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AFL Round Five: Wings, Structure & Spread (Bri/Pta).

Brisbane’s win over Port Adelaide impressed onlookers, and rightly so. The Lions’ class shone across the field with the Power offering little in return.

Down back, the likes of Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff were kept quiet, while at the other end of the ground, Charlie Cameron and Daniel McStay filled highlight reels shown on the Sunday morning news.

Lachie Neale and the Lions midfield brigade also enjoyed a good day at the office, though in Port Adelaide’s case, the Powers’ midfield engine also highlighted the abundance of talent and versatility they possess.

Despite a disappointing final margin, the Power won 62% of all stoppage clearances for the game (31 to 19), which really provided the initial interest for delving into the game’s replay.

In this week’s review piece, we spend some time analysing the stoppage structures utilised by both teams at the Gabba on Saturday night, focusing especially on the role of each side’s wingmen, and their corresponding impact.

We have a look at how Port Adelaide managed to generate clearances and spread from stoppages in the first quarter through the likes of Karl Amon, Kane Farrell and Zak Butters, before highlighting a change made by the Lions in the second quarter which led to a much improved performance at stoppage.

This shift in strategy helped the Lions wrestle momentum in the second and third quarter, when the damage on the scoreboard was inflicted, despite certain efforts by the Power.

We finally touch on a last quarter mixup from Ken Hinkley’s coaching staff, which illustrated a glimpse of hope heading into the remainder of the 2020 season.

Q1: Outside Balance & Spread from Power

The first quarter painted a much different picture to that of the following three quarters.

During the first quarter, Port Adelaide were able to generate seven scoring shots from thirteen inside 50s, while Brisbane managed just three shots on goal from their nine entries. One reason the Power were able to generate more entries and shots on goal in the first quarter, stemmed from their supremacy in and around stoppages.

The power won nine stoppage clearances in the first quarter, compared with the Lions’ three. Inside, the likes of Sam Powell-Pepper, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak started the game strongly, but the impact of the Power’s wingmen in the game’s opening proceedings cannot be understated.

Stoppage structure in the first quarter saw both teams allow their sweeping wingman to play free at stoppages (see below). Given the perceived strength of Brisbane’s starting wingmen (Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson) compared with the Power (Amon and Farrell), it’s likely Brisbane decided to bet on their wingmen having a greater impact than the Powers’, which was not the case in the first quarter.

On a number of occasions, the Powers’ wingmen were able to provide handball outlets for their side’s on-ballers. In the first quarter alone, Port Adelaide’s wingmen generated a third of the Powers’ total clearances, while their direct opposition were unable to register a single clearance combined.

The importance of wings providing outlets at stoppages around the ground varies among teams depending on a number of factors (ball movement tendencies and midfield strength are just a couple). Clearly for the Power, their desire to move the ball cleanly and quickly from stoppages sees them place a greater reliance on the likes of Amon and Farrell to move the ball from contested to uncontested states of play.

The example below provides a clear example of how Amon is used as a handball outlet to help generate a clearance. Also be sure to note Farrell’s effort spreading from stoppage to generate a shot on goal (we discuss below).

Amon and Farrell especially in the first quarter did a good job of providing outside balance at stoppages, while Lions’ players such as McCluggage and Robinson often found themselves drifting into congestion. This tendency to drift into and congest stoppages, is then exacerbated by the Powers’ wings, who by providing outside balance, are then able to be used as outlets to move the ball cleanly and quickly from stoppages.

In the example below, McCluggage is caught drifting (slightly) into congestion without making a direct impact. This allows Farrell to occupy a slightly less congested space on the outside and provide the handball outlet from the stoppage, which generates an entry inside 50, followed by a score.

Finally, as well as generating clearances and achieving stoppage balance, the Powers’ wingmen also managed to beat their direct opponents spreading from stoppages on a number of occasions during the first quarter (Farrell in the first clip).

The Powers’ spread made it hard for the Lions to contain and defend their opposition’s ball movement, as the Power’s wingmen and midfielders worked hard into wide areas to open up the middle of the ground for their teammates. Example below.

Unfortunately for the Power, changes made by the Lions at the first break helped limit any further damage created by the likes of Amon and Farrell especially as the game went on.

Q2: Lions Quell Sweeping Wing and Improve Spread

Brisbane came out of the first break with a clear change in plans around stoppage. Around the ground they would now send their sweeping wing to mark the Powers’, in order to hopefully limit any potential handball outlets. See our first example below, noting that McCluggage has shifted his starting position from the coloured circle on the right of screen, to now sit beside Amon who remains in the same sweeping position from the first quarter.

Such a decision by Brisbane’s coaching staff to play their sweeping wing man-on-man likely was in order to force Port Adelaide to win their clearances on the inside of stoppages where the likes of Neale, Berry and Lyons can provide strong opposition. In doing so, Brisbane, with enough pressure at the source, are now able to force any Port Adelaide clearances into quick kicks down the line, or pressured handballs, rather than the clean possession chains the Power were able to generate in the first quarter through their wing outlets.

Overall, in the second quarter Brisbane won seven stoppage clearances to the Powers’ six. While not an emphatic victory, the Lions successfully quelled the Power’s initial run and carry from stoppages, slowing their ball movement and ability to generate entries inside 50 (Brisbane had eighteen I50s versus Port Adelaide’s five in Q2).

