There were ominous signs at the MCG as the tigers handled the Lions with a brand of football that is perfect for finals.
The Tigers were tough, uncompromising, and applied a finals-like pressure to the young Lions, to not only knock them off the top of the ladder, but secure their own top four spot as well.
Speaking of ominous signs, the form of Dustin Martin and the early scoreboard pressure from Jack Riewoldt had a lot of 2017 about it. Dylan Grimes was supreme in defence, Nick Vlastuin owned the ball in flight, and Bachar Houli was once again given complete licence to run off half back at will.
The lions made a third quarter charge, and looked as though they may challenge the Tigers in the run home, but not only did the Tigers steady, they did so with a certainty of a team that has been there before, and will be there again.
Were the Lions a little blinded by the lights of the biggest crowd some had ever played in front of? Maybe some. Were some of their forwards well beaten? Yep, they sure were. Are they a spent force? Not by a long shot, and they’ll get a chance to demonstrate that when we get a rematch between these two teams in a couple of weeks.
And this time it’ll be in Brisbane.
Let’s check out the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
What a first quarter for this bloke. Both he and the fella I’ll talk about below really set the table for Jack Riewoldt to have four goals to his name by the first break.
Prestia had seven touches in the first, but every single one of them hurt the Lions. Whether it was his bullet-like delivery to Jack Riewoldt from the centre, or the inside handballs to set Martin off and running, Prestia started this game on fire and set the standard for other mids to follow.
He topped 30 touches once again, and unlike many who top this mark, he makes his count. He had 669 metres gained for the Tigers, and had no possessions forward of centre, which meant that he was always behind the footy as the Lions attempted to exit.
Prestia has flown under the radar of many this season, but I’ve had enough Mongrel readers point out to me how well he’s travelling to last me a lifetime. Do I think he will make the AA team this week? I don’t think so, but I do think he will go very close to winning the Jack Dyer Medal for the Tigers, and that… in a year that may reap high levels of team success, is reward enough.
So, what did we see here? Oh, just Dusty doing Dusty things.
Did it feel to you as though he had more than 21 touches? I refreshed my app after the final siren as I couldn’t believe he’d had so few, but it was right. I suppose it speaks volumes about just how potent he is with the ball in hand, doesn’t it.
I’ve thought that he can be guilty of over-kicking the footy at times, booting the hell out of it when some class is required. He didn’t do any of that today. When he went long, it was with purpose, but his ability to weight his delivery to the advantage of his teammates was wonderful.
He had five clearances and hit Riewoldt lace out in the first quarter after combining with Prestia in the guts. Add to that his two goals, of which one of them was vintage Dusty bursting through two opposition players to snap around the corner, and you have the kind of game that can blow a game wide open.
Martin in this kind of potent form is a scary proposition to fellow finalists. Whilst he did not reach the heights of his recent 30+ disposal games, I would argue that his impact on this game was greater than in those games. Everything he did in this contest was meaningful. Everything he did hurt.
He was Dusty doing Dusty things, and when Richmond have that occurring, they become Richmond doing 2017 things.
And that, my friends, is how premierships are made.
BATTLE OF THE BACKMEN
I feel a bit bad putting these two blokes in the same category, but they both had a role today to beat their direct opponent and I reckon they both got the job done. We’ll start with Dylan Grimes.
Grimey, as he’s not called by his friends, had an absolute blinder today. Given the task of curtailing Charlie Cameron, we reached quarter time and I reckon there would be plenty of people asking whether Charlie was playing. He had one touch for the quarter, and that is because Dylan Grimes refuses to be the kind of player to run off looking for his own touches.
He is a defender, first and foremost. His job is to shut down his opponent and make his life miserable.
Charlie Cameron finished with two goals but was a non-factor in this game. He may have capitalised on the one mistake Grimes made for the day in overrunning the ball, allowing him a cheap goal in the third quarter, but for the most part, he was soundly beaten by a man who has emerged from the shadow of Alex Rance as an All—Australian calibre defender in his own right.
And then there was Harris Andrews.
Tom Lynch has been in red hot form over the last couple of months, perhaps pushing for an All-Australian key forward spot. If we were judging only on the second half of the season, he would definitely be in the prime position for the full forward spot.
Andrews was always going to be up against it if the Tigers got on a roll, and though Lynch managed to get out here and there, Andrews stuck to his guns, and it was only when Andrews was forced to leave Lynch to aid teammates that the former Sun got a clean look at the footy.
Lynch was restricted to just one goal and nine touches with Andrews doing his best to limit the influence of the big Tiger. I wonder if it was tempting to throw him onto Jack Riewoldt half way through the first quarter as Jack started to seize control of his contest with Marcus Adams? Then again, I am unsure that anyone could have stopped those lace out deliveries from Dusty and Prestia.
Overall, these two defenders did a wonderful job of stemming the tide at different points, and probably deserve both an individual write up here (sorry… big enough already) and a spot in the AA team.
