They have one of the recruits of the year in midfielder Lachie Neale, who was best afield with 43 disposals and eight clearances on Sunday. Neale’s influence at the centre bounces, particularly with two crucial late extractions that led to Brisbane goals, could not be understated.
The former Docker had an interesting game because the man whom he was opposed to for much of the day, Roo Shaun Higgins, also was outstanding with 38 disposals. The Lions don’t bother with taggers, preferring to go head-to head, risky against a player with Higgins’ finishing touches. But ultimately Neale’s astonishing workrate trumped Higgins’ svelte running, albeit only just.
Their battle served as a template for the game itself.
The Lions struggled to convert until the final quarter when they booted seven goals to four, with Charlie Cameron providing four goals with his X-factor. But it was a tight game for much of the day, with waves of momentum. At one point of the third quarter North were 26 points up and threatening to blow the Lions out through the run of Higgins and Ben Cunnington’s wonderful bulldozing midfield play.
But Brisbane kicked the last four goals of the third quarter and then pulled away toward the finish.
North included 19-year-old Tasmanian Tarryn Thomas for his first game as a late selection, and he was welcomed to the game with a fierce, body-slamming tackle by Hodge in the first quarter. Still, he kicked a nice goal from an uncontested mark in the third quarter, and handled himself well with 10 disposals.
The Roos also had Tom Campbell, the former Western Bulldog, in for his first game at his new club and he kicked their last goal in the final quarter without being especially good on the day.
The inclusion of Aaron Hall (brilliant on Sunday until Mitch Robinson subdued him after half-time) and Jared Polec from other clubs has given North Melbourne potentially lethal levels of high octane run when you consider the emergence of Higgins as a superstar last year. Thomas also has serious wheels, as does Shaun Atley.
The grunt comes from Cunnington, Dom Tyson and Luke Davies-Uniacke in midfield with Cunnington having 22 contested possessions and 10 clearances on Sunday.
It is a much different looking North team to what we’ve previously seen under Brad Scott, but the Roos face Hawthorn next week in what is a hugely important game for them.
The AFL’s farcical new rule on 50-metre penalties gets worse weekly. Players are now awake to it, so that when they receive a 50, they sprint to try to get in front of the opponent on the mark. Ben Brown did this on Sunday so that Harris Andrews, his opponent, had to backtrack quickly, a bit like an umpire. It looks dreadful and it doesn’t make much sense, either.
THE BIG O
Brisbane have a player in Oscar McInerney, 24, from their reserves via Casey. The “Big O”, as he has come to be known, never played in the TAC Cup system, coming via the suburbs. But his three big, contested grabs over five minutes in the third quarter helped turn the game. Two of them were converted to goals, and the other hit the post. A cult figure in the making.
BRISBANE 1.2 5.5 9.10 16.11 (107)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.4 7.5 9.8 13.9 (87)
Goals: Brisbane: C Cameron 4 L McCarthy 2 O McInerney 2 C Rayner D McStay E Hipwood H McCluggage J Berry M Robinson R Bastinac S Martin. North Melbourne: B Brown 3 J Polec 2 J Ziebell 2 A Hall B Cunnington D Tyson K Turner T Campbell T Thomas.
Best: Brisbane: Neale, Rich, Robinson, Cameron, Hodge, McCluggage, Berry. North Melbourne: Higgins, Cunnington, Hall, Polec, Davies-Uniacke, Tarrant.
Injuries: North Melbourne: Dumont (calf) replaced in selected side by Thomas, Williams (ankle).
Umpires: Dean Margetts, Andrew Mitchell, Leigh Fisher.
Official Crowd: 23,110 at Marvel Stadium.
Lachie Neale (Bris) 8
Shaun Higgins (NM) 7
Daniel Rich (Bris) 7
Ben Cunnington (NM) 7
Aaron Hall (NM) 7
Martin Blake is a Sports production journalist and writer for The Age.