It’s hard to believe one of the more in-form clubs in the competition can sit anonymously in 15th with six wins to their name. But over the last six weeks, that’s exactly what the Brisbane Lions have done, turning their fortunes around.
Since a disastrous game against Fremantle in round 14, when they scored a club-record low of 22 points, Brisbane ranks amongst the very best in the league defensively. In that time they’ve conceded 328 points, a feat only bettered by Sydney (323).
They have suddenly become structurally sound, not allowing teams time and space to transition through the middle, only conceding 58.8 uncontested marks and 44.6 inside 50s a game.
Once teams make it inside 50 they are starved of opportunity, with only Sydney, Geelong and Essendon able to prevent goals more frequently. The ability of the constantly underrated combination of Joel Patfull, Justin Clarke, Matt Maguire and Darcy Gardiner to kill contests has been superb and the numbers through the midfield have positioned themselves well in support.
Chances closer to goal and right in front have been few and far between, with Brisbane rarely conceding a goal inside 30 metres. All the numbers point to a significant improvement in structure, a far cry from the results of months previous.
Two games in the rain have favoured the Lions in slowing down play and reducing skills, but they are figures that place them comfortably amongst – if not above – the well-renowned Fremantle and Sydney as well as the charging Richmond as the best defensive teams of late.
Couple that with three wins and they would sit seventh on the ladder over that period – above Essendon, North Melbourne, Collingwood and Port Adelaide, to name a few.
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Has it been a resolute month and a half? Certainly. Even more so when you consider they sat 17th with only three wins to their name after round 14, having conceded the equal most points league wide. The talk was of the exciting kids they’d bring onto the list next year more than the ones currently there.
Teams typically found it easy against Brisbane. Earlier in the year they were the worst in the competition in many facets of the game, with their opponents having little trouble in winning contested ball, transitioning it quickly inside 50 and hitting the scoreboard. Conversely, they were areas in which the Lions struggled.
Wins over Carlton, the Bulldogs and St Kilda were joyous but fleeting moments, surrounded by some disastrous losses and consistent high scores against them. There was little talk of their defensive work – if any, it was critical.
In a way the change in form is unsurprising with a coach like Justin Leppitsch at the helm. A three-time premiership player and three-time All-Australian defender with the Lions, as well as a defensive coach with Richmond for four years, Leppitsch knows his way around the defensive side of the game.
Most importantly, he has instilled a sense of belief in the club. Ruckman Stefan Martin was full of praise for him on Crocmedia’s Sportsday show.
“The way he talks to us, he keeps our confidence high even if we’re losing and he goes through systematically to educate us in review,” Martin said. “It’s just the kind of guy he is, he’s very pragmatic and he’s very results based and he knows if he’s going to fly off the handle it isn’t really going to achieve much.”
The message has certainly gone through with Martin, who has resurrected his career with a stunning patch in form. The likes of Tom Rockliff and Pearce Hanley are cherishing the service as two of just four players averaging more than 30 disposals a game in the last five rounds.
The form is prevalent throughout the side, from the already prolific Rockliff to the lesser knowns such as Rohan Bewick and Jack Crisp emerging as players, to name a few.
With finals closing in, it’s easy to say Brisbane isn’t the most relevant club in the scheme of things. But what is certainly relevant is the reversal of the club’s fortunes through the careful planning and dedication from the players and staff.
It is one that is under-appreciated and deserves applause.
You can follow Ethan on Twitter at @ethan_meldrum.