I guess we’ll see about that second one soon enough.
It looks as though the Tigers have a decision to make if toby Nankervis is right to go for the first final, and that decision has been made more complicated by the form of Ivan Soldo today.
Matched against a quality ruck in Stef Martin, Soldo started showing some things I was not aware he had in his repertoire. He showed poise, composure, patience and some deft delivery by hand in traffic.
He had 29 hit outs and added five clearances and six score involvements to his totals.
I’m a big Nankervis fan, but you don’t mess with winning form, and a few of Soldo’s taps to his midfielders were absolutely perfect, and played a big part in some early Riewoldt goals.
Decision time, Tiger fans – who you got?
THE ZORKO EFFECT
So, allow me to make an analogy. If the Brisbane Lions were a bonfire, they’ll burn for a fair while. They have plenty of natural fuel to burn and, if left unchecked, will eventually get out of control.
It is the opposition’s job to prevent the fire from spreading, because once it does, it has the capacity to lay waste to all in its path. So what is Dayne Zorko in this equation?
He’d be the tin of petrol, and if he is allowed to get loose, that bonfire becomes an absolute inferno almost immediately. The Tigers almost made the mistake of allowing that tin of petrol to fuel the Lions’ fire in the third quarter. Two goals in as many minutes to Zorko threatened to allow the Lions to really catch fire, and it was paramount that the Tigers stamped him out quickly.
Damien Hardwick realised it and put the clamps on Zorko from that point on, which speaks volumes about the influence he believes the four time best and fairest winner has on the contest. Zorko had 27 touches for the game and added nine tackles, but for the first time in a while, didn’t register one inside forward 50.
At the Gabba, Zorko will need to be the one to ignite the Lions against the Tigers. He showed flashes today, and on his home deck, the Lions will need him to lead by example. I expect him to come out firing and throw everything at the Tiger mids in the first quarter. He needs to make a statement early to inspire his team.
This was a monumental effort, and if you dispute how good Lachie Neale was today (“Ohhhhh, he didn’t hurt us”) then I’m sorry, but you’re just being a dick.
51 touches at 88% with an amazing mix of contested (25) and uncontested (26) touches meant that he was working both inside and outside all game. He collected a huge 14 clearances, laid six tackles and was the one player who looked like he was capable of winning the footy against the hard-bodied mids of the Tigers in close.
Neale’s season has been wonderful for the Lions, and his ability to win the ball has made his teammates better all season. This is just the tenth time in history a player has had 50+ disposals in an AFL game, with Hawthorn’s Tom Mitchell having three of those totals – he is another who “doesn’t hurt” , apparently.
I will say that I thought others hurt more if we’re talking about bang for their buck with the touches they DID get, but Neale was enormous for the Lions in this one. Absolutely enormous.
The Tigers seemed happy to allow Neale the freedom to run around unrestricted, but it will be interesting to see whether they give him a little more attention when the two teams meet again in the first week of the finals.
NICK VLASTUIN AND BACHAR HOULI
Want to find the ball inside forward 50 when playing against the Tigers? Just watch Nick Vlastuin, see where he’s going and follow him – chances are the ball will drop in that vicinity pretty quickly.
His combination off half back with Bachar Houli has been outstanding this season. They were at it again today, with Vlastuin playing the role of brick wall, intercepting errant kick after errant kick, whilst Houli ran around doing as he liked as the Tigers released from defence.
At some point in the near future, an opposition team will deploy a defensive forward to play on one of these guys, and I wonder whether Chris Fagan will make the move in a couple of weeks’ time? Someone like Lincoln McCarthy would be ideal to quell the influence of Houli, particularly as it seems that impacting this game wasn't really something McCarthy seemed particularly interested in.
At least if you can prevent Houli from running off half back, you force the ball into the hands of a lesser ball user. I’d much prefer Nathan Broad with ball in hand than I would Houli. Jayden Short… not so much.
People often talk about how teams purposely avoid Jeremy McGovern when heading into their forward line. The situation with Vlastuin is starting to get to that level. Obviously, he is not the aerialist that Gov is, but his ability to read the flight and then butter up when the ball hits the deck make Vlastuin a force to contend with.
Will Fagan take a stand against one of the best one-two defensive punches in the game next time they meet? He may well want to consider it.
ZAC BAILEY’S FIRST QUARTER
Before the game last week I wondered if there’d be any Lions that shrunk when the spotlight hit them. To their credit, there weren’t, but as the first quarter of this one drew to an end, I couldn’t help but feel the big atmosphere of the big ground, the big crowd and the big occasion got the better of Zac Bailey.
He had eight touches in the first quarter, but six of them were ineffective as he either panicked and threw the ball onto his boot as quickly as possible, or missed targets completely when he did get any time at all.
The Richmond pressure was always going to be red hot from the outset, and for the most part, the Lions really stood up, but Bailey was one of the few exceptions in the first quarter. Whilst not quite a deer in the headlights, Bailey received a solid lesson as to what he can expect when the Tigers roll into town in a couple of weeks’ time.
