On the back of a 105 point belting at the hands of the Adelaide Crows, the young Lions brigade received a rude shock. They cannot make finals, but they can ruffle the Magpies feathers if they bring an A-Game performance.
With no true Jonathan Brown-like forward target to aim for, the Lions need to “band together” like they did in a huge final quarter effort against Melbourne two weeks ago, and the comprehensive job they did on the Gold Coast the week beforehand.
Here’s a problem, though; there’s a rising debt at the club that simply cannot be immediately fixed. Newly appointed CEO Greg Swann has already made headway into discussions with the AFL for help, but it will not be an easy road to financial stability.
Despite a rush of form recently, the lack of a true tall man up forward has hurt the Lions. Granted, Stefan Martin is in the picture, but has been playing primary ruck due to the absence of Matthew Leuenberger.
Bring the wins, and – in theory – the funds might also roll in. It is, however, a long road to drive, and has the potential to be kick-started again with a win over Collingwood.
Lions midfielder Tom Rockliff, who notches up 100 games this week, believes the club can put a mark next to the Adelaide game as a simple mistake.
To really make a true mark, the Lions need the big body of Daniel Merrett back down in defence. Calder Cannon giant Peter Wright (203cm) has been touted as a distinct possibility to head North and don the maroon, blue and gold.
With Brown, the Lions had the ability of a strong mark and king of the contested ball. Wright would have to fill a similar void, and not simply thrown into the deep end.
Right now, there are plenty of inconsistencies that critics can pick out of the game plan. The attack on the ball was lacking against Adelaide, and too many times have the Lions been forced up the flanks into turnovers. Ranked 18th for kicks per game and 18th for disposals, Lions players are being beaten to the ball and at the ball.
The likes of Rockliff, Dayne Zorko, Jack Redden and Daniel Rich (injured) all hitting the mark where they are becoming the new brigade, management is key. Having Justin Leppitsch at the coaching helm has evidently seen a morale change, but the skills just have not been applied 100%.
Sitting with a percentage of 67.12 (and 185 goals kicked v their opponent’s cumulative of 276) the score impact has been missed at times too. Josh Green (27 goals) has been the livewire in that regard; he is quick, agile and more than capable of putting on a show. Behind him is Brown* (21), Zorko (16) and Lewis Taylor (11).
Then there is the calibre of star Pearce Hanley. He can torch and leave almost any player behind, and this is the example many of the Lions need to follow. The screws in defence are the loose connections in the chain – fix these and it starts moving again. How, though, is going to be a question for 2015.
*stats: footywire & AFL Tables