Who wins in a fight – Tigers or Lions? The HPN Brisbane v Richmond Qualifying Final preview

HPN Team Ratings

On paper this looks like a fairly even contest. Richmond’s strength is in the midfield, while the Lions present as a remarkably balanced side across the park. Both sides have improved in the back half of the year, with Richmond lifting a few percent in all three areas since round 10, and Brisbane getting slightly worse in attack but going from having the third worst defence in the league, to being above average and around the middle tiers over the season as a whole.

Keys to the game


1.  Watch the turnovers

Brisbane have generally given up fewer turnovers than their opponents this year, and Round 23’s +10 differential was an aberration that gave Richmond the exact feast of intercepts that they set up to use to devastating effect. The new model Brisbane side, which has mostly benefited from a turnover surplus themselves, perhaps hadn’t experienced the Tigers’ benchmark level of intercept play, and fell right into the trap. Getting an immediate do-over against one of the league’s tactically funkiest sides is a golden opportunity for them to learn and improve.

2. Don’t over-commit to the contest

Brisbane won plenty of contested footy (+14) and clearances (+16) and laid plenty of tackles around the ground (+25) including 15 to 0 more tackles inside 50, so displayed plenty of appetite for all the hard contested stuff, which traditionally makes coaches very happy about effort. But all that grunt played directly into Richmond’s hands as the Tigers sat back and waited to win the ball back after Brisbane did all the work earning it in the aforementioned interecept game.

Brisbane this year have been a breakeven clearance side, but against the Tigers who largely concede them, they don’t need to worry so much about securing first use at any cost when those intercept tactics are looming to punish overly frenetic ball movemnet. If the Lions are to get a different result this tie at the Gabba, they’ll need to ether slow down the ball movement right down and control footy and pick their way through more carefully, or they’ll need to restructure how they approach the contest and where they position players. A game where they don’t win those contest stats so strongly is probably one where they’re better able to resist Richmond’s trickery.

3.  Get Hipwood involved in dangerous positions

Brisbane’s smaller goalscorers tend to steal the show, and it’s unsurprising that Brisbane’s big forwards kick more goals in wins than losses against other finalists, but what’s more interesting is they’re still taking marks. Hipwood takes as many marks in losses, and McInerney and McStay take more in losses. They’re all strong targets and somewhat irrepressable, and still provide targets when the team is struggling.

Eric Hipwood, however, drops off in scoring against good sides. He has kicked 4 goals against the Bulldogs and 4 goals against all other finalists combined this year, so he’s had trouble getting involved on the scoreboard against the good sides. This was the case with just the one goal against Richmond. In losses this year, with Hipwood less impactful, more has fallen to McStay and McInerney who have been taking more contested marks and more marks inside 50 in losses than wins. Brisbane have multiple weapons up forward, but seem to perform better when they find a way to get Hipwood involved rather than relying on the two McTowers in pack situations.


1.  The defence is still good – just not as good as before

At the start of the season, HPN looked at how the Tigers defence would cope without perennial All Australian Alex Rance to anchor the backline. It is worth noting that, over the past four seasons, the Tigers had been relying on Rance less than ever before.

The key suggestion was that a bunch of players would take over parts of Rance’s intercepting role, led primarily by Nick Vlastuin.

In Tiger wins against top 8 sides this year, Vlastuin averages 10.8 intercepts per game, which drops to 7.8 in losses to eventual finalists. Across the entire season, Vlastuin leads the Tigers for intercepts:

Rank Name Games Average
1 Nick Vlastuin 21 8
2 Dylan Grimes 21 7
3 Bachar Houli 19 6.63
4 David Astbury 19 5.79
5 Shane Edwards 21 5.52
6 Sydney Stack 17 5.35
7 Nathan Broad 21 4.81
8 Brandon Ellis 20 4.4

However, it has to be noted that there has been a drop off from being a top six defence in the league, to one just above midpack. At their best they still can stop any team, but without Rance corralling at the back, they can get lost quickly. Vlastuin will have a big role to play down back if the Tigers are to win.

2.  The Mark Avoiders

Due to their flowing playing style, Richmond often give up a big differential in the marking battle, both contested and non-contested. Against top 8 sides, the Tigers give up about 14 more marks than they take, a number that drops to -26 in losses to finalists. Against the whole competition the marking mark is only slightly better at -11.

While the Tigers are happy to concede chip marks to opponents in non-dangerous positions, there is a breaking point where the weight of clean, set possession breaks the effective Tigers defensive setup. Only one other finalist, Essendon, gave up as many marks as the Tigers do to their opponents, and the Dons have been bounced from the finals already. The Dons and Tigers also were the only finalists to give up the kick differential battle to opposing sides this year, something the Tigers mitigate by being one of the most direct sides with the ball (+237 meters gained per game, 3rd in the league).

If the Lions, a moderate team when it comes to the marking game, are able to control the ball for most of the game, the Tigers may not have enough opportunities to put that directness to work.

3.  Forward line struggles against top sides

The integration of former Gold Coast standout Tom Lynch into the Richmond forward line can be fairly described as a work in progress to this point. Getting Lynch meaningful touches up forward was always going to take some away from the dangerous Martin and Riewoldt, and the adjustment process really only started when Riewoldt returned from injury mid-season.

The Tigers have the score the least points per inside 50 against fellow finalist of any team in this year’s top 8, at 1.55 points per inside 50. While they were able to pile on the points last week in Melbourne against the Lions, Andrews, Hodge and co now have close up knowledge of what the Tigers new setup is, and potentially how to beat it. The Tigers will win or break even with respect to the inside 50 count, but turning scoring opportunities into actual goals is what will count against a normally staunch Brisbane defence.

Player Breakdowns

Below, HPN has arranged its marginal Player Approximate Value (mPAV) based player valuations for the two selected teams. Brisbane’s forward strength is spread across a mix of genuine small forwards and aggressive hybrid mid/fwd types like Zorko and McLuggage, with the talls as supports while Richmond’s highest offensive value is in its two talls with Martin the main support. In derfence, Andrews and Rich are the most valuable Lions while the Tigers group are a very even mix. Both midfields are strong and diverse and include offensive weapons like Zorko and Martin.


Note: the HPN tipping model this year was bad. Don’t gamble, especially not with this information. Look at the work of Squiggle for a variety of better performing models.

Richmond by 1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *