Into the Lions' den: How dominant Brisbane can land a second flag

BRISBANE has been the most dominant team in the AFLW throughout season seven. Losing just once by a narrow four-point margin, the Lions have boasted the second highest scoring attack in competition history, while also locking down with the second-best defence of the season. On a roll, they have landed themselves in a fourth Grand Final with the aim of claiming a second AFLW premiership. 

So, how have they done it, and will it lead them to lifting that cup on Sunday?

Attacking spread 

While Brisbane boasts the season's leading goalkicker in Jesse Wardlaw, it is not a team that relies solely on one target up forward to post winning scores as we have seen in the past.  

A huge 36 per cent of Lions who have played at least one game this season have kicked five or more goals – no other team comes within 11 per cent of this spread. Added to this, 14 of the 25 Lions to feature this season have kicked at least one goal. 

This impressive attacking spread has led to Brisbane averaging 52.5 points per game and piling on scores of 60 or more on five separate occasions.  

Notably, it is in second quarters that the Lions have been able to separate themselves from their opponents in earnest, outscoring the opposition by 20 or more points in five different second quarters this season. Brisbane has conceded a total of 23 points across its 12 second quarters throughout the season, while scoring 193 of their own. 

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Forward pressure 

The Lions are averaging the second-most marks inside 50 in the competition this season with eight per game. More than half of those marks in attack have been taken by the trio of Wardlaw, Dakota Davidson and Greta Bodey. 

Despite this ability to control the air, Brisbane's spread in attack has come from hard defensive work at ground level in the forward half resulting in a record average of 17 tackles inside 50 this season.  

While, yes, its average inside 50 count of 36.6 makes it easier to pile on the tackles up forward, it is every player's want to lock the ball down to create repeat opportunities at goal that has become Brisbane's signature. This has resulted in nine individual players recording double-digit tackles inside 50, led by Courtney Hodder with 34. 

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An underrated defence 

While much of the focus has, fairly, been on Brisbane's impressive forward line and the stars who run through the midfield, it is an underrated defensive performance that has propped everything up. 

The Lions are conceding just 19.8 points per game from 23.8 inside 50s, making them the second-tightest defensive unit in the competition this season. Opposition teams have been able to generate a shot on goal from just 31.5 per cent of their forward entries against Brisbane, scoring a goal from a measly 11.2 per cent of entries.  

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As a unit, Brisbane's backline likes to push quite high to take territory control for large portions of games. Their style of defence can be split into two distinct efforts – intercepts and one percenters.  

Captain Bre Koenen and Natalie Grider lead the side for intercepts with 83 and 80 respectively, reading the ball expertly behind the play and picking off opposition attempts to move forward. Meanwhile, the tough, physical duo of Phoebe Monahan and Shannon Campbell have registered 32 and 30 one percenters respectively, putting their bodies on the line in one-on-one battles. 

Much like how the Lions' forward line is tough to stop because of the sheer depth of ability, their defensive unit is hard to break through for the exact same reason. 

Bre Koenen kicks the ball during Brisbane's preliminary final against Adelaide on November 18, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

How they win on Sunday 

Key to Melbourne's style of play is its handball chains out of congestion. Everything else is built off that, but if Brisbane can apply enough pressure around the ball to disrupt those neat hands that will go a long way towards holding aloft the cup on Sunday afternoon. 

The main indicator of Brisbane's pressure is its tackle count, led by Cathy Svarc with 105 to date, but supported by star Emily Bates who is averaging the second-most tackles of her career with 6.5 per game. In the Lions' round four victory over Melbourne they laid 12 more tackles than the Demons, with that pressure working to take away the latter's most important asset. 

Cathy Svarc celebrates a goal during Brisbane's preliminary final against Adelaide on November 18, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

As a team, they are averaging 69.7 tackles each game, but more impressive than the tackle count alone has been an ability to repeatedly win both the disposal and tackle numbers. Five times this season has Brisbane won both the disposal and tackle count in a game, indicating the level of control the side is aiming for.  

Alongside the all-important pressure game is getting the ball to the outside and winning the uncontested possession. Vital here is Brisbane's use of running wingers Sophie Conway, Orla O'Dwyer and Jade Ellenger. The running capacity of this trio means they can consistently provide options across the full width of the ground, and in using so much space they can unsettle defences. 

Melbourne wants to keep its opponent locked in a small box of space, but with that outside run at the Lions' disposal, this becomes exceptionally difficult to maintain. 

Through a combination of its own assets, and an ability to shut down Melbourne's intended game style, Brisbane is well placed to claim its second AFLW premiership on Sunday, but the Demons will not go down without a fight.

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