As Joe Daniher went back and slotted his second goal early in the last quarter, it appeared as though the result had been decided. At least in the minds of the Brisbane Lions.
Steven May was upset, the crowd was upset, and the Brisbane Lions were rolling. After Melbourne had taken control early, Brisbane rallied and seemed to be ready to cruise to a much-needed MCG win.
But things are never that easy when you are playing a team with the names like Petracca, Gawn, and Viney in the mix. Melbourne mounted a spirited offensive over the last ten minutes of the game, edging closer and closer before the unsung hero – I was told that Gerard Whateley may have called him the greatest player to ever wear the number 18 in the history of all sport – snagged two late goals to drag the Dees across the line by a solitary point.
Was this the type of win that sets a club up for a deep finals run? What does it mean for the supposed best ruck duo in the competition? Did the Lions put the cue in the rack a little prematurely? And how much did Chris Fagan cost his team by failing to alter a lineup that was being exploited?
We’ll get to the bottom of quite a few things as we explore this huge Melbourne win with The Mongrel’s Big Questions.
HOW DO YOU BRING BRODIE GRUNDY BACK IN AFTER THAT EFFORT?
I’m not sure you can – not straight away, anyway.
Earlier this season, an injury to Max Gawn forced Brodie Grundy to start rucking by himself, and early in that stretch, he did a superb job. Of course, teams went to work and found ways they could start to exploit him a little, so the return of Max Gawn was a welcome one for the Dees.
This was the first game that Gawn has been thrust back into the number one ruck role solo, and it paid massive dividends.
Matched up against Oscar McInerney, who is no slouch, Gawn was up and about to the extreme levels Gerard Whateley was when Black Caviar came down the outside at Flemington.
But Gawn probably won’t write a book about it. He might, I suppose. What sort of person writes a book about a horse?
Though the hit out numbers remained relatively even, the work of Gawn around the ground was so far above that of the Big O that he looked like he was toying with him. Big Max picked up a season-high 29 touches, had ten clearances, and laid seven tackles in his most complete ruck performance of the year. And you could argue pretty successfully it was THE most complete ruck performance of the season -period.
Gawn’s intercept marking came to the fore in the last quarter as he formed part of the Melbourne wall that continued to pump the ball back inside 50. It was surprising to see the Brisbane defence attempting to exit defensive 50 via the same route over and over, with Gawn providing such a huge obstacle, but that likely speaks volumes about both the structure of the Demons and the pressure the Lions’ backs found themselves under.
I heard on the radio that Gawn’s outing was the highest-rated game of the season thus far, and I find that hard to dispute. There have been some big games – Tex Walker’s bag of ten leaps to mind, as well as huge defensive games by both Darcy Moore and Harris Andrews, whilst Nick Daicos has kept statisticians busy as well. But Gawn stood up in a way that didn’t just indicate he was a good player playing at his optimum – it was a clear indication that he sensed his team needed him to perform at that level and he rose to the occasion.
This was a captain’s knock and was a timely reminder that when required, Gawn is still highly capable of not just being the best ruckman in the game, but one of the best overall players, as well.
In terms of Grundy, the other factor working against him was the way Jacob van Rooyen competed as the backup to Gawn. His strength enabled him to hold his ground against the Big O, whilst getting the better of Daniher. How this all plays out will be very interesting to watch as we head toward September.
AND… NEW MONGREL RUCK CHAMPION!!!
Oh yes… Big Max became the Mongrel Punt Ruck Champion, defeating Oscar McInerney in their head-to-head clash.
After 12 successful defences, The Big O has been vanquished and Max Gawn becomes the fifth player to secure a second reign as champion, joining Darcy Cameron, Brodie Grundy, Toby Nankervis, and Tom Hickey. He also gets to pursue his teammate, who holds the record for the most successful defences.
In his first reign, Max had 17 successful defences before dropping the title. Over Grundy’s two reigns, he amassed an incredible 63 defences, spanning multiple seasons. It is a big mountain to climb, but if anyone can make inroads into that record, it’s Max Gawn.
