Since finishing sixth in their first season under coach and club legend Michael Voss in 2009, the Lions have finished 13th, 15th and 13th. In AFL circles, this is referred to as bad.
The key players have remained largely the same over this period, with the team frequently bringing in recycled players in an apparent last gasp effort to attain premiership glory with club figureheads like Jonathan Brown and Simon Black. With these efforts proving unsuccessful, the Lions find themselves in the unenviable position of being a little behind some similarly placed clubs, who have remained around the same place as Brisbane on the ladder but given valuable playing time and responsibility to younger players while doing so.
Brisbane’s forward stocks are of particular concern, with the barrel looking extremely barren once you get past Brown. Their second highest goal scorer on the year was full-back turned full-forward on occasion Daniel Merrett, with midfielder Daniel Rich only just behind in third.
The Lions aren’t without positives though. Young midfield duo Jack Redden and Tom Rockliff are among the best young midfielders going around. Their fellow midfield companion Daniel Rich has also elevated his game, averaging 21 disposals and a goal a game in 2012. Throw in the likes of Jared Polec, and a young ruck duo in Matthew Leuenberger and Billy Longer, and Brisbane have their midfield foundation of the future in place.
2012 Key Statistics
|Brisbane 2012 Offensive|
|Average per Game||Competition Rank|
|Marks Inside 50||9.9||13th|
|Brisbane 2012 Defensive|
|Average per Game||Competition Rank|
|Inside 50s Conceded||54.2||15th|
|Marks Inside 50 Conceded||10.2||7th|
|Brisbane 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials|
|Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded)||-165||15th|
|Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded)||-6||tied 10th|
What are they great at?
Great might be a stretch, but considering how often opposing teams get the ball inside Brisbane’s defensive arc, they give up comparatively very few marks. While only the Demons, Suns and Giants conceded more forward 50 entries than Brisbane in 2012, the Lions ranked 7th for marks inside 50 conceded. The Lions defensive unit has played admirably despite often being under siege.
What are they good at?
Not much at all.
What do they need to improve?
Everything. The Lions find themselves ranked among the bottom tier of the competition in nearly every major statistical category.
What are they bad at?
The Lions really struggled in the middle of the park last season, which is somewhat surprising as it is clearly the area where they possess the most talent. The Lions struggled to get the ball to their forwards, and in turn allowed their opposition to pump the ball forward at an alarming rate. They ranked 14th for inside 50 entries, and 15th for entries conceded. Yikes.
Some of Brisbane’s midfield woes can be blamed on the absolute dearth of talent beyond Jonathon Brown up forward, which forced coach Michael Voss into playing one of their best midfielders, Tom Rockliff, deep in the forward line on numerous occasions. The Lions sorely miss his clearance work and pressure applied to opposition ball winners when he ventures up forward.
The Lions also finished 16th in hit-outs per game, but should see an immediate improvement here with the return of Matthew Leuenberger, who could only manage three appearances in 2012 due to injury. In 2011, when Leuenberger played in every game, the Lions finished 4th in the same category.
Points of Interest in 2013
At his best, Moloney is a valuable addition to a Brisbane midfield that was by any measure below average in 2012. His strengths, both physically and in football, lend themselves to problem areas such as contested possessions and clearances. In fact, in 2011 Moloney finished in the top five in the entire competition for clearances.
The question is whether or not Moloney can still play at that level.
|Moloney Per Game Averages 2011 v 2012|
Moloney’s production dropped off significantly in 2012 after a career year the season before. At age 28, it is perhaps harsh but fair to wonder if 2012 was the beginning of a gradual decline in Moloney’s production at AFL level. After all, players around that age rarely recapture their best form on a consistent basis after a poor year. Given what he can offer when he is at his best, his worrying decline in 2012, and Brisbane’s recent history with mature-aged and recycled players, Brent Moloney promises to be an interesting subplot in the Lions 2013 narrative.
The criticism on Rich coming into the 2008 draft was that the player you were getting on draft day was exactly what you were going to get, no more, no less. Rich was physically strong already, but did not possess anything more than an average athletic ability. He was viewed as strong and slow. Generally speaking, we are conditioned to think that “amazing athleticism = amazing potential”, while things like “physically ready to play now” are seen as nice, but not extremely necessary, bonuses. This is the primary reason Rich slid from a pre-season number 1 pick contender to pick 7.
|Daniel Rich Career Averages|
Rich’s booming kick means he has always posted good inside 50 numbers. His inside midfielder numbers, namely contested possessions and clearances, have also seen improvement since his career at AFL level began. Generally speaking, Rich has improved every year at this level. He hasn’t broken out and posted massive numbers like some other similarly aged midfielders, but he is heading in the right direction. His ability to get the ball forward, as well as his growing penchant for adding his own goals, are very desirable traits. As it stands, Rich is a good player. If he continues to improve he could become a great one.
Three seasons in a row finishing at least five places outside of the finals means there is invariably pressure on the often beleaguered coach to finally deliver some tangible evidence that the train he is conducting is on the right track. There were some promising signs shown by his young side in 2012, but not many coaches survive four consecutive seasons near the foot of the ladder. In reality Voss probably needs to lead his club to the finals to ensure his position beyond 2013. If a finals berth isn’t forthcoming, then a definite step up leading to a ‘finals-or-bust in 2014’ scenario must be seen as the bare minimum requirement for Voss to keep his job.
That or he can just sit down with Brisbane’s administrators at years end, reminisce over old times, and indicate toward the trophy cabinet when it comes time to decide how many years his extension should run for.
If free agency pickup Brent Moloney can recapture some of his 2011 form, then Brisbane’s midfield could see some significant improvement, particularly in the contested possessions and clearances department. The natural development of young players like Jack Redden, Tom Rockliff and Jared Polec should lead to an improvement in the middle regardless. Black, Redden, Rockliff and Moloney has the makings on a nice inside midfield quartet, and the return of Leuenberger in the ruck should dramatically improve their chances of winning the ball from stoppages.
Up forward is where the biggest impediment to improvement lies. The Lions finally sought to address this issue by drafting South Australian forward Sam Mayes with the 8th pick in the National Draft. At 187cms, Mayes is more in the third tall or half-forward flank mould, rather than a genuine key position player. Another first round pick was used on Marco Paparone, a tall utility who can play on the wing or as a leading forward.
Twenty-Two year old Jordan Lisle was also brought in from Hawthorn. At 196 cm tall, Lisle has the height to be a genuine target, and the Lions will be hoping that at least of one Lisle and Cornelius becomes a legitimate and dangerous tall forward partner for Brown in the immediate term while the likes of Mayes and Paparone develop. Swinging Daniel Merrett forward again is another option, but one that leaves their defence exposed. The Lions have a few small forwards, or smalls capable of sneaking goals, like Green, Bewick and Banfield, as well as some medium sized utility types, like Staker and Karnezis, that they can move forward, but none of those players can be relied upon to consistently provide on a week to week basis yet.
Overall, the forward setup still seems entirely dependent on Jonathan Brown, and short of a herculean effort from Brown, a massive evolution from the likes of Lisle and Cornelius, or a significant improvement in the delivery forward by Black and company, it’s hard to envision the Lions improving significantly on the offensive side of the game. The midfield is capable of playing at a finals like level, but even if it does take an Adelaide-esque leap in 2013, the forward arc will likely hold them back. In my opinion, the Lions are an outside shot at a low finals placing, but seem more likely to once again finish in the 10 to 15 range.