Round 3 – Brisbane v West Coast: Winning when we “should”, the ultimate challenge – just ask Ivan Drago…


Saturday 20 June 2020


The Gabba



There has always been something imperialistic about the West Coast Eagles. They arrived in the then VFL with the Brisbane Bears in 1987 and the differences between the two expansion teams were stark. They were heady, hopeful times for a young Fitzroy supporter like me. Our glorious run to the Preliminary Final the year before was surely going to be a platform for years of future success and prosperity, wasn’t it? New teams just meant more largesse for all football supporters to enjoy – what could possibly go wrong? Fitzroy would surely make hay in this new land of milk and honey.


The Brisbane Bears were enjoyably harmless; a retirement village where past champions like Rendell, Raines, Capper and Eade spent a year or two in the same way retirees went on European cruises. Watching Brisbane in the eighties and early nineties was like watching basketball; pleasant, safe and harmless – no risk and very little reward. Playing them wasn’t anything to take too seriously, it was more like an ambassadorial ribbon cutting.


But the Eagles were another beast all together. Like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, they were ruthless leviathans from afar who threatened all that we knew and understood. Come to think of it, given the lack of certainty around what became of Drago, it is conceivable he moved to Perth, grew a mullet, changed his name by deed poll to Alex Ischenko and became the Eagle’s first ruckman. Their state was a football powerhouse that we already knew and feared from the epic State of Origin Battles. And as Tim Winton has reminded us in at least two of his novels, ‘Western Australia is just like Texas, only it’s big!’.


Even when the Bears became the Lions, and somewhat inexplicably the competition powerhouse, the Eagles didn’t seem to flinch. In a famous game, a coltish young Chris Judd made Voss, Lappin, Aker and Black, all at the height of their powers, look more ‘foolish four’ than ‘fab.’ His pack bursting, gut running and ability to hit the scoreboard from the centre square made even Leigh Matthews coronate him as the competition’s new prince. The Eagles have just always seemed consistently good. Our flags came in a burst, whereas as theirs are dotted quite regularly over the last thirty years.


But in spite of this, Fitzroy seemed to have a quirky habit of beating the Eagles when they were at their best. Most famously at the end of 1991 when we avoided a wooden spoon by upsetting the top of the table Eagles. It was also against the Eagles in round one last year that Brisbane began their climb back to the finals and, more importantly, respect.


This game, round three, took place amidst an upswing in COVID-19 cases. Before the game, CEO Gillon McLachlan sombrely announced that Conor McKenna had tested positive and the Essendon v Melbourne game was to be postponed. If that wasn’t ominous enough, the media pre-game chatter suggested that this was a game the Lions “should” win. Our fiesty captain, Dayne Zorko was also a late withdrawal. These sorts of paralysing kiboshes have crippled better credentialed Brisbane teams than this one. It was also on free to air TV, Saturday night, meaning I could watch it in the “good room.”


Nothing in the first half gave me any reason to enjoy the game. It was ugly. Typically, Brisbane had no issues getting the ball into the forward line, but couldn’t convert to goals. Archie Smith does a great job covering the absent Stef Martin in the ruck  – as long as he’s not lining up against an “actual” ruckman. My chess game is pretty good too, as long as I’m not playing anyone better than me. I’m a parochial fan, but the footy aesthete in me is just agog at Nic Natanui. He’s thundering through the game like a grade six kid in the prep playground. The first half is as stressful as a soccer game. The commentators are talking about the slippery, sweaty, steamy conditions causing the scrappiness. It’s like Dr Seuss is calling the game. There are nice moments from both teams, but they are fleeting. Lots of goals missed that “should” have been kicked.


Hugh McCluggage’s precision delivery could turn myself or a pot-plant into an effective marking target up forward, and Jarrod Berry seems to find goals at unlikely times. His younger brother Tom is scampering into everything, showing his impressive debut last week was no fluke. They’re an interesting team these Lions. The kids are alright, and we’ve recruited well. Like a financial stimulus package, our foreign legion of Neale, Cameron, Robinson and now Birchall are ensuring a football prosperity within which the cubs can grow.


Hipwood and Rayner can be frustrating players, always on the precipice of greatness but never quite stringing together a sequence of good games. They always have two or three moments in every match that make your spirits soar and tonight is no exception. Hipwood, like Maxwell Smart, “missed it by that much” a few times and then disappeared for most of the game. But then he took a glorious lead up mark that gave a glimpse of the player he “should” become. During the first half, one could be forgiven for thinking Rayner needs some time in the NEAFL. But there were two moments in the last quarter – his gut running to spoil a mark in the Eagles’ forward line and then his run-down tackle of their skipper Shannon Hurn – that made me smile and mutter “In Fages We Trust”. There were errors too. The unheralded but increasingly vital Zac Bailey missed a goal he should have slotted. But then in an echo of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film, like his namesake ‘George Bailey’, he got a second chance almost immediately and kicked what is the sealer – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ indeed!


Where to for this Brisbane team in 2020? Where to for the competition as a whole with games being postponed and players testing positive for Coronavirus. Who knows? But from what I saw last night, we “should” be winning more than we lose. I may regret saying this later in the season (especially if West Coast do make a late run for the finals) but it would also be great to see Nic Nat have an uninterrupted year and bring some imperiousness back to the Eagle empire.



BRISBANE                 1.2         2.6      7.9        10.14 (74)
WEST COAST            2.1         3.4      5.4         6.8 (44)


Brisbane: J.Berry 3, Neale 2, Starcevich, Cameron, McInerney, McStay, Bailey
West Coast: Ryan 3, Darling, Naitanui, Kennedy


Brisbane: Neale, McCluggage, J.Berry, Lyons, Starcevich
West Coast: Naitanui, Gaff, Ryan



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Shane Reid

Loving life as a husband, dad and teacher. I'm trying to develop enough skill as a writer so that one day Doc Wheildon's Newborough, Bernie Quinlan's Traralgon and Mick Conlon's 86 Eliminatiuon final goal will be considered contemporaneous with Twain's Mississippi, Hemingway's Cuba, Beethoven's 9th and Coltrane's Love Supreme.


  1. Jenifer Whitwam says

    I love reading Shane’s articles. I do not barrack for the Lions personally but do have an interest, but Shane’s humour and flowing ability to write, keeps me absorbed and giggling!

  2. Brisbane have a solid defence and a very good deep midfield. Forwards are a bit flaky, but with Stef Martin back for ruck strength will be a Top 4 team.

  3. Shane Reid says

    Thanks Jenifer, really appreciate the kind words.

    I was impressed with the 3rd quarter Peter. I think you’re right about the forward line, I’m optimistic about Rayner and Hipwood. I’d also love to see Sam Skinner get a run.

  4. Jarrod_L says

    You just gotta trust in Fages, Shane!

    There’s a photo of him on the bench next to Jarrod Berry and the coach is simply beaming with pride – got me cracking a big smile when I saw it.

    Of the foreign legion, you’d be hard pressed to put big enough wraps on Neale. The guy has serious claims on being the best midfielder in the whole league right now.

  5. Shane Reid says

    Thanks Jarrod. It’s great to have a coach who is such a big fan of the team and the boys as well. And Lachie, it is hard to think of a player crossing teams and settling in and playing so well, so quickly. He was great last year and has started well.

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