The king is dead – long live the king… Max Gawn.
DID CHRIS FAGAN’S REFUSAL TO SWITCH HARRIS ANDREWS’ MATCHUP COST THE LIONS?
In many ways, having Harris Andrews matching up against Jake Melksham was exactly what Chris Fagan would have wanted to see occur. In theory, it gave Andrews the opportunity to zone off and impact contests all over attacking 50, right?
Yep, that would have been the plan, but Chris Fagan likely did not factor in that Jake Melksham would play out of his damn skin in this game, to the point where he consistently led Andrews to the footy, and dragged him away from the contests he’d usually either kill or intercept.
Melksham made life extremely difficult for the two-time All-Australian, using his mobility to get out on the lead and find space. Andrews has had a career renaissance in 2023, but he has never been the most fleet of foot, so when the ball was popped out in front of Melksham, he was able to work ont it and attack it without the defender right on his hammer.
Should Chris Fagan have made a change and handed the role on Melksham over to someone more mobile, or was he right to stick to his guns and trust in his star defender to come good?
I suppose that all depends on a straight kick, doesn’t it? If Melksham goes back with under a minute remaining and misses that shot at goal, finishing the game with one snag to his name, then it is likely the role he played so well on Andrews is swept aside as collateral damage in a Lions win. But it is pretty difficult to sweep it aside when Melksham was able to lead into space once in the last quarter and convert, and then was able to make the match-winning contest with Andrews lagging behind him, unable to make an impact.
Fagan defenders will cite that Andrews was on top for most of the last quarter, with the big fella picking up four intercepts and four one-percenters, but two goals to his man unravels all of that good work.
The Dees weren’t overly tall in this game, with Ben Brown and Jacob van Rooyen the only real aerial threats. This kind of tied Fagan’s hands, somewhat, but with Can Rayner doing sweet bugger all up forward, perhaps a switch into defence to take on the role on Melksham, allowing Andrews to freelance a little more, could have worked better.
The benefit of hindsight, right?
In the end, Fagan stayed with the matchup, but for one straight kick with under a minute to go, people will question his decision to do that.
Maybe they have a point in doing so.
COULD CHRISTIAN PETRACCA BE THE MAN TO DO WHAT OTHER MID/FORWARDS HAVE FAILED TO DO?
It has to be tempting for Simon Goodwin to throw his Norm Smith Medallist forward and keep him there, with two bags of four goals in the last two games.
Matched up against a solid defender, in Brandon Starcevich, Trac started with a bang, slotting two first-quarter goals before splitting his time between forward and the midfield. He had 26 touches, nine score involvements, and seven clearances to accompany his four goals, once again playing the complete hybrid mid/forward game.
This is what clubs have wanted from their star players. Richmond got it for a long while from Dustin Martin, as did Geelong with Patrick Dangerfield, but those days seem to be over. Nat Fyfe was supposed to give Fremantle something akin to what Trac is providing the Dees with, but that fell flat, as well.
With his last two weeks, Petracca has eased some pressure both on his team, and All-Australian selectors, who had to be wondering how they were going to fit so many midfielders in the team once again this year. Trac’s two-week blast has given them at least one out, now able to deploy him as a half-forward flank option in their team of the year.
And given how great he was in this role, I reckon we might see it a little bit more before all is said and done in 2023.
WAS IT A MARK TO ERIC HIPWOOD RIGHT BEFORE THE SIREN?
Nope – pretty hard to call it a mark when the ball clearly hits Jake Lever in the chest. I reckon the right call was made.
Of course, I expect Lions supporters to argue that it should have been paid a mark, but it really appeared to me as though it was one of those 50/50 contests where both guys had a claim on the footy.
It would have added another element of drama, with Hipwood taking a shot after the siren to draw or win the game, but given what we’d just witnessed, I reckon it may have felt like Melbourne were being robbed to pay such a contentious mark in the dying seconds.
But I do wonder how they paid it to Lever???
HOW CLOSE WAS JOE DANIHER TO HAVING THE PERFECT GAME?
