Brisbane posted their third win of the season on Saturday with an upset victory over the previously in-form Bombers. The match itself was one for the ages, with an astounding 18 lead changes in a round when the other eight matches included only 19 overall. However, the key talking point to emerge from the match was the raw physicality displayed by the Lions, with both Daniel Merrett and Justin Clarke facing suspensions after big hits on Essendon pair Michael Hurley and Elliott Kavanagh respectively.
Merrett’s sling tackle on Hurley resulted in the Bomber tall being substituted with concussion in the first quarter. The dangerous tackle and subsequent injury led to Merrett being offered a three-match suspension by the match review panel for rough conduct. Clarke too failed to escape scrutiny for his late bump on Kavanagh just over a minute after Merrett’s tackle, with the match review panel offering the youngster a one-match ban.
The bans may come back to haunt Brisbane, who have a tough stretch with matches against Carlton, Collingwood and Fremantle on either side of the bye, which Merrett will miss should he accept his ban. Yet Michael Voss has claimed that the aggression showed by not only Merrett and Clarke, but all 22 Lions on Saturday was exactly what he was looking for.
Voss claimed that “we want to play that aggressive brand (of football)” and that seeing it on the weekend was “pleasing”. It was evident in their 72 tackles laid, one off their top tackle count for the season, which came in a 68-point loss in round one. Voss admitted that the team’s aggression had been lacking in away matches, leading to blowout first quarters against Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne and Sydney. Clearly in the lead-up to the Essendon match, it was going to be a key performance indicator for Voss’ Lions.
While it is not unusual to see a team come out fighting in a decisive match, what was most surprising about Brisbane’s physicality was the timing of it. After a week where Geelong captain Joel Selwood claimed that “the bump is dead” via Twitter due to his team mate James Kelly’s suspension for a big hit on Essendon star recruit Brendon Goddard, for Brisbane to come out against Goddard’s side with such a relentlessly ferocious mindset was dangerous. Yet it was the first-quarter acts of aggression that led to a close, physical, enthralling contest in which Brisbane eventually claimed victory.
Rumours of the bump’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. While both Merrett and Clarke face suspensions for their actions, the idea that players will second guess their instincts in order to avoid retribution at the match review panel is farcical. Physical players such as Merrett, Clarke, Kelly and others out there will continue to provide that edge to contests. While injuries may be bad for the game, such as Hurley’s concussion, players doubting their own instincts would be tragic. Physicality is a staple of our game, and Brisbane amongst other teams should not have to take a backwards step as a result.