From Worst to First: How the Lions Revolutionised Their Goal kicking
Despite once again narrowly missing out on a minor premiership last season, and coming within a game of making its first Grand Final in 16 years, so much of the Lions' 2020 season was defined by deplorable kicking for goal.
In a season where Brisbane was put back on the AFL map both culturally and competitively, and was punctuated by Lachie Neale’s cakewalk Brownlow Medal, the season ultimately felt hollow for the Lions.
Their overall 42% accuracy and 45% set-shot conversion were both ranked dead last in the competition according to Stats Insider's shot charting, while that set-shot number plummeted to just 39% over its two finals.
Yet through this season’s first six rounds a seismic shift appears to have taken place, with the Lions now positioned as the league’s premier outfit where accuracy is concerned.
While Neale’s ankle surgery will keep him out for the next couple of months, it could indeed be their kicking for goal which keeps their season alive, rather than casting such a dark cloud as it did for most of last year.
Let’s take a look at how the Lions have turned it all around.
So, what’s actually going on?
Well total revolution, that’s what. From their dismal lows of 2020, the Lions are now the league’s most precise, and while their campaign hasn’t yet reached the heights of the Bulldogs or Melbourne, it won’t be their accuracy that keeps them out of the premiership conversation.
And it’s set-shot accuracy that's driving their reform.
This season they’ve torn up the memories of that dismal 42% number and replaced it with a league-best 64% figure that’s been bolstered from a variety of sources.
Eric Hipwood has jumped from 34% to 69% and Charlie Cameron from 42% to 67%, while Lincoln McCarthy has hit 80% of his set-shots compared with the 56% he posted over his previous 3 seasons.
Even Joe Daniher had got in the act and was operating at 50% prior to last week's meltdown against the Blues, up significantly from the 38% he delivered in his 3 previous season with the Bombers.
Through Brisbane's first six games this season they've kicked more goals than behinds in all 6 contests. Through their first six games last year, that was something they'd accomplished just twice.
While it might seem simple, generating shots closer to goal is the league’s surefire way of improving accuracy, and it's an area the Lions have improved markedly in 2021.
Since the start of 2018, the all-conquering Tigers have dialled up a league-best 396 total shots from within 25 meters, nailing these relatively easier chances at brilliant 73% clip. While there’s of course a multitude of factors underpinning Richmond’s glorious era, it’s ability to generate more efficient shots has been one of its pillars.
And it’s a recipe St Kilda also used last year to end its 8-season final's drought.
In 2020, the Saints led the league with 107 short-range shots, converting 74% of those opportunities along the way. In fact, 1 in every 7.32 St Kilda inside-50s was being converted into a shot on goal from within 25 metres, which was not not easily the league’s strongest number, but testament to a club who was hell-bent on being more direct, and more penetrative, in its approach to goal.
And clearly, the Lions have sort to drink from this well too in 2021. They've successfully modified a game-plan which had already been working well for them to put them in a position to generate more efficient opportunities.
Already this season, 26.4% of all of Brisbane’s shots have come from with 25 metres, up drastically from the 20.8% it mustered in 2020. RELATED: Harry McKay Is Keeping Carlton's Season Alive
While the Lion’s 342.3 disposals per game is actually the league’s lightest number, it only reveals a portion of the tale when it comes to Brisbane’s overall game-plan and approach to scoring.
So far in 2021, the Lions are producing 17.33 metres gained per possession which is number bettered only by the vastly-improved Crows, while they also rank 5th in the league for total inside 50s.
What these numbers are suggesting is that while the Lions aren’t a high possession team, they are a squad less interested in chipping and probing, than they are getting the ball in quickly, and preferably deeply, to their big marking forwards in Hipwood and Daniher, while also knowing how exceptionally dangerous Cameron is at ground level.
This approach also maximises the strengths of players like Daniel Rich and Dane Zorko who are indeed a couple of the league’s more no-nonsense footballers. As for Rich, he’s producing 25.26 metres gained per disposal, and while Zorko’s 22.70 is also high, the nuggety half forward has amassed a league-high 43 inside-50s, continually placing significant strain on opposition defences.
All this goal kicking improvement and the Lions are still a middle of the road 3-3, while their top-4 prospects have dropped to just 27% according to the Stats Insider futures model.
To make matters worse, they’ll lock horns this week with one of the league’s strongest in Port Adelaide, as well as navigating the next couple of months without their very best player.
With that said, this is a club who’ve worked mightily hard to remedy such a vital component of the sport, and when the whips do start cracking where 2021 is concerned, the Lions will at least know they’ve done everything possible to not shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to accuracy.
In fact, it could in prove the difference between a swift exit or a deep run come September, the likes of which this squad is eminently capable of.
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