Greetings to our friends from the north, former Roys and ex-Bears fanatics. I’d like to confess that I have a shameful love of Dare to Beat the Bear, but sadly we’re not here to do an in-depth dissection of theme songs – maybe another time. What I have been asked here for is to preview our side of next Saturday’s nights match. Now, you join the Melbourne Football Club at a very interesting time. Two wins a row, youngsters flying with confidence, equal with the ledger after round 4 for the first time since 2005. Roll on September eh? Well, maybe not. Strength of schedule is a stat that doesn’t get nearly enough coverage in AFL, and right now ours shows that the teams we’ve beaten are a combined 0-8.
When you’ve been belted from pillar to post for three years you’ll take a battling win over a team of fading cripples and a nine goal result against the AFL’s crisis club of the week but it’s nothing to rush to TAB Sportsbet and get excited about. Having said that there’s nothing surer than some muppet having a grand on us winning the flag during this week.
I can see how the United Nations of Brisbane are unbeaten at the right end of the ladder (though tell me you’re not at least slightly worried that it could all come crashing down like a house of cards at any time), and I’ll admit to having pangs of man love every time one J. Brown comes on my television, but if you’d told me after the round one DEBACLE against Hawthorn that we’d be facing off with you only outside the eight on percentage I’d have howled you down and tipped a table over in anger. Of course only sides who have won two spoons in a row (or are about to - hello Richmond!) actually care about ladder positions after four rounds, but still we’ve come a long way since the slop served up in round one caused some (mainly me) to dive for the record books to find out where we’d sit in the line-up of teams who had ‘won’ three spoons in a row. Now we sit a Ricky Petterd fingernail away from being 3-1 and there are positives all over the shop.
But can we take the positives shown against a criminally disinterested Collingwood and the two bottom sides of the competition and translate them into a decent performance against an unbeaten side with near unlimited scoring potential? Probably not enough to win, but I’m happy enough to go along next Saturday night in the knowledge that we’ll see more things to like for the future.
Obviously the major concern is the twin towers of terror Fev and JB. Luckily when coming up against a team with attacking options out the wazoo we’ve actually got a half decent backline. We’ve copped our fair share of poundings over the last few years but I’d argue that’s more to do with getting smashed in the middle of the ground than anything else. I shudder to think what would have happened to us without the likes of Warnock, Frawley, Rivers, Garland and – before his controversial conversion to a ruckman/forward/reserves player – The Stefan Martin Experience.
The Tiges didn’t do too badly against us last week, but if you take out the shots from free-kicks, the wildly speculative bombs that came off and a handful of crumbed goals they were pretty well held. This week, though, offers something different altogether.
At least Bradshaw is gone and won’t use us as his personal punching bag this year (lest we forget him ruining Nathan Carroll’s career so spectacularly that the buffoon with the rubbish hair went from All-Australian contender to getting arrested for punching on with the cops in a WA pub in just a couple of short years), though Fev is a fair replacement for the job. God knows what, if anything, is going through that man’s head at any given time but there’s no doubt that the one thing he’s good for is kicking goals. He’s fairly handy at stitching us up as well, even if you take out the seven he got against us when the tank was in fifth gear near the end of last year he’s plundered us for 29 goals in nine other starts. Even though he’s playing second fiddle to Brown so far this season I don’t like our chances of keeping them both quiet enough to keep you to a score we can match. I’d suggest Rivers might come back in for Garland and will tag in and out on Fev duty with James Frawley.
A look at Brown’s stats show that he’s played less games against Melbourne than any other club in the competition. In fact until he kicked six against us in R15, 2007 he’d never had more than one in a game. Since then he’s gone 2, 5, 5 and is playing absolutely out of his skin this year. It could be time for him to have a big day out against us and I’d expect Warnock to get him, but at the same time I’d love to see Frawley get a crack at the job. He slaughtered Brett Burton for the last three quarters of our game against Adelaide and is rapidly emerging as the best player in our defence. Riewoldt probably just had the better of him last week but if he’s going to step up to the next level he’s going to have to take on some of the big hitters eventually. Warnock on the other hand is the kind of guy that nobody has ever heard of unless you follow us but has finished 4th and 5th in the B&F over the last couple of years. Not much competition admittedly, but it shows how dependable he is. Not bad for somebody who was seconds from being out the door until Dean Bailey showed up.
As for our forward line I don’t think you’ve got too much to be worried about. This is the side that yesterday romped to eight goals in the first quarter for the first time since Round 20, 2000 and then followed it up by kicking none in the second. Between Ricky Petterd, Matthew Bate, Brad Green and Col Sylvia there’s the stirrings of a good attack but they’re not quite there yet. Needs one big bastard in the mould of Brown/Hall/Bradshaw to go up there and lead from the front. Petterd is trying his guts out, and getting some good results, but he’s not big enough to lead the line of a top eight team. It’s not inconceivable that we could kick another decent score, but
Meanwhile in a useless stat from Ridiculous Fact Corner, we have as many Queenslanders on our list now as we have had combined in the rest of our history. You can have Brad Miller and Jake Spencer back and Joel MacDonald (you may remember him) is doing pretty well but I’m quite keen on Petterd and Rohan Bail so you and the Gold Coast can stay well away from them thanks very much.
One place I think we can at least break even is the midfield. Mark Jamar has gone from world class spud to super stud so quickly I don’t think even he knows it yet, and for the last three weeks he has almost single handedly dominated the centre. Though having said that we’re in more trouble than the early settlers if he goes down during the game because we’ve been running with some very ordinary pinch hitters as back-up. At the big Russian’s feet lie the back from the dead James McDonald and a grunt work division consisting of Brent Moloney (pending the results of the Match Review Panel spinning their suspension wheel of fortune), Nathan Jones, Cameron Bruce (don’t be fooled by Supercoach scores, he’s struggling) and Clint Bartram. Jack Grimes and Aaron Davey give much needed class off the half-back line, and Joel Mac has fit in well without setting the world alight so far. On paper we lose the in the centre, but there’s enough in that lineup – as well as the emerging top end of the draft table duo SCULLGOVE – to argue that if Jamar can get hitouts to advantage we can get the ball forward. What happens when it gets there is the issue – and that’s where we’re going to be tripped up.
With the Lions playing in Melbourne for the first time this year except ‘humorous’ comments from the crowd on the subject of Fev’s many indiscretions. Take a drink every time one of them is actually funny and you’ll be stone cold sober by the final siren while Fev will probably have a matchwinning five goals. The other angle to watch is how Travis Johnstone is received. When we traded him there were murmurings of discontent and a bit of internet anguish but you won’t hear anybody upset with the deal now that Grimes – picked with the selection traded for TJ – is absolutely tearing it to shreds off halfback. Looks like the classic win/win for me, we’ve got a ten year player and future captain, TJ gets to play in a winning team and contend for a flag and Collingwood ended up getting stooged with Cam Wood. Everyone’s a winner except the Pies, and that’s to be celebrated.
Your wildcard player of the night to watch out for is young Jordie McKenzie – he turned down an offer to join the Crows in the off-season in order to stay on our rookie list and has delivered big time. Great tackler, great competitor and probably the happiest man in the world that he didn’t choose to move to Adelaide just to play in their worst side ever.
So, the Lions to win fairly comfortably but I’d like to think we’ll at least give you some anxious moments. Brisbane by six goals.