Round 16 – GWS v Brisbane Lions: Worth the Drive

4.40 pm, Sunday 7 July 2019

Giants Stadium, Sydney


Every year when the AFL fixture is released I check whether Brisbane will be playing GWS in Canberra. Unfortunately the AFL’s fixture algorithm has never been kind to me. One day my time will come, but until then, if I want to see the Lions take on the famous orange and charcoal I need to drive three and a half hours up the Hume Highway and through several main roads in inner-western Sydney to get to Giants Stadium. I’m not an expert on Sydney’s geography, but Sydney Olympic Park does seem to be the eastern-most part of western Sydney and certainly nowhere near Blacktown or Western Sydney Stadium where the Western Sydney Wanderers will be playing their home games.


That’s a small digression, but an important one. I actually quite like Giants Stadium. Easy to get to, well supported by the facilities and all the seats are close to the action: it’s the type of boutique stadium Melbourne could have had if circumstances had allowed. It was, incidentally, also the tenth ground at which I’ve watched an AFL game.


I’ve written several match reports before this, but this is the first time I’ve done one involving my team. Unashamedly, my view was as a Lions supporter sitting behind the goals at the away end. Not the best place to watch the game, but great for being in amongst the literally tens of Brisbane supporters in the crowd of 12,268 who had come to the inner-west of Sydney at the terrible time of 4.40 pm on Sunday afternoon. Sitting at that end of the ground did allow me to get a good look at our defence and attack up close – our usually industrious midfield would need to be somewhat more distant.


Several years ago I wouldn’t have wanted to be that close to our defence, as it sadly inspired little confidence. These days, however, they are a stronger and better organised unit, and they also get the benefit of a hard-working midfield that usually places sufficient pressure on opposition ball-carriers in the centre of the ground to degrade the quality of any forward 50 entries.


I wasn’t expecting much from this game, and travelled all the way from Canberra for the novelty of watching my team play live. I didn’t want to get too excited too early, but our first quarter was impressive and set up the rest of the game. The 20 point margin at quarter time ended up as the final result; Brisbane earned their lead in the first term and then defended it for the rest of the match in the type of hard-working performance that you don’t fully appreciate unless you see it in person.


Tactically, I’ve noticed that much of our ‘run and gun’ midfield work from earlier in the season has abated, as more teams realise they should clog the space in the middle of the ground like Essendon did in Round 4. As such, we are moving it around the boundary a little more or punted the ball long to try and use our pace up forward to get behind opposition defenders. While neither approach is as exciting as the swift ball-movement through the centre, it’s good to see we have alternative options in moving to goal.


Before the game, I was concerned about the Giants’ forward prowess. Their usually silky ball movement through the midfield often allows their forwards easy marking opportunities. However, the Giants produced little of the swift and clean movement that I’m used to seeing when they play in Canberra. I was a little dismayed at their lacklustre forward 50 entries, which, more often than not, were absorbed by a strong Brisbane defence and rebounded back out to the wings. Harris Andrews and Darcy Gardner have become quality defenders (Harris Andrews’ long arms are an under appreciated asset, and he’d be hoping for a strong look-in for All Australian this season), and I was pleasantly surprised by Ryan Lester’s work, having been previously critical of him on occasion for the quality of his disposals. Much of the transition work is being done by Daniel Rich, playing in his best season since his debut year.


Brisbane’s forays forward, from what I could see down the end of the ground, were fast and left plenty of space for our forwards to roam and create chances. Seeing Charlie Cameron kick a set shot after a string of misses throughout the season was comforting. We made the most of our chances when the ball entered our forward line, a comforting experience after several weeks where we had squandered good scoring opportunities.


Kicking to our end in the second quarter, I got a good look at our forwards. All season we’ve fashioned goals from a frenetic ball movement into our forward thrusts (as was the case in this game). The epitome of that is Charlie Cameron, who produces some truly exciting football when the ball is rolling along the deck, but has struggled when taking set shots.


I’d been hoping to see a more structured and, frankly, boring approaches to goal. A big part of that requires our tall forwards to impose themselves on the contest to a greater degree. Modern football dictates that it’s better to have an even spread of goal kickers to mitigate the risks of an opposition defence shutting down a bag-kicking key forward. Following this doctrine, our goals have come from across our medium and small forwards and midfielders. However, I haven’t felt our tall forwards have been as prodigious. Hipwood can be brilliant if the circumstances are right and he has his kicking boots on, but he can just as easily fall by the wayside. He’ll need a few more preseasons to really impose himself in contested marking situations. McStay promises much but delivers all too rarely, while the Big O has come along this year but we’ve sorely missed him when he isn’t on the park.


