The Brisbane Lions silenced many of their critics, with a strong win over the competition’s current media darlings, the Magpies.
After a fast start that saw Collingwood kick the first two, and five of the first eight goals, the Lions were able to put the brakes on the high-octane offence of their opponents and piled on ten straight goals of their own to open up the match-winning lead.
The return of Cam Rayner to the forward line sparked the Lions, and his presence was complemented by some hard work from the maligned key forward combination of Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher. The cherry on top came in the form of Charlie Cameron, who gave us several choruses of John Denver’s “Country Road” as he slammed home six snags for the home team.
The Lions also got fantastic contributions from Oscar McInerney, Will Ashcroft, and Josh Dunkley, as they withstood the Magpie counter-punches to run out 33-point winners.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel Review and see what we can take from this contest.
CAN YOU PLEASE NEVER, E-E-E-E-EVER PLAY CAM RAYNER IN DEFENCE AGAIN?
It was about halfway through the first quarter when I made a note that Cam Rayner looked a hell of a lot more comfortable attacking the footy as a forward than he does defending, and from that point on, he went about convincing even the biggest supporters of his defensive experiment that it was well and truly over.
You can understand why Chris Fagan trialled Rayner in the role off half-back. He has a lovely pair of coconuts hands, and after coming back from a knee reconstruction last season, the former number-one overall pick was solid without being spectacular up forward.
And the Lions needed him to be spectacular.
So, off to defence he went in an attempt to redefine himself and provide the Lions with both an aerial presence, as well as a booming kick from defence to ignite the transition.
Only… it didn’t quite work out as planned, and though Rayner was not poor in the role, he was somewhat of a quiet achiever. Actually, that’s a weak description – he was not a natural defender and he struggled to both get into games and have a genuine presence in the back half. That’s a bit more accurate.
Last week, it seemed as though Chris Fagan had seen enough to convince him that the experiment was over and Rayner moved into attack against the Dogs in the second half. It was a little too late to salvage much from that contest, but this week, Rayner made up for lost time.
When he attacked the footy in this game, he did so with purpose. When the others fumbled and bumbled around with the footy, it was Rayner taking it cleanly and creating both for himself and his teammates. And when the opportunity presented to hit the scoreboard, he did exactly that.
Rayner finished with four goals and was a powerful presence for the Lions as they rampaged to ten straight goals. His two third quarter goals gave the Lions the boost they required to stave off the Magpies down the stretch, much to the chagrin of Brian Taylor and company, who seemed to almost be barracking for the Collingwood comeback – surely I wasn’t the only one who noticed that, was I?
With both Daniher and Hipwood contesting well, Rayner was able to find avenues to goal more readily, and he was a huge part of upending the – until this game – undefeated Pies.
WHY DID THE TWIN TOWERS REFUSE TO FALL THIS TIME?
Both Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher copped a fair amount of whacks this week, and I have to say – a lot of them were absolutely justified. Neither man had set the world on fire in the opening weeks of the season, with the word “disappointing” probably the one to best describe their efforts.
In this one, however, it looked as though both guys had their working boots on and were prepared to get their hands dirty if it was for the betterment of the team.
Though the stats may not jump off the page when looking at Hipwood’s game, it was the way he contested in the air – an aspect of the game he has not excelled in – that gave the indication that he meant business.
Hipwood’s mid-air collision with Billy Frampton in the second quarter left the Collingwood recruit gasping for air and led directly to a Dayne Zorko goal – that’s how you impact without having to have the footy delivered lace-out to you.
As for Daniher, he played the relief ruck role when the Big O required a bit of a rest, and was quite serviceable against the undermanned Collingwood ruck division. He had 20 touches to go with his two goals and, like Hipwood, attacked the contest hard and often.
It was great to see these two stand up and not do the exact opposite and step aside. Was it Jonathon Brown that said the Lions cannot win the flag with Hipwood and Daniher as the key forwards?
A bit of reverse psychology there from you, Browny? Pretty good thinking, mate. The version of Hipwood and Daniher we saw against the Pies can absolutely drive Brisbane to the flag. The duo we witnessed through the first few weeks can not.
MORE A STATEMENT – IT IS POSSIBLE TO CALL A FREE KICK AGAINST NICK DAICOS
In the space of about 30 seconds, late in the second quarter, it appeared as though the umpires simply turned a blind eye to whatever Nick Daicos was up to and allowed him to get away with a free kick in one moment, and then opted not to pay a fifty-metre penalty against him despite the fact he crept around from behind the player with the footy, to man the mark. I saw several players pinged for that just last week.
