Brisbane v North Melbourne – Mongrel Talking Points

While there was no great expectation last season’s wooden spooner would travel up to the Gabbatoir and usurp the streaking Lions, I’m certain those on the match committee hoped for a strong four-quarter showing to start to build momentum in yet another developing year.

Alas, they were dealt a frightful smashing the kind of annihilation that was commonplace in a bygone era, but as rare as a pitch invasion and sit-down picnic in 2022 – oh wait… The fourth quarter capitulation, in particular, will be galling in the review, and Fagan might be best served to focus on two key areas: repeat efforts and two-way running, both sadly lacking across the duration of the game, but most start in that final stanza that realised 9.5 to 1.1. Another grave concern would be that North Melbourne was devoid of leaders on the field, and the continued absence of Ben Cunnington who should have been named skipper was never starker than last night. Ziebell has been a warrior, but the speed of the game has passed him by, and opposition coaches are too easily isolating him one out on far bigger opponents close to goal where he is being exploited.

 

Read on for extended analysis of five notable stories within the game:    

 

INSIDE THE COACHES’ BOX

If you could believe it, the battle in the respective coaches box’s was a bigger annihilation than what occurred on the ground. We’ll delve into more detail below about North’s failing ruck selection, but Noble was rendered virtually impotent once Fagan employed tactics to nullify his greatest weapons, Hall & McDonald off half-back. McDonald was only able to gather ten touches, of which probably half were from kick-ins as he was torched on the rebound by Charlie Cameron whose overhead marking was as good as you’d ever want to see from a forward.

Hall was more prolific, but still well down on his expected output with 25 disposals, and at least tried to rally, moving up the field to kick a very good goal in the second term during the Roos’ only bright patch. This sorry situation rather outlined the biggest disappointment for mine by the Kangas – their midfield, and half-forward lines’ inability or unwillingness to run defensively. Countless times, Brisbane swept the ball clear thanks to the immaculate delivery from Zorko and Rich to unmarked mids, and Lyons, Neale, McCluggage, Rayner had a field day picking out leading forwards under no pressure time and again.

Simpkin was prolific for the vanquished, but his value was negligible as he didn’t contribute defensively. He certainly wasn’t alone though, as Turner and Polec had forgettable games and will be lucky to retain their places. North was surprisingly dominant in clearances, and specifically from the centre as they gained great drive from Jason Horne-Francis (five first-half centre clearances), and later the maligned Jaidyn Stephenson offered some spark on the ball, but too few of his teammates were willing to put in the hard work of their counterparts on the night to make use of it.

The usual suspects for Brisbane were very good, Adams and Andrews leading the backline alongside their skipper Zorko, Lyons, Neale and Ah Chee doing as they pleased through the centre and the triumvirate of small forwards, Bailey, McCarthy and Cameron combining for 11.8 on the night.

The emergence of a returning, and visibly slimmer Rayner and a finally fit Cockatoo may have been the single biggest positive for the home side. Their ferocious attack on the ball, sublime skills and imposing stature spooked all-comers and both look primed for career-best years. The added bonus of these two extra bulls into the midfield rotation has allowed Fagan to move one of the most elite ball movers in the competition out to half-back. Dayne Zorko is enjoying the early going replacing Grant Birchall in that important distribution role and could prolong his career by several years with a successful transition.

One tactic employed with particular success last night was Fagan’s rotating forward line that nominated one player at a time to lead hard to the half back line as the outlet option. Daniher (twice), McStay, Cameron and Fort all found themselves taking contested marks behind the centre during the night before quickly launching springboard attacks to an open forward line that resulted in goals. Opposition scouts would be well served to identify a way to stop this practice.

 

MATCH-UPS THAT MATTERED

Lyons v Simpkin. While a superficial glance at the numbers might show an equitable output for disposals won between the two-star midfielders, a deeper look will show that Lyons achieved almost double the metres gained with three fewer touches, and also contributed four goal assists, as well as hitting the scoresheet on two occasions. It’s tough to lay too much of the blame at Simpkin’s feet as he generally fronted up time and again as his teammates were thoroughly outclassed, but his game was punctuated by over the head handballs to no advantage and hurried kicks, while Lyons ran hard to make space and deliver with surgical precision on numerous occasions.

