It was the year of Neale in 2020, with Lachie’s Brownlow run the recurring headline in Brisbane’s cruise towards back-to-back 2nd-placed finishes on the ladder. I say cruise because the Lions fell headfirst into the box seat of the most lopsided fixture in AFL history, as the awesome graphic from Max Barry at @SquiggleAFL demonstrates:
While the easy Hub life adds context to Brisbane’s year, that’s not to diminish their achievements as a club last season. A straight-sets exit in 2019 brought to the surface a couple of gaping holes in their brand that went unnoticed in lower stakes home and away fixtures but exposed them in the finals – their reliance on too few in the midfield (read: Neale and Zorko), and keeping opposition goalkickers in check (Dustin Martin’s 6 goals and Toby Greene’s BOG performances broke them in the finals defeats).
Part of reducing their reliance on their midfield guns was finding other contributors. Hugh McCluggage continued his rapid growth with another 40-man All Australian squad nod, but it was Jarryd Lyons taking the next step (his SuperCoach average increased from 98 to 113), Zac Bailey announcing himself on a wing and meaningful centre-bounce cameos from McCarthy and (finally) Rayner that really advanced them. Allowing these players to blossom was a return to a hybrid mid/forward role for Zorko, who sacrificed his hefty midfield numbers (and Brownlow votes too, incredibly finishing on 0 for the year) for team success by attending just 45% of CBA’s for the season.
Neale learned the craft of beating a tag. In 2019, he averaged 111 when allowed to run free, but that dropped catastrophically to just 76 when being targeted. But he solved that over the off-season it seemed, with only his adjusted score of 46 under the watchful eye of Ryan Clarke in Round 17 tainting an unbeaten run. Outside of that one game, Neale’s lowest fantasy score for the year was 89 AF – incredible consistency.
They also tightened their defense. Harris Andrews was already the gold standard as a 1-on-1 defender with a back-to-back AA selections, but Daniel Rich finally figured it out and was snubbed for a berth of his own. Starcevich and Gardiner were dour match-ups for their opponents, Ah Chee gave them another weapon off half-back and Birchall replaced Hodge in the mentorship role. The results weren’t so obvious throughout their soft draw, but paid off handsomely in a victorious Qualifying Final rematch against eventual Premiers Richmond, where Dusty was held goalless and Riewoldt was contained to 2 snags.
This year it’s all about going one better and making the 4th week of finals action for the Lions. Addressing their 2021 laundry list is where their improvement will come from, with the glaring priority being finding additional avenues to goal, relying too heavily on a double-teamed Charlie Cameron to perform miracles too often. Improving their league-worst goal kicking accuracy (46.3%) can’t hurt either, although one could argue that fixing problem a) organically solves problem b).
And it’s fair to say that Brisbane’s recruitment team has answered the call.
Witherden, Martin, Hinge [trades, free agency]
Allison, Cox, Eagles, C Lyons, Skinner, Wooller [delisted]
Daniher (ESS), Cockatoo (GEEL)
Joe Daniher is the pièce de résistance of Brisbane’s off-season, a massive swing for the fences from their List Management crew that has hit the absolute sweet spot by addressing their glaring needs at a discount price (thank you, free agency!). The cherry on top is that trimming the fat from positions where they were already sound (Witherden and Hinge off half-back, Martin in the ruck) mitigates any losses Brisbane might have sustained from quality players switching stripes.
And it gets better. Cockatoo is a free hit with massive upside, a former #10 draft pick secured for a mere future 3rd-rounder. Brisbane’s strength and conditioning department is world class and lauded league-wide, and if they can get McCarthy to play every game in his 2 seasons as a Lion after an injury-plagued career at Geelong, what’s to say they can’t do the same with reunited teammate Nakia? Joe Daniher too, for that matter?
If these freshly-minted Lions can remain on the field in 2021, Brisbane will be very scary come the pointy end of the season.
#24 Blake Coleman – F – 43 avg from 5 games in NAB League
Brisbane are in full contention mode, so they’ve gone more long-term than instant gratification with their selections this year. Blake – brother of fellow Lion Keidean Coleman – was something of a draft bolter, courted by Collingwood which forced Brisbane to match their bid to retain their Academy prospect. He’s an explosive small forward, which should already ring alarm bells – the Lions are flushed in that area of the ground already. Unlikely to feature in 2021 (and unlikely to score more than a handful of points if he were to, anyway).