A wild bounce? A non-trip over? If we could erase the first five minutes or so?
Correct those three things, and this would have been Joe’s best game as a Lion by a ong way/ As it stands, it may have ben that, regardless.
His snap at goal in the first half looked certain to bounce through, only to do what only an Aussie Rules football does, and bounce at right angles away from the goal mouth.
He appeared to have the run of the footy approaching 50 in the last quarter, but tripped over and went sprawling.
And he had the opportunity to peg back the early Melbourne dominance with a pass to Charlie Cameron, who was pointing short, only for Joe to kick long, and then he kicked the ball out on the full as he ran into an open goal from 40 metres out, as well.
And here I am, concentrating on the negative – stop being such an ass, HB.
Okay, I will – I have not seen someone get the better of Steven May the way Daniher did in the first half of this game. Joe was too nimble, too quick, and willing to work up the ground to create space to work in. May looked incredibly uncomfortable as Daniher worked him out of his comfort zone and into foreign territory, presenting well and getting involved in multiple Brisbane attacks as the Lions clawed their way back into the game.
Joe was good against the Dees earlier this season, slotting four goals, and had he kicked straight in this one, he could have been the difference. Hell, he was almost the difference even without kicking straight. Finishing with 2.3 and one on the full, Joe may rue the unlucky bounce, but a couple of those shots were right in his wheelhouse and had he slotted them, the major talking point stemming from the game would have been how easily he handled one of the best defenders in the game.
HOW HUGE WAS TRENT RIVERS DOWN THE STRETCH?
The man James Brayshaw called “Jared” had a blindingly good last quarter, attacking the footy with purpose from half-back to drive the Dees long into attack on multiple occasions.
With so much attention going on the duo of Steven May and Jake Lever in defence, the work of Rivers is flying under the radar this season, but at just 21 years of age, his attack on the pill and no bullshit style would have won him plenty of admirers in this game.
Know what I liked best about his efforts? He sensed the urgency in the last quarter and went into full-on attack mode. There were no sideways handballs to “be patient” with the footy. He knew the Dees’ best ally in this situation was territory, and the more he generated run for them, the more the Lions’ defenders would feel it.
His eight disposals in the last quarter were all kicks. They were all direct. They were all designed to get maximum distance and keep the blowtorch on the Brisbane defence in the hopes they’d slip up.
And what happened?
Moments like Rivers charging out of defence full-chested are likely to make Demon fans smile. It is that kind of no-nonsense play when the game is still up for grabs that put Melbourne in the position to win it. There are a few teams around that could learn a bit about generating offence by watching the way Rivers went about his work.
ARE THE KIDS ALRIGHT, OR WHAT?
How can you walk away from this game, having watched the efforts of Will Ashcroft, Jaspa Fletcher, and Taj Woewodin, and not be confident the game is in good hands?
Ashcroft was the pick of the bunch, but the other two had big moments, as well, with Woewodin’s first goal in footy – a running shot from the boundary – a thing of beauty. Meanwhile, Fletcher’s intercept with the flight against Lachie Hunter to force a turnover, followed by a great goal on the run was just about as good.
Finally, there’s Ashcroft, who is looking better and better all the time. His multiple efforts to goal on the run in the second quarter was just another highlight in a season that has provided many to this point.
Whilst Woewodin is a ‘wait and see’ prospect at the moment, I’ve already seen enough of Fletcher and Ashcroft to know they’ll be the backbone of the Brisbane midfield for the next ten years. Loved watching the highlights of all three in this game – class kids, all of them.
WHERE DID THE LIONS GO IN THE LAST QUARTER?
Into their shell.
When you watch parts of that last ten minutes back, it becomes clear that Brisbane went into preservation mode way too early. They flat-out stopped trying to score, which emboldened the Demon defenders to push high up the ground and take the game on – see the Trent Rivers section, above. Rvers knew that the if the ball was turned over, the Lions weren’t going to rush back the other way in an attempt to kick a goal and ice the game.
No, they’d already had the game in the esky. They wanted to save the game. What a mistake.
