players offering those marking targets down the line – Ugle-Hagan took three of them in this game. Whilst a mark inside 50 is obviously the most dangerous grab in the game, the GooJ mark breaks open plays and shifts the entire defensive set-up. JUH gave the Dogs that option in this game.

Overall, his game was solid. You’d like to see him hit the scoreboard, but this was a really positive sign, as working up to the wing and back requires a very good fitness base, and after lacking in that department early in his career, JUH seems to have developed enough of a tank to perform the role.

 

IS IT TIME THE DOGS MADE SOME TOUGH CALLS IN THE MIDFIELD?

We’re getting close.

I reckon if the Dogs make finals, it will all be swept under the rug and people will dismiss the fact that this team has some great offensive mids… but there are just too bloody many of them.

Look at the talent in the mix – Bont, Macrae, Libba, Dunkley, Treloar – and you’ve got Bailey Smith on the road back, as well. Throw in that Rhylee West is sitting in the forward pocket, despite being one of the very good young midfielders in the competition, and you can see the logjam they have in the guts.

I can see it, too. The Dogs… can they see it? Or are they caught up in their high-handball, flick-it-around style of play to the point where they don’t actually see there could be a problem?

The Dogs lost Pat Lipinski at the conclusion of 2021 and he has throved in a system that uses him as a link man. We now have a situation where both Josh Dunkley and Rhylee West are out of contract with seven games left in the season. The rumours about Dunkley have been doing the rounds all year, but is there enough space in the guts to accommodate West next year? Not just for a few minutes here and there, but in a genuine, meaningful midfield role?

If you can term having too much talent a problem, then the Dogs have it. Is it time they used some of that talent, should those players wish to leave, to find themselves pieces of the puzzle that fit better? A key defender who is not an intercept marker masquerading as a key position player would be high on the list for me, and if you have to give a little to get a little, then… well, it’s not as though you don’t have an abundance of talent waiting to pick up the slack.

So, Dogs fans… what do you want in return for Josh Dunkley? I reckon there’d be a few takers.

 

ARE THEY GOING TO SUSPEND ERIC HIPWOOD FOR THE UMP BUMP?

Hmmm, Hipwood wasn’t great in this one – serviceable, but not great.

His role was similar to that of Dan McStay – lead up to the wings and work back inside 50. He did so on this occasion, with Ryan Gardner right with him. As they approached half-forward, Hipwood appeared to give his opponent a decent old shove, right into the umpire, who was blindsided. Both Gardner and the umpire hit the deck.

This allowed Hipwood to trot inside 50, take an uncontested mark and convert the goal.

Now, whilst it was a pretty intelligent way of getting yourself open, I am not too sure the AFL will be thrilled with Hipwood using the umpire as a screen to block his opponent. I can see them looking into this and being quite harsh, particularly given the way they went after Toby Greene last season.

But that was Toby Greene…

I am sure Hipwood can argue that it was an accident…. yeah, it probably wasn’t, but as long as there is doubt, he can argue it. If worst comes to worst, the forward line of Charlie Cameron, Dan McStay, Linc McCarthy, and Joe Daniher can more than hold their own should he have a brief holiday.

I kind of think they’ll fine him, as proving he did it intentionally might be tough, but if he gets a week… well, he is coming off a knee reconstruction – a week off isn’t the worst thing in the world.

 

 

WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE ACCUMULATORS?

Firstly, I don’t buy into that “he doesn’t hurt with his touches” stuff you may read elsewhere when it comes to either Jack Macrae or Lachie Neale – those spouting that are being lazy, and I doubt they watch the games.

Both of these guys are weapons in the midfield, and they make those around them better.

Macrae’s repeat efforts in this game were outstanding. One moment, he looked as though he was completely out of the contest, only to stick out a hand, or make a last-ditch attempt to break things up, and suddenly, he was back in the fray.

Neale’s first touch cleanliness by hand was absolutely astounding. Even in traffic, his ability to pick the footy up cleanly off the deck, or via a half-volley makes me embarrassed to say that I sometimes fumble by keys, or my glasses – under no pressure at all – and end up dropping them onto the ground. The bloke is a freak and looks as though the football belongs in his hands.

Prior to this game, our resident preview writer, Jimmy Ayres compared the two ball magnets and the similarities over the years. What stood out above all was the consistency. Each of these blokes works themselves into the ground to get on the end of the next possession. They think nothing of running to the point of exhaustion to ensure their teammate has a handball option at a stoppage, or they simply just go and get it, themselves.

Both were of the highest quality again in this one. Neale had one more touch and claimed the statistical advantage in marks, tackles, and score involvements, whilst Macrae had more clearances, metres gained, and inside 50s. Though they did not play directly opposite one another, this was like game of chess where the most valuable pieces moved around the board inflicting damage, whilst avoiding the direct confrontation. If you ask me to split them, the only thing that would do it for me would be the result, but when we look at the individual performances, you simply have to acknowledge just how hard each of these blokes work.

Champions, the both of them.

 

HOW ABOUT A FEW QUICKIES. HB?

Well… you are pretty persuasive…

James Tunstill was much better for the run this week, looking a lot more composed in his second game. Great to see both him and Dom Bedendo slot their first goals. Bedend looked to tire late in the game (two touches in the second half) but made some nice plays in the first half.

I loved a few of the one-on-one wins from Jaxon Prior in this game. I was asked during the game why the Lions dropped Mitch Robinson. Look, Robbo slotted two goals last week, which probably wallpapered over what was a pretty average game for him. If you need me to spell out what dropping him means for his career after this season, I’ll do it, but it is obvious that Chris Fagan knows, and he is putting time into kids like Prior, who have the ability and is now gaining the confidence to back himself and take the opposition on.

This was probably the worst game of the Cam Rayner comeback, thus far. He looked as though he wanted to take the game on, but seemed to be unable to break the tackles he normally would, and ended up firing out handballs rather than making the running. Finished with a goal thanks mainly to the generosity of Charlie Cameron, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fagan give him a week off in the lead up to finals to get him fresh

First game back for Lachie Hunter – he looked good early. But he was cooked by three-quarter time. Will be better for the run.

I know it’s gutsy from Cody Weightman to continue playing despite that horrible dislocated elbow the other week, but he really looked like a bloke playing injured in this game.

Josh Schache… ugh

Tim O’Brien… another ugh.

Looked like a crappy decision from the score review to overturn Oscar Mcnerney’s quick shot at goal. Seriously, there has been a couple of instances this season where I reckon they’ve guessed. Looked like a clear goal to me.

Brisbane have so many players than have the capacity to hit the scoreboard for multiple goals. On any given week, you get Lincoln McCarthy, Zac Bailey, Jarrod Berry, Hugh McCluggage, Lachie Neale, Cam Rayner, the Big O, Darcy Fort… they’re all capable of notching a couple of goals.

I would love to see the Lions feed Hugh McCluggage a little more outside footy. He is at his best when he can run and carry, and whilst I understand his move away from the wing, he could be the polish the team needs if the Lions play him like Essendon did Zach Merrett last year – not required to do the dirty work at stoppages, but consistently used as the first or second release player. That enabled Merrett to take five or six steps, assess what was ahead, and deliver. Clug with time is a weapon.

Finally, a big happy birthday to Marcus Adams, who shares a birthday with one of the most attractive blokes you’re ever gonna meet.

Yep, happy birthday to me, as well. 😉

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