I remember looking around at the imaginary friends I watched this game with and wondering whether there was an unwritten rule that he could not be penalised?
Of course, by the time the third quarter rolled around, Daicos, himself, blew that theory out of the water when, clearly frustrated, he threw his opponent to the ground off the ball and cost his team the footy whilst in attack.
Still, even with the frustration and the niggle from the Lions, he played a ripping game once again, notching 38 touches and snagging two goals from half-back… even though the last one was complete charity. I had a mate tell me a workmate got on Daicos at 25-1 for the Brownlow a few weeks back. I wonder how those odds have shortened since?
With 16 contested touches, he still managed to run at 76% efficiency and cover 633 metres gained. Any way you slice it, that is a hell of a night at the office. What was also interesting was how often the Pies deferred to him as their General off half-back.
That is some mad trust in a young player with a hell of a lot of development to come.
IS IT NOW DANIEL MCSTAY’S TURN TO FEEL THE HEAT?
I know there’d be some Lions fans wanting to yell “YES!” but the answer is no, and if you try to tell me, or anyone else for that matter, that he is performing below expectations, you’ve got rocks in your head.
McStay had a lot asked of him in this game. Basically playing as the number one ruckman, he was forced to contend with Oscar McInerney in the ruck contests and was soundly beaten, but here’s the thing – even when he goes forward, he is playing the type of role that he is not naturally equipped for.
McStay is a long-leading beast. He can flat-out run all day and is at his most effective when he can present as an option on the wing and then double back toward attacking 50 to be involved in one of the next couple of contests, as well.
At Collingwood, he is playing the role of deep forward and, simply put, it does not agree with him.
I’m certain there will be some that come for Dan McStay in the near future. At ten touches and under a goal per game, his numbers make him a prime target for those looking to blame someone, however, we need t look at what his strengths are and how he is being asked to play roles not commensurate with those skills. Only then will we understand that this is going to take a period of adjustment before his true value is realised at Collingwood.
Craig McRae is a smart fella… at least for an AFL coach. I’m sure he will work out how to best use McStay once he has a ruckman or two at his disposal.
IS CHARLIE ON THE WAY TO A SECOND AA
Long-time readers will know I am of the belief that Charlie Cameron hasn’t exactly been treated fairly by the All-Australian selection committee.
There is not much disputing that over the last four seasons, Charlie has been the best small forward in the competition by a fair margin. With three bags of 50+ goals in that period, Cameron has just one All-Australian blazer to his name. Others have snuck in based on having one good year and even then, their efforts pale in comparison to the Lions star when it comes to the reason small forwards exist – hitting the scoreboard.
With six goals in this one, Charlie left no doubt as to who the premier small man in the game is. Initially matched up with Nick Daicos, Craig McRae quickly made the switch as it was apparent that Cameron had the potential to tear this game asunder. From there, Cameron went about tormenting John Noble and Isaac Quaynor as he equalled his career-high numbers for goals.
After a slow start to the season, this was the game where Charlie Cameron burst to life, and with him, the Lions shined brightly, as well. I’m pulling for Charlie to have a massive season this year, and if he does, I will also be pulling for him to right the wrongs of the AA selectors by making it impossible for them to leave him out.
Of course, they’ll likely find a way to do it, though… can’t have too many midfielders names in the forward pocket, right?
Oh, and how great was that step he put on Nathan Murphy en route to kicking his fourth? Shook him out of his boots!
WHAT IS THE BEST POSITION FOR ASH JOHNSON?
He has a wonderful pair of hands, this bloke, and could be deployed across a number of positions to either exploit a mismatch, or force the opposition to make adjustments.
Late in 2022, he who shall not be named (it’s Ollie Henry… don’t tell anyone I told you) was relegated to the seconds as Ash Johnson usurped his role in the team. Playing mostly forward, Johnson had moments where he looked unstoppable in the air, and there was plenty of that about his game in this one, as he dragged in four contested grabs and looked like a genuine threat in the air.
It got me thinking as to how the Pies could capitalise on his versatility. With Jeremy Howe out with his busted arm, is it possible that Johnson could slot in across half-back to provide the Pies with a solid intercept marking option?
