Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions finished 1st and 2nd at the end of the Home and Away season, and impressive wins in their Qualifying Finals earned them home Preliminary Finals.
Unfortunately for both clubs they came up against mature, experienced Finals teams in Richmond and Geelong that were able to win their way through to the 2020 AFL Grand Final.
There were similarities in the manner of the losses for both Port and Brisbane, with contested ball and stoppages, a strength for both teams during the season, deserting them on the Prelim Final stage.
With both teams entering their post-season reviews this week, there will be great cause for optimism for the future, despite the disappointment of missing a Grand Final berth.
3rd: Port Adelaide (1st after H+A, 14W-3L, 136.4%)
Port Adelaide was even across the board in 2020, finishing the home and away season ranked top two for both Offence and Defence, first for Clearance differential and third for Contested Possession differential.
Port’s back six, while undersized, were well connected and provided support for each other in contests, avoiding one on one contests as much as possible.
After 16 games at Gold Coast and Port between 2016 and 2019, Trent McKenzie played 16 in 2020 as the Power Full Back, taking match ups against much taller opponents and providing his customary long kicking out of defence.
Port locked the ball in their forward half, with their team defence providing Forward Half Intercepts and repeat entries at a high rate.
Offensively, Port was aggressive with the ball, bringing play back through the corridor with their high possession attack.
Charlie Dixon was a dominant presence in Port’s forward half, leading the AFL for Contested Marks and finishing 2nd to Tom Hawkins in the Coleman Medal.
What Didn’t Work
While Port’s forward half game is strong, they were vulnerable to quick Half Forwards getting out the back once the first line of their defence had been broken.
The Lions in Round 5, Carlton in Round 7 and St Kilda in Round 8 all exposed Port this way, while Geelong in Round 12 was able to isolate Tom Hawkins deep in one on one match ups. Hawkins’ 17 disposals, 9 marks inside F50, 7 Contested Marks and 6 goals was of the most dominant displays of the season.
Early in the season, Port’s tall forwards were caught flying against each other, unable to isolate Dixon and take full advantage of his size and strength advantage.
While Port’s forwards improved in this area later in the season, the Power are prone to an over-reliance on Dixon on their forward 50 entries.
Periods when Dixon played as more of a Centre Half Forward were a good change up, but Port needs a second tall forward to stand up as a consistent deeper option. Youngsters Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiades have showed plenty of promising signs.
While McKenzie, Jonas and Clurey were admirable against opposing tall forwards, a 198-200cm key defender would be a great inclusion to Port’s back six.
On field, the over-reliance on Dixon must be addressed, and different forward structures with Dixon deeper, higher or not on the field at all (in the event of injury) must be trained.
The danger when losing a Prelim is to spend too much time working on the one or two things that need to be addressed and losing sight of what created the top four finish in the first place.
Port will continue to build on their contested ball and stoppage game, and retain that as a strength in 2021.
Way Too Early 2021 Forecast
4th: Brisbane Lions (2nd after H+A, 14W-3L, 124.9%)
The Lions played a strong forward half game in 2020, finishing the season ranked #1 for Scores from Forward Half Turnovers, as well as #3 for Time in Forward Half.
Compared to 2019, Brisbane adjusted their ball movement, bringing the ball back through the corridor more successfully. Despite the change, there were a few teething problems, with the Lions generating the 2nd most Inside 50s and 3rd most F50 Marks.
The Lions key position players dominated in the air, with the team ranking 4th for Contested Marks, led by Daniel McStay, Oscar McInerney, Eric Hipwood and Harris Andrews.
Under Chris Fagan, Lions players have shown continual improvement, none more than Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale.
Outside of Neale, Jarryd Lyons and Hugh McCluggage improved through the midfield. Zac Bailey, Jarrod Berry and Cam Rayner all made big steps forward from the younger brigade, and Callum Ah Chee slotted in seamlessly to a role at half back in his first year at the Lions.
With Stefan Martin missing the majority of the season with a knee injury, Oscar McInerney was able to spend valuable time in the Ruck, his long term role at the club.
McInerney finished with the equal 3rd most Clearances and 6th most Tackles at the Lions, showing his follow up ability.
What Didn’t Work
While the Lions generated plenty of opportunities, their goal kicking was costly.
Brisbane finished the home and away rounds with the worst accuracy in the AFL at just 46%, nearly 11% behind league leaders West Coast.
The Lions have a deep midfield that has generally been good in the contest, however the more experienced teams were physically too strong.
The win over Richmond in the Qualifying Final came despite losing Contested Possession by 10, and the Lions five worst Contested Possession differentials came against Richmond, GWS, Collingwood and Geelong twice. In all five games the Lions were beaten.
Chris Fagan referenced the physical size of the Geelong players compared to the Lions in his post-match press conference, foreshadowing a summer in the gym for the Lions youngsters.
The arrival of Joe Daniher from Essendon will give the Lions even greater aerial presence in their forward half.
Incorporating a player of Daniher’s ability will take time, as chemistry will need to be built with Hipwood, McStay and Charlie Cameron, but also with the midfielders.
Plenty of goal kicking practice will be in the training program as well.
Way Too Early 2021 Forecast