Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.
After 11 years, 211 games, and 410 goals at Hawthorn, Jack Gunston is off to Brisbane.
Gunston essentially replaces Daniel McStay in the Lions’ forward line, as the latter moves to Collingwood.
But their difference in playing styles will force tweaks to Brisbane’s setup – tweaks which should freshen up the forward line.
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I’ll happily admit that at this time last year I thought Gunston was either done as an AFL footballer, or any version we saw of him going forward would be as a pale shadow of his peak.
Back injuries are fraught with danger at the best of times. But multiple rounds of surgery – for a player already with 200+ games of general wear and tear – doesn’t create the best equation for longevity.
Thankfully for all concerned, I was wrong by a long way. The games Gunston missed in 2022 were from ankle injuries, and when on the field his movement didn’t look impaired: either from the ankle or back.
In 16 matches he kicked 32 goals, finishing the year in a purple patch with two bags of five and one of four in the last five weeks.
The notable difference in that run of form was Gunston playing closer to home than usual. If we compare his possession heat map to his last full season in 2020, thanks to the lifesavers at dfsaustralia.com, the back end of 2022 stands out.
That role, where Gunston looks he’ll be most effective in the latter stages of his career, was definitely not how McStay played for Brisbane this year. Even when McStay wasn’t tasked as the second ruck, his main responsibility was as a high forward, linking up to leave room in behind for the likes of Charlie Cameron and co.
Now, the last time I checked, Gunston is definitely not a ruckman, and something will have gone horribly wrong if he’s forced to play that role in 2023.
This is where the tweaks come into play. If Gunston is to make Brisbane a better side, the forward line will have to look a little different.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Jayden Hunt, West Coast | Bobby Hill, Collingwood | Tim Taranto, Richmond
Blake Acres, Carlton | Liam Jones, Western Bulldogs | Daniel McStay, Collingwood
Ben Long, Gold Coast | Zaine Cordy, St Kilda | Griffin Logue & Darcy Tucker, North Melbourne | Tom Berry, Gold Coast
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
Will Setterfield, Essendon | Izak Rankine, Adelaide | Toby Bedford, GWS | Jason Horne-Francis & Willie Rioli, Port Adelaide
Billy Frampton, Collingwood | Jack Bowes, Geelong | Brodie Grundy, Melbourne | Jacob Hopper, Richmond
From the point Eric Hipwood came back into the side, Brisbane’s preference was for a McInerney-McStay ruck combination.
It allowed Joe Daniher and Hipwood to stay away from the physicality of repeated ruck contests, only deploying Daniher at centre bounces in case of emergency, i.e. when McInerney went down early in the Elimination Final.
That’ll have to change now. Assuming it’s Daniher who’s cast in the role of support ruck, it affords Brisbane the opportunity to create a more dynamic forward line when Daniher is rucking and McInerney is resting on the bench.
One of Brisbane’s favourite base setups is to push everyone high and leave room for Cameron to work back into. Against most teams this works splendidly, but the very best can scheme against it – as Geelong did with a minimum of fuss in the preliminary final.
Working under the assumption Brisbane want Gunston to be a goal kicker rather than a roaming half-forward, it creates two things – a clash with this setup, and an opportunity for unpredictability.
For roughly 20 percent of a game, it can be a very different Brisbane forward line compared to what we’ve become accustomed to over recent years.
There’s the potential for Hipwood functioning as a lone genuine key, Gunston operating as a tweener, Cameron at ground level, and then supported by remaining smalls and resting midfielders.
Or it could get really funky by having Hipwood push high and using Gunston and Cameron as the two deepest focuses, creating a situation where the likes of McCarthy, Rayner and Bailey are waiting to feast on the ground. The possibilities are fascinating.
The overall point is that Gunston’s arrival gives Brisbane a chance to downshift in size if needed and the domino effect can be improved pressure from the remaining forwards. For all Brisbane’s offensive talents, at times they conceded in transition too easily, neutralising a strength.
From Round 9-23, Brisbane were a bottom four side at defending in transition, opponents able to create scores from their defensive half far too easily.
An extra ground level player at those times when the second ruck is called into focus can help turn that weakness into a potential strength. And with Brisbane set to have a deeper midfield rotation in 2023, they won’t be short of quality options to fill out their team.
But that part of discussion will come when the Josh Dunkley trade is officially completed.
In case you missed it, the Look Back/Look Ahead series recently wrapped.
Every team’s list was analysed in depth, with a key question picked out for 2023. In some ways the posts work hand-in-hand with these individual analyses, understanding needs and priorities.
Here are all the links to catch up on:
|North Melbourne||Read||West Coast||Read|
|Gold Coast||Read||Port Adelaide||Read|
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