Blokes like Hugh McCluggage simply stopped running to position, opting to stay inside defensive fifty to clog it up. High McCloggage. The run and carry of Keidean Coleman was gone, the burst of Zac Bailey disappeared. The Lions just seemed to stop dead in their tracks, hoping the siren would save them.
It rarely does when you play like that.
Whilst I take nothing away from the way the Dees powered back into this contest, Brisbane have some soul-searching to do after this loss. They did the hard work. They demonstrated great composure and character after being jumped by Melbourne playing some pretty damn impressive footy in the first quarter, and they moved into a winning position as a result of their resiliency.
But playing to save the game, in effect, lost them the game. They moved away from what got them to the dance, and went home alone.
As Gerard Whateley didn’t say on commentary – they really shit the bed.
A FEW QUICKIES
Does Jack Gunston still provide value as a loose man in defence? I am not sure he has the same presence he used to have when he played that role at Hawthorn. I’d be more tempted to throw Hipwood back there when trying to protect a lead late in quarters. Or, as mentioned in a section above, Cam Rayner.
Speaking of Rayner, he didn’t look like it in this game. Possibly the worst outing he’s had since reverting to playing a sa forward.
Angus Brayshaw did some stellar work opposed to Lachie Neale at points. Neale ball hunts, but when you watch Brayshaw, he seems to sense when Neale is not going to be in a position to impact the contest, and he sneaks away like a thief in the night. Na]eale will always find first touch at stoppages, but he was unable to get a clean run at the loose footy, particularly through the first half.
Jarryd Lyons makes for a solid backup to Josh Dunkley, but it is clear why the Lions recruited Dunkley. A solid backup, yes, but Lyons is now a level below the former Dog and it shows when it comes to composure under pressure. That said, it was a great goal from a clearance in the third quarter. Something out of nothing.
That effort of Jack Viney to rip the footy away from Oscar McInerney in the last quarter and snap a goal… of all the things being discussed about this game, THAT was the moment that made me think the Dees were going to get up. If you ever wanted to see a bloke just want it more than all others around him, go back and watch Viney push his way int the contest and then make the footy his own. Max Gawn got the better of Big O in this one, but if there was one moment the Brisbane ruck would like to have over again, it would be that piece of play when he failed to match it with the former Dees captain. It made Melbourne believe.
Great return of three snags from Kysaiah Pickett, and his one-versus-two win in the last quarter was brilliant, but I don’t like him much in the midfield – he doesn’t chase. At one point, as Lachie Neale extracted the footy, Pickett just threw his arms out and appeared more interested in appealing to the umpire for something than pressuring Neale. Gotta be better than that in the middle, particularly when centre breaks hurt so much.
I don’t know what’s going on with Jarrod Berry, but he was another Lion who didn’t look right in this one. Hardly sighted until he was subbed off, and failed to make space on his wing for the entire time he was on the park.
And just for my own amusement, I am going to use some false quotes from the internet’s biggest loser this week, Gerard Whateley, to round this out.
“I haven’t seen footwork like that since my wedding night… when my wife realised she’d made a mistake and tried to sidestep out of the bedroom” – Whateley on Zac Bailey’s ability to sidestep in traffic.
“That goal assist made John Stockton look like a short, pasty prick who couldn’t pass” – Whateley on Kysaiah Pickett’s clean hands and dish to Petracca for his fourth goal.
“That win by the Dees is the best come from behind scene since I stumbled on a funny website and accidentally clicked on about 37 videos” – Whateley on the Dees’ comeback
Okay, that’ll do. I’m easily amused. He didn’t say any of those. Don’t sue us, Gerald.
The Dees will welcome the Crows to the ‘G next week and test another team who have been unable to pick up a win there.
Meanwhile, the Lions will head home for a mouth-watering clash against Geelong. Come on Lions… someone has to give the Cats a foot in the arse soon. Why not you?
As always, massive thanks to those members who put up with my silliness, such as me getting on Whateley as part of the game review. If you haven’t followed what has been going on over on Twitter, it is well worth three minutes of your time to see exactly how not to handle a joke on the internet.
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