 

Cameron vs McDonald. One of the Kangaroos prime movers was rendered ineffective through his team’s need for him to stand the dangerous Cameron, and for only a wayward kicking boot the outcome could have been far worse. McDonald was only able to muster ten touches, 50% down on his season average and was often left bemused as Cameron put on an absolute marking clinic inside the forward 50. The high point of his game, if you don’t could another almost mark of the year contender, was a three on one deep in the Lions attacking zone in the second term, Cameron was able to collect the loose ball, evade three flailing tacklers and screw around a spectacular goal. Noble must free up McDonald for a more attacking role. Actually, he’d be better served trying to clone him to fill a couple of the many hopes in this present lineup.

 

Larkey vs Adams. Coming off a six-goal haul against an admittedly depleted Eagles side, the North spearhead’s confidence should have been topping the scales, but he ran into a player in career-best form who took him to the metaphorical cleaners. Adams was imperious in the air, clutching a game-high ten marks as repelled attack after attack and even contributed two valuable goal assists with his precise delivery. Larkey to his credit stayed involved enough to kick 2.1, but certainly lowered his colours on the night, only being able to mark the ball on three occasions.

 

Bailey vs ?. Try as I might I was unable to identify any North Melbourne player charged with the responsibility for guarding Zac Bailey. Possibly due to his express pace, or exceptional positioning this just wasn’t able to be picked up on the TV feed. Nevertheless, Bailey was by far the most influential player afield when the game was still a contest in the first term. Four superb goals from his seventeen touches, including 11 score involvements, four tackles and three clearances resulted in a near-flawless high half-forward game.

 

BUTCHER BOYS

My four-year old son has recently discovered those little garden critters, Butcher boys, or butchee boys as they’re colloquially known. I always knew them as Slaters growing up, while my wife called them Potato bugs in the US.

Now, you might ask what does this have to do with the Brisbane Lions? Well, I’ll tell you. This will come as no surprise, but the Brisbane Lions are highly susceptible in the only stat that really matters, goal kicking accuracy. Last night’s 23.18 was acceptable, but when you factor in the ease in which Brisbane generated good looks at goal, the percentage should have been higher. Charlie Cameron should have kicked eight last night, Cam Rayner will rue his three behinds, Dan McStay could have had a bag, Daniher fresh aired the scoring zone altogether a couple of times, while probably the two biggest offenders, McCluggage and Berry missed gilt edged chances throughout the night. You could make a compelling argument that wing star McCluggage may already have two All-Australian guernseys if his career accuracy was closer to 60%+ rather than the 67.83 it sits. All of Chris Fagan’s pieces to the puzzle appear in place, the missing element between another disappointing September exit and a genuine challenge to Melbourne could well be an improved conversation from the two wingers in particular, and others including Hipwood who tend to catch the yips. With a number of heartbreaking losses in the past three seasons, the Lions coaching panel need to find the secret to unlock this very significant, but equally fixable weakness or risk wasting this golden opportunity.

 

SEE THE BIG MEN FLY

David Noble has come under criticism for his selection of talls thus far in 2022. The Hawks’ speed in Round One was able to exploit them, and in this game it was much the same as Xerri battled hard and probably held a slight advantage in the ruck until three-quarter time, but his partner, Goldstein continued to be marginalised. Fagan meanwhile seems to have struck a very solid balance, with both Fort and McInerney more comfortable in the centre, but both capable of hitting the scoreboard. Fort’s mobility was particularly impressive last night, and to date, he appears the big winner from the three-way ruck swap in last season’s trade period. With Adams (five intercept marks) and Andrews imperious in the air down back, and Daniher and McStay dangerous and mobile up forward, it will be interesting to see how the mix is changed when Hipwood returns. For North the answer probably lies in their midfield helping to prevent the ball entering the defensive fifty with such devastating speed, that hasn’t allowed McKay, Walker and Corr any assistance. Goldstein, a multiple Syd Barker Medallist, looks completely superfluous in the forward role, requiring optimum conditions to impact the scoreboard, and probably lacking in his famed fitness as age takes a toll. I’ve always wondered why both he and club didn’t pursue opportunities at Geelong and GWS in recent seasons that would have provided mutually beneficial outcomes.