He redeemed himself in the second half with some solid contested work, and it was his contested handball that set up Dayne Zorko for the goal that got the Lions rolling, but you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression on a team, and Bailey will have to do some good inside work when the teams lock up again to change the Richmond perception that he is one that can be impacted by a bit of pressure.
Charlie has been to the Grand Final before. He has finals experience, and should know better than to try to get easy goals out the back in a game like this, against opposition like Dylan Grimes.
It just does not work.
After a week where he dragged the Lions back into the contest against the cats at the Gabba, reality hit like a tonne of bricks today, with Dylan Grimes blanketing him. You can read more about Grimes above, but we’re focusing on Charlie here.
He’s had a great season, and against Richmond, his best bet would be to continually be on the move, commanding the ball be out in front of him, but what we saw today was the cheap form of Charlie Cameron. Up until today, he’s played like Eddie Betts at his best. Today he played like Eddie Betts against everyone except the Gold Coast Suns this season.
Cameron is the All-Australian forward pocket this season – he has to be. He is the only small man to snag 50+ goals this year and has looked like the most dangerous man on the ground in a heap of games. But he didn’t look dangerous today.
He made the mistake of engaging Grimes in body-to-body contests, and that is akin to forward suicide. Grimes is a wonderful one-on-one defender – why give him the chance to wrap you up and use his strength and reach to curtail you?
Several times, we saw Charlie appealing for holding free kicks against Grimes. And you know what, a couple of times they may have been there, but when Charlie is going to initiate the contact, rewarding him with a free kick in a game of this magnitude is simply not going to happen. Not often, anyway.
He finished with two goals to his name, but at no point did he look as though he was on top of Grimes or Nathan Broad when the switch occurred.
There will be a bit of soul searching for Charlie this week. He looked for cheap kicks, and the team paid for it this afternoon. Against one of the best teams in the business, you don’t take the cheap way out. If Chris Fagan could channel Alan Jeans, he may want to eyeball Charlie as the Lions host Richmond in two weeks and ask him if he is going to pay the price.
And we will then see what Charlie Cameron is truly made of.
Mitch Robinson made a concerted effort to be a lot more physical after the half time break. The Lions needed a lift, and his attack on both the ball and man provided that. I loved his hard tackle on Bachar Houli, and his dual efforts to get back and make the spoil on tom lynch inside defensive 50, then recover to aid the Lions clear the zone were top notch.
It might be the best game I’ve seen from Liam Baker. He was everywhere in the first half as he positioned himself beautifully to chop off the haphazard Brisbane forward entries. I have had a few people comment to me that they believe Baker has no business playing in defence, but I reckon those people will be a little quiet on that front this evening.
You can see why so many people have fallen in love with the way Hugh McLuggage plays his footy, can’t you? He has all the time in the world, and likes to look inboard whenever possible. So many modern players are reluctant to kick the ball inboard in case of a potential turnover, but seeing someone trust their skills like McLuggage warms the cockles of an old man’s heart.
How’d we see Cotchin’s game? A bit of a slow start, but he worked into it nicely, and started winning some contested footy in the second half. Importantly, he got through and started to have a decent influence. He was involved in a couple of trademark Tiger goals late in the third quarter, getting the Tiger run and carry started before seeing it finished by a running chain of handballs. The fact that Richmond are where they now find themselves with such limited influence from him this season speaks volumes about their depth.
The lack of production from the Brisbane forwards is an area of concern, for mine. I touched on Cameron, but Lincoln McCarthy had a horror day as well. McStay had another sub-ten disposal outing and Rayner managed four effective disposals amongst his 11 touches. Two of them need big games in a fortnight – you simply cannot have four players of that talent level so far down on one day.
I thought Darcy Gardiner did a really good job on Jack Riewoldt after the switch was made. The delivery was nowhere near the level it was early, but Gardiner managed to keep Jack at bay for the most part.
Big shout out to David Astbury as well, who is one of those dour defenders that just does his job. Last year it was he and grimes who were the unsung Tiger backmen, but now it seems Grimes is getting his recognition. Watching Grimes come over the top and kill contest after contest today… I reckon he deserves some love too.
So… we have a week off before these two get to know each other a little better a couple of states away, huh? I know there will be a huge contingent of people barracking for the Lions in order to keep the Tigers away from going straight to another MCG-based prelim. You have to wonder how much each coach has tucked away in his bag of tricks after this one, huh?
Touching base with Lions supporters today, they don’t seem too alarmed by the situation. They actually fought back quite admirably, but still looked very iffy going forward against that well-drilled Tiger defence. I tend to think many of them believe Fagan has a trick or two up his sleeve.
What was Hardwick reluctant to put on show today? What was Fagan unwilling to trot out for the Tigers to plan against? This will be an intriguing matchup and will go a long way to identifying just how much a team/coach learns from a game like this.
Bring on September.
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