Brisbane has been experiencing numerous problems on and off the field for over a decade and 2017 sadly has not been any different for loyal Lions supporters.
New coach Chris Fagan will need time to truly bring his game plan to fruition but for the time being he has to work with a team that he had inherited from Justin Leppitsch.
Although he cannot be completely at fault for the way the Brisbane defence is set up, he needs to make adjustments to his back six for the remainder of the season. He has reduced the average amount of points conceded per game from over 130 down to 122 but clearly there is more work to do.
One of the problems with the defence is that he has too many makeshift defenders. Ryan Harwood, Daniel Rich, and Sam Mayes have been used as running defenders in the post-Michael Voss era and they have been out of their comfort zone more often than not.
Harwood has played a couple of times for the NEAFL side and he has kicked nine goals in two games as a small forward so hopefully this convinces Fagan to shift the 25-year-old out of defence.
Rich has been used in defence but for all the time he has spent in the defensive 50, his defending has not improved. Despite the modern game’s emphasis on having defenders with elite kicking skills, Rich has been prone to errors in the back line and his talent would serve Brisbane better on the wing or as a small forward.
Mayes also suffers from a similar issue to Rich. He is better off operating as an outside midfielder or a small forward instead of providing dash from the back and he also lacks the attributes of a specialist defender.
In addition to the problems in the running defender roles, the Lions lack two established key position defenders and the youngsters in those positions are operating in roles that don’t bring the best out of their characteristics.
Harris Andrews has had to play in the same role Daniel Merrett used to play in and play one-on-one on the opposition’s best key forward. The 20-year-old has displayed discomfort while playing man-on-man and he has played his best footy as a loose defender who can play take intercept marks.
Daniel McStay also plays as a tall defender but he has arguably performed better when he is swung to the forward line. So far Fagan has used him primarily in defence, perhaps due to the lack of better options to support Andrews.
Since the premature retirement of Justin Clarke, Darcy Gardiner has played as the third tall in defence but in his fourth season of AFL footy, he does not look like a player capable of having a long-term career. His judgement is poor, gets beaten by opponents regularly, and has poor disposal of the ball.
With a flawed defensive set-up, the lack of natural defenders, and an insipid back line coach in Murray Davis, Fagan cannot fix the Brisbane defence instantaneously. Youngster Sam Skinner is yet to make his AFL debut but Fagan could try him as a key defender depending on his knee.
As things stand, more defensive experimentation might be required, and close attention on the defenders in the NEAFL should be considered. Nick Robertson and Tom Cutler should hold onto their defensive roles and hopefully young half-back Alex Witherden makes debut before the season ends.
Fagan will need to work closely with list manager Dom Ambrogio during the draft period to find the right players who can slot naturally into defensive positions because it seems that the Lions are clogged with players more suited to midfield or forward roles.