Brisbane’s Zac Bailey also began to see more time on the wing in the second quarter, hitting the scoreboard with a goal, which began to shift the Powers’ wing mindset to one more defensive than the first quarter.

McCluggage also began to rectify his quiet first quarter, collecting seven disposals and making his presence felt around stoppages.

Along with matching the Power at stoppages, the Lions were also able to beat the Power on the spread across the ground. With the ball travelling in Brisbane’s direction for what felt like the entire quarter, Brisbane’s wingmen were able to push into dangerous space offensively, putting their direct opponents under significant pressure.

In the example below it seems Bailey is either sent directly to Boak, or is out of position. Either way, Brisbane are still without a sweeping wing, while Port Adelaide has Brad Ebert playing their sweeping role. The stills below, along with the footage illustrate a hard spreading Brisbane midfield, while also highlighting a lack of discipline defensively from Port Adelaide’s midfield group in the second quarter.

It’s clear the decision by Brisbane to play wing-on-wing in the second quarter assisted with their stronger presence at stoppages. Without the ability to generate ball movement from stoppages, Port Adelaide were unable to generate field position, and subsequently, entries inside 50.

Q3: Brisbane Unfazed by Power’s +1

The third quarter followed a similar pattern to that of the second quarter. Neither team established supremacy in and around stoppages (Lions three stoppage clearances, Power five), but where the wing battle was won, was on the scoreboard, with both McCluggage and Robinson slotting goals.

In the first case (close your eyes Brad Ebert), McCluggage and Ebert spread toward a contest inside the Lions’ forward 50. Ebert decides to fly for an intercept mark, missing it quite convincingly. McCluggage on the other hand preferred to remain at ground level, getting into a dangerous front-and-centre position before kicking an easy goal.

Before sharing Robinson’s third quarter goal, the Power altered their strategy, as they begun to send a winger behind the ball to act as a defensive +1. The Power would then send a forward up onto the wing, providing the Lions with a defensive +1 too. If you were wondering where Port Adelaide’s wingman was at centre bounces during the second half like the one below, hopefully this helps explain.

Unfortunately for Port Adelaide, generating a +1 in defence provided little support in any potential comeback. In the third quarter, the Power generated eleven intercept possessions, one less than the Lions. The sequence where Robinson kicks a goal below provides an example of the Powers’ defensive +1 (Riley Bonner in this case) having zero impact on the chain. This was due to a combination of poor positioning and the Lions’ ability to move the ball quickly, limiting Bonner’s ability to get back and provide cover at the contest inside 50.

In addition to Bonner’s inability to influence the contest, my guess is that Connor Rozee was the Port Adelaide forward tasked with moving up onto the wing to mark Robinson.

Bailey and Robinson’s spread forward puts ample pressure on both Amon and Rozee to reciprocate the effort and defend.

Q4: Power Showcase Young Dynamism

If you’re still reading this, thanks for persisting with plenty of examples and content to trudge through.

The final quarter saw a glimpse of potential the Power can take into the remainder of the season.

At stoppages the Power begun to send a forward into the mix of on-ballers, and by doing so, dragged a Brisbane defender up with them.

The Power enjoyed success with this strategy, as the likes of Butters, who was now playing forward, could drag his direct opponent with him to a stoppage up the ground to provide additional assistance to the Powers’ midfield. Once a clearance was won, Butters would push hard offensively, outworking his opponent back to goal. This strategy created a number of scoring opportunities in the last quarter (one example below).

Though the Power didn’t necessarily dominate the quarter (four scores to the Lions’ three), the dynamism of players such as Butters, Rozee and Daniel Houston, provide the Powers’ midfield with much needed versatility considering the similar physical profiles of Boak, Wines and Rockliff (not necessarily lightening quick). In the final quarter Houston generated three stoppage clearances alone.

Defenders such as Rich and Callum Ah Chee (who was also put in similar positions at stoppages during the quarter) are not players who excel in a contested setting. Butters especially was able make Rich more accountable by bringing him up to stoppages in the final quarter. In these situations, Rich is then afforded less time to use his great kick to open up an opposition’s defensive shape.

Power supporters should keep their eye out for any continuing trends against the Giants this Sunday.

Overall

On paper, Saturday evening’s clash against the form sides of the competition’s restart seemed miles apart considering the final margin.

Upon rewatching, the Powers’ efforts around stoppages in the first quarter were impressive, as Amon and Farrell outworked the likes of McCluggage and Robinson at the contest, and on the outside as well.

Equally impressive though, was the Lions’ ability to reassess their strategies at quarter time and rectify an issue that could have gotten a lot worse before better considering the Powers’ waywardness in front of goal during the first quarter.

It can be argued that the Power were able to reestablish their dominance around stoppage in the final quarter, winning the clearance count eleven to five, highlighting a potential reliance on ball movement from stoppages for the Power moving forward.

A great way to sum up the varying impacts of each team’s players discussed in this piece, is provided by @AFLPlayerRating (well worth a follow).

As you can see, players like McCluggage, Robinson and Bailey all endured quiet first quarters, before returning to much better form either side of halftime. On the other hand, Amon and Farrell enjoyed strong starts to the game, before dropping off as Brisbane began to exert their dominance. Houston also finished the game well, with his strongest performance coming in the final quarter.

All in all, we hope you’ve enjoyed a dive into the roles of an AFL wingman in modern football, along with some analysis of the different strategies implemented by the sides around stoppages in general. Feel free to get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to discuss.

ftballextension@gmail.com