#43 Harry Sharp – M – 55 avg from 9 games in NAB League
The definition of a bolter both metaphorically and literally, Sharp’s spicy Draft Combine (where he smashed the 2km time trial record) catapulted the wingman from hopeful rookie list aspirations straight onto Brisbane’s senior list. A former Steeplechaser, Sharp is relatively new to the game and is unlikely to figure in our DFS calculations this season.
#48 Henry Smith – R/F – 72 avg from 13 games in SANFL U/18’s
Drafted purely for ruck depth following the departure of Stef Martin, Henry Smith’s skinny frame makes him a long-term project. He won’t get a game unless everyone else over 190cm on Brisbane’s list falls over.
In a word? Stingy. The Lions conceded the 3rd-fewest fantasy points in 2020, turning their high-pressure mentality into a game of rolling packs and mauls. Uncontested Possessions (ranked 3rd hardest) and Marks (also 3rd) were stats you could not rely upon when playing Brisbane, which actually made our decisions in DFS simpler – when you play the Lions, you’re picking your Tom Mitchells over your Tom Scullys.
A huge factor is the humid Queensland climate, with the footy often resembling a bar of soap; especially in those dewy night games. The splits are super interesting but also super clear on this – opposition teams averaged 23 fewer disposals, 10 fewer marks and 3 fewer goals for a monstrous 103 less fantasy points overall when playing in Queensland against Brisbane this year. Beware the slop!
Offensively, the strategy for Brisbane games was pretty simple in DFS. If the Lions were playing at home, you pick a fat chunk of Lachie Neale and divide your entries into combinations of Zorko, Lyons, McCluggage and even Berry alongside him as all their fantasy goodness was concentrated through the high numbers of midfield stoppages (and all the tackles and rushed disposals that come with it). DEF’s and RUC’s generally scored what their opponents allowed them to so Brisbane were strongly DvP-based in those areas, with the FWD’s as volatile as ever and usually value-based considerations. Rayner and McCarthy featured in a lot of winning line-ups this way, while Hipwood was a slatebreaker on his day.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Lachie Neale
I’ve probably dribbled on about the Brownlow belt-holder enough above, but Neale figures to be a huge DFS decision point in the early rounds of 2021. Often priced north of $20k on Draftstars last year, a standard ton doesn’t cut it from Lachie at that salary. So when do we pay up for the most prolific ball-winner of last season?
Avoiding tags is the obvious one. Despite Neale’s huge improvements dealing with a shadow in 2020, it only helped him raise his basement to an acceptable level, rather than blowing tags out of the water. Over 5 tagged games last year, Neale averaged “just” 99 AF (adjusted) and 1.2 Brownlow votes per game – in the remaining 12 games, he averaged 133 AF and a whopping 2.1 Brownlow votes. So dodging the teams that consistently tag (St Kilda, Carlton, GWS, Sydney, etc) will be a +EV exercise in the long run.
With their warzone gamestyle, Brisbane lean strongly into DvP trends and Neale is no different. He beat up on the soft matchups this year, averaging a massive 139 (adjusted) against the leakiest 7 teams for midfield DvP last year, compared to a more modest 111 versus the others. That’s when you pull the trigger.
2. Nakia Cockatoo
The injury-plagued Cat upgraded to a more intimidating feline this off-season, and the switch in colours has also brought a switch in role. Cockatoo has been training with the backline this pre-season, stationed off half-back in a recent match sim (and looking mighty comfortable by all reports). The talent is well and truly there anyway, but if he can even tickle his potential with this tasty distributor role, we can expect big things in fantasy.
We’ve seen success stories over the past couple of years with talented forwards switching into defense and having an impact. Caleb Daniel, Crozier, Baker and Petrevski-Seton have all elevated theirs standings as DEF’s, while teammate Ah Chee averaged an adjusted 68 AF going through the exact same transition for the Lions last season.
Not all of those players increased their fantasy output with the new backline role admittedly, but with Nakia failing to play a single game in the past two seasons, he should be close to basement price in Draftstars to start the year. So while 68 doesn’t sound like a lot, is there any sane punter out there who’ll say no to 14x value served up on a platter?