If I was looking for more conventional inside 50s entries against the Giants, I was soon disappointed. Our first goal of the game came from Charlie Cameron soccering through a loose ball on goal. I shouldn’t be complaining, as all goals are worth six points regardless of how they get kicked, but it’s something I keep my eye on as a marker of our improvement. Up close in the second quarter, I saw Cam Rayner snap a goal from a Heath Shaw turnover, Jarryd Lyons sneak one in opportunistically and Lachie Neale snap from open play. The only set shot goal was from Zac Bailey – a promising player of half-back but not a known goalkicker. While this was sufficient to maintain our lead to halftime, it wasn’t the powerful domination of the forward line I was hoping for. Still, our goals were coming from good forward pressure, so I can hardly complain.


By the third quarter I was back watching our defence. As I grew more confident in their ability to blunt any GWS attacks I was also becoming more optimistic that we might pull off an unexpected victory. Our frenetic inside 50s continued, compared with the Giants’ more measured and precise play (when they could). It was evident now that this game was about the midfield battle. We weren’t getting too many fast breaks out from the centre, but neither were the Giants. It was a grind to win the ball and punt it forward. Here, Mitch Robinson was doing his best work. I was also impressed with our tackling, which had been a weakness of ours in previous seasons but was now a feature of our very robust midfield. The third quarter also demonstrated Luke Hodge’s value to this team. Beyond his presence and leadership, the way in which he forces himself into contests in a no-holds barred manner, knowing just how much physicality to exert to achieve the right effect, is both effective in the context of the game and no doubt lifts those playing around him. In this form, I’d almost suggest giving him another season.


At the end of the third quarter we were comfortably five goals up, but after several missed chances I couldn’t help but start worrying about a final quarter GWS revival. I need not have been concerned. It had been a hard fought and at times scrappy game, but the Lions had nevertheless remained comfortably in front since the first quarter. When GWS got the ball outside they looked threatening, but they hesitated going inside 50. Meanwhile, we locked the ball into contests and then were able to use intricate handballs to move out into space and release our runners onto the ball. This was the way to make the best use of Charlie Cameron, who works best when he’s chasing the ball along the deck. He should have had a third goal in that final quarter, but unselfishly gave it off to McStay to boost his stats for the game.


By the final siren, several late GWS goals had brought the margin back to 20 points. Ever Since we built out lead in the first quarter I was waiting for a GWS onslaught in retaliation, but it never came. We hadn’t kicked away, but neither had we allowed the Giants to get close to us. Whenever they got a goal, we soon replied. We won the game by taking our opportunities early, building a modest lead and then defending well all over the ground to negate GWS’ use of the ball. Our tall forward line is still a work in progress, but our medium and small forwards and the midfield generate enough shots on goal that it didn’t matter (this time).


The three and a half hour drive had been well worth it.


GWS Giants      1.2       5.5       8.6       11.8     (74)

Brisbane Lions  4.4       8.7       12.10   14.10   (94)



GWS Giants: Himmelberg 4, Greene 3, J. Cameron 2, Finlayson, Williams

Brisbane Lions: McCarthy 3, C. Cameron 2, Berry, Rayner, Lyons, Bailey, Neale, Christensen, Hipwood, McCluggage, McStay



GWS Giants: Coniglio, Williams, Himmelberg, Greene, Hopper

Brisbane Lions: Neale, Andrews, McCarthy, McCluggage, Hodge, Martine


Umpires: Margettes, Chamberlain, Wallace                  Official crowd: 12,268

Our votes: McCarthy (BL) 3, Coniglio (GWS) 2, Andrews (BL) 1


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 William Westerman

Canberra-based historian. Author of 'Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996' Available here:




  2. Well worth the drive William. Did you stop at the Big Merino on the way home?
    Your Lion cubs are coming of age before our eyes. Daniel Rich has morphed into an excellent defender. Plants those tree trunk legs and blocks the space from taller forwards, then uses his cannon disposal to set up your attacks. Hodge and Neale will thrive on September.
    I instinctively called our Jarrod Cameron “Charlie” several times on Saturday night. The same slope shoulders, languid gait, and dazzling acceleration. Mini me. Exciting times for both us.
    I drove Melbourne – Canberra – Sydney – Port Macquarie on the Hume/Pacific in April. I can thoroughly recommend them to you in September as long but easy drives. You may even get to stop at the Big Dance.

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