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.
It took time – took a long time.
But eventually Josh Dunkley found his way to Brisbane, the Lions giving up pick 21 along with a future first and second (plus later pick shuffles)to make the deal happen.
Dunkley instantly gives Brisbane’s midfield an extra contested dimension it’s lacked for the last few years, his extra size inside likely going a long way to fixing a key flaw.
Figuring out Brisbane’s 2023 midfield rotation is tough.
It goes without saying that Lachie Neale will be there, but the pecking order after that is completely up in the air.
From dfsaustralia.com, here’s how the Lions split minutes in 2022:
Add Dunkley to that mix, the strong likelihood Cam Rayner is set for a leap, and the arrival of Will Ashcroft.
There could be any of eight or nine different combinations depending on personal preference. Mine would be Neale/Dunkley as a one-two, and then rotating a handful through.
Regardless of who it is though, the one thing which has to improve as a result is Brisbane’s work without the ball around contest and in general play.
After a strong start to 2022, it fell by the wayside:
|Brisbane’s defensive rank (points per 100 possession chains)||Round 1-9||Round 10-23|
|Opposition scores from stoppages||1st||16th|
|Opposition scores from turnovers||4th||13th|
|Opposition scores from their defensive half||4th||15th|
|Opposition scores from their forward half||7th||10th|
Dunkley’s going to be a major piece in helping the stoppage part of that table.
For all the Bulldogs’ defensive issues in midfield, Dunkley was very rarely at fault, usually forced to do the dirty work of multiple players.
He’s likely to be the main cog without the ball for Brisbane as well, but starting from a higher base – Brisbane have demonstrated they can play at a high standard defensively for some of the time at least.
From the post-season style analysis talking about Brisbane’s defensive slippage:
In poring over footage, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious breakdowns in structures from one half of the season to the next.
It (largely) plays out as doing the same thing, but a step slower. When even a half-step is enough to cause major problems, no wonder a full step led to what we saw in the second part of the year.
That leaves two questions:
a) Is this group capable of carrying out the current system without the ball as planned for a full year?
b) Does this system without the ball need an overhaul?
I settled on a), and Dunkley’s arrival is a large part of that.
With Jack Gunston taking up a forward spot, the domino effect should mean more time on-ball for Dunkley, rather than the split he was accustomed to at times with the Bulldogs. If it was only two tall forwards for Brisbane, there’d have been more midfielders rotating down there.
Because Dunkley can accumulate and defend, it gives Brisbane’s midfield such a better balance when Neale gets a heavy tag.
Neale’s already an expert at dealing with a tag, either focusing purely on the inside, or running a decoy to open up stoppages for teammates.
But when the latter happens there tends to be a drop off from the remaining Lions. It’s either defensively, with fewer bodies in the vicinity to stop opponents, or offensively without a major ball winner.
With Dunkley there, that problem is avoided. His defensive ability is instantly Brisbane’s best, and it’s obvious how he wins more than his fair share of contests (obviously in a completely different fashion to Neale, just before people think I’ve lost my mind).
Alongside Gunston refreshing Brisbane’s forward line, Dunkley should do the same to their midfield. It leaves only a couple of questions around their half back defending and the overall question about a team system holding up consistently, rather than sporadically.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
Aaron Francis, Sydney | Sam Weideman, Essendon | Lachie Hunter & Josh Schache, Melbourne | Tom Mitchell, Collingwood | Ollie Henry, Geelong | Cooper Stephens and Lloyd Meek, Hawthorn | Rory Lobb, Western Bulldogs | Jaeger O’Meara, Fremantle