3. Joe Daniher
Like the man above him, Daniher’s DFS success hinges on his body. Unlike the man above though, Daniher has unleashed his full potential on the big stage before. An All-Australian selection in 2017, Joe averaged 85 AF from 7 marks and 2.8 goals an outing, and anything close to that would be unreal for all forms of fantasy in 2021.
But can Daniher get on the park, and stay there? Early signs suggest he’s over his persistent injury issues, as “he’s been training with the (main) group from day 1” with “no setbacks at all and has done every session” according to new coach Chris Fagan. Kicking 3 goals in the first quarter of Brisbane’s recent intraclub – matched up with Harris Andrews no less – has the fantasy world frothing from the mouth.
With veteran ruckman Stef Martin leaving for more secure pastures, expect the career key forward to chop out Big O at times in 2021. Which leads to my most salivating stat yet – Daniher’s scores when recording even a modest 7 hitouts or more in that All-Australian 2017 season read 98, 110, 102 and 76. Small sample size disclaimer, of course, but it’d be a hard sell to argue that a few extra minutes in the midfield could possibly be a negative for Daniher this season.
4. Oscar McInerney
Daniher’s likely ruck chop-out role segues perfectly into a glance at Big O, who’ll have the unchallenged No. 1 ruck mantle for the first time in his career. He spent time alongside both Stef and Archie Smith this year which understandably curtailed his impact – even if he edged ahead in ruck time on the day – averaging an adjusted 70 AF from a 54% share of the ruck contests in those games.
With a clear path to as many ruck minutes as he can physically handle this year, the 6-week purple patch in the middle of the year when Big O was the sole ruckman is an interesting test case. And you’re going to like the results, because as McInerney’s ruckshare shot up to 78% as a solo artist, his fantasy output followed suit by rising to 84 AF.
5. Deven Robertson
We can’t forget about last year’s draft slider that Brisbane traded up to secure in the second night of the AFL Draft. With averages of 113 in the 2019 U/18 Champs and 119 in the WAFL Colts that year, Deven’s fantasy craft was the cream of the crop (and it’s a shame that Covid has robbed me of what would surely have been similarly impressive 2020 NEAFL numbers to tease you with here).
Robertson’s solitary AFL game was a rushed late inclusion in Round 1 where he played just 68% game-time. Not worthy of analysis. What I’ll be focusing on instead is the noticeably short list of players in the “Inside MID” column of the depth chart above. The 34 year-old Zorko is transitioning back to a forward role and Ellis-Yolmen didn’t perform as advertised last year, leaving a midfield void that Brisbane might want to fill with a full-time accumulator, rather than squeezing in the part-timers.
Deven finished 5th in Brisbane’s 3km time trial, so he’s putting his name front and centre. Keep an eye out for a senior berth this year, because you’ll be wanting a fat share of exposure to him in DFS when he does break through.
- I’ve already mentioned a couple of times that Zorko is transitioning from a full-time midfield role to more of a hybrid forward posting. He’s still a chance for 25 touches and 2 goals on any given day, but the latter will probably be more common over the course of the 2021 season.
- McCluggage’s role will be interesting – he was actually more potent in fantasy in his games without CBA’s this year.
- Lyons was DFS gold for sharps who recognised his output far exceeded his brand name value last year, scoring over an (adjusted) 118 on 7 occasions last year with DFS ownership consistently lower than it should have been.
- Rich had a supercharged finish to the season, averaging 111 from 28 touches and 8 marks (all adjusted) over the last 5 games of the season. Purple patch, or has he finally unlocked his fantasy game as a DEF?
- Bailey’s role will be key – he started the year on fire by averaging 85 on a wing, but that dropped to 65 after being moved to a HFF mid-year. His role could be impacted by the blistering pre-season from Ely Smith, who was drafted as an inside MID but has transformed his body and game for a crack at a wing role. A position battle to track closely this pre-season.
- Rayner religiously hovered around 25% CBA attendance in 2020 and has room for improvement in fantasy if that ever bumps up.
- The same goes for Jarrod Berry, who averaged a massive 106 AF adjusted when receiving a 33% CBA share or higher last year (compared to just 70 AF when he didn’t).
Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.