 

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

No word apart from embarrassing could describe North’s final term “effort” as they allowed Brisbane to run riot, doubling their third term lead to run out 100+ point winners. There is no respite in sight either with fixtures against a Swans outfit aiming to address their poor performance this week, then appointments with the Bulldogs, Geelong and Carlton. While many pundits decreed North wouldn’t win a game in 2021, the advances Noble made to finish strongly and record four wins were seen as an enterprising step in the right direction. At this admittedly early stage of the year it might be sage advice for North to bulk up their recruiting and talent identification department with a view to landing the next JHF.

 

Brisbane flexed their considerable muscle, after two dour but workmanlike wins in the opening rounds. While the opponent was admittedly poor, the Lions appeared hungry and the addition of fit-again Rayner and Cockatoo have added an extra element to Brisbane’s already impressive game plan. Much tougher encounters await though, firstly a trip to GMHBA to face the omnipresent Cats, then a Friday night blockbuster against the Pies, the Q-Clash and a visit to the SCG. The next month won’t make or break their run to the flag, but it could certainly give a strong account of whether they’ve learnt some lessons from season’s past.

 

And lastly five quick ones symbolising the career-high goals tally from Lincoln McCarthy:

 

Battering Rams

With each team possessing their very own battering ram, a player whose fearsome attack on the ball without thought of cost to their own livelihood, it was going to be interesting to keep an eye on the body count as the night progressed. Mitch Robinson, like his team was a resounding victor in these stakes, while not overly prolific on the stat sheet he contributed 12 pressure acts in total, above his career average for the last 3 years. Cam Zurhaar, so often his team’s barometer, lacked opportunity as he was often marooned in a barren forward line, returned only seven in this metric, a season-low after a bright start with 16 in round 1. He also did not record a single effort in the defensive half, an indictment, but indicative of the lack of energy by the North players.

 

Gabba DJ

Being something of a musical buff myself I was instantly drawn to the pop classics played after Brisbane goals, perhaps fortuitously due to a number of Lions stars kicking bags I was able to decipher the secret code and realised individual players have their own allocated tune. Charlie Cameron enjoying John Denver’s melodic ‘Country Home’, McCarthy’s handful celebrated with Rick Springfield’s seminal ‘Jessie’s Girl’, and my pick of the night, Zac Bailey blasting Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’ on the four occasions he split the middle. While perhaps not everyone’s bag, I think it adds some fun to the game in an otherwise dead patch, and also triggers memories of the ill-fated Australian cricket trip to New Zealand in the late 90’s when a similar concept was sabotaged by Damien Fleming when he erased the players selections with his own mischievous choices I’ll never forget Glenn McGrath striding purposefully out to the middle and then double taking the PA when Racey’s ‘Lay your love on me’ came blaring through the speakers.

 

Commentary

A regular feature of my match reviews, I’m always far less scathing of the Fox crew who are generally superior to their Channel 7 counterparts. Last night was no exception and all in attendance seemed to sense the lop-sided nature early on and defer to calling in a relaxed and enjoyable manner, the use of irreverent facts and segues acceptable if they add to the spectacle, and importantly don’t miss any of the key action. Dwayne in particular was trying out something new last night, presumably having attended a yoga retreat in the past few days, often excitedly announcing players were looking for a friend to dish off the ball to.

 

Magical Elixir

I raised the possibility with my Osteo that Brisbane might enjoy a competitive advantage over their southern state rivals with the warmer temperature and closer proximity to the healing properties of the ocean. While he was not definitive in his support of my hypothesis, he did remark there might be some merit in this thought. Considering my very mediocre science career ended abruptly in Year 10 with a lowly grade, I’ll take this as a big personal win. Either way, the remarkable regeneration of previously injury-prone players to hit their potential such as Lincoln McCarthy, Grant Birchall, Joe Daniher and Nakia Cockatoo is an extremely advantageous coincidence.

 

Stats, Stats, Stats:

  • Inside 50s, with 78 to 40 forward thrusts Brisbane fell just short of the top 20 all-time* differential in this category, and the highest since Melbourne systematically destroyed Gold Coast last year en route to the 2021 flag.
  • Marks inside 50, no surprises here either that Brisbane’s forwards ran roughshod over their opposition with a 26-5 differential again ranking just outside the top 20 all-time*.
  • Clearances, in a game so thoroughly one-sided it was a surprise that North came ahead in any statistical category, but they did beat the Lions in this measure 46-39. However, the last quarter told a different story with the Lions winning 15-7, including 9-2 from the centre as they racked up a cricket score.

 

*Since records were kept

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