He had 12 disposals and five intercepts in this one, with just one touch coming in the back half (that saying always makes me giggle… one touch coming in the back half… tee hee!). Whilst I don’t expect Craig McRae to pull any trigger on a move after one loss, it will be interesting to see whether the coach entertains the option of playing Johnson behind the footy. You just never know – I doubt anyone ever could, but if there was one person who could make Howe looked glued to the turf, it is probably Ash Johnson.
WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR WILL ASHCROFT?
I said this a couple of weeks ago and Port fans started to get grumpy at me… it wasn’t even in the Port match review, for crying out loud.
Anyway, I stated that Will Ashcroft is playing the type of footy this season that Jason Horne-Franci should have been playing last season for the Kangaroos.
See? Nothing to do with Port Adelaide. One guy cancelled his membership because of that statement. Seriously, with members like him, who needs enemies?
You know what impressed me most about Ashcroft’s game?
At the end of the game, he was still running around as fresh as a daisy, whilst plenty of others were going up and down in the one spot. It’s not often you have a kid come int the league that is “ready made” in terms of his endurance. I suppose the last one to do it at an elite level was Sam Walsh.
Well, we can add Will Ashcroft’s name next to Walsh’s as one of the best-prepared kids to come into the league in a long while. He was excellent in this one, notching 26 touches and playing a hand in some big chains late in the game to give the Lions some breathing room. You have to love what you’re seeing from him, and you have t love it even more knowing that he is going to be the backbone of the Brisbane midfield for the next decade.
What’s the ceiling?
He doesn’t have one – the sky’s the limit.
DID THE BIG O DO ENOUGH DAMAGE?
Is 11 clearances enough for you?
Whilst Oscar led the game in that department, I have to admit, there was a period in the first quarter where the Magpies seemed to be looking to read his taps, and were doing a pretty fine job of getting in the way and either winning the footy, themselves, or bottling it up for a second stoppage. I actually started to to believe that the Pies may just hold their own in the clearance contest.
And then reality hit home – big guys don’t get any smaller as the game wears on, and what was viewed as a possibility for the Pies to break even soon turned into a lopsided battle.
Big O had 43 taps for the game and added 18 touches to his name, as well. In a weekend where The Mongrel Punt Ruckman Title Belt is up for grabs, Oscar McInerney made a pretty big statement and staked his claim on the belt.
A quieter game from Tom Mitchell this week, punctuated by a turnover in the third quarter under pressure, leading to a Charlie Cameron goal.
Brody Mhocek really stood up in the third quarter. His three goals for the term – all opportunistic – gave the Pies plenty of hope. I love the way he goes about it. He just generated opportunity based on hard work.
The knock on Bobby Hill at GWS was that he would go missing for long periods of games. He started brilliantly in this one and then did exactly that in the third quarter, with just one touch. Of course, that one touch was an important one, to set up a Mihocek goal.
I’d love to see a bit more from Darcy Wilmott. Turned back into traffic to create a couple of times, but with just eight touches, he was seen far to seldom for my liking.
Interesting to hear the commentators talk up Keidean Coleman’s kicking. It really wasn’t at its best in this game as he looked tentative at points.
Jack Gunston looked all at sea in this one. He had that three-goal cameo last week – similar to the effort of Mihocek this week – but he was not a factor at all and was probably the right guy to substitute.
McCluggage back on the wing is interesting – he is yet to rediscover his groove out wide.
25 touches and seven clearances… another workmanlike effort from Josh Dunkley. He looks completely at home in the Brisbane lineup.
Lastly, the Lions were a wake up to the one-two handball chain Scott Pendlebury and Nick Daicos love employing. A few times, the Pies looked like they were trying to force that tactic but were unable to link up due to the pressure. Pendles and Daicos love waxing whenever possible and the Lions were well-prepared to combat it. Great scouting.
And that might just about do me.
This was a huge win for the Lions. Facing the risk of going 1-4, to now sit at 2-2 and in touch with the top four is a godsend considering how they started the season. They have North Melbourne as part of Gather Round next week and should move to 3-2.
As for the Pies, the inevitable occurred and now they encounter the “rampaging” Saints at the Adelaide Oval. That should be a belter, especially if the Saints go in undefeated.
As always, massive thanks to those who support my work. Seriously, if it weren’t for you guys, I would have had to throw this in ages ago, so thank you.