Spread the load or go with what you know? The HPN Brisbane v GWS Semi Final Preview

HPN Team Ratings

Brisbane have dipped below GWS just slightly for overall rating after their respective results last week. However, the difference between the two is slight at best, and has gone back and forth throughout the year.

This match sees an interesting battle of team styles – one team that relies on the sheer weight of inside 50 entries, and the others who rely on solid bookends at each end of the ground.

The Lions shape to have the better midfield and therefore more inside-50 entries, but it’s been the GWS forward line that’s been much more efficient this year, as well as their backline being a bit better. However, as noted last week, Brisbane strongly improved their rating from mid year, especially down back where at the halfway point they were a bottom four quality defence.

Keys to the game


  1. Don’t panic about last week, and hope the conversion rate improves

Against Richmond in the Qualifying Final, Brisbane did a lot right in correcting the issues from the previous matchup in Round 23, but then kicked their chances away with poor accuracy.

To talk about Brisbane v Richmond last week, the concept of Expected Score needs to be discussed. Rob Younger of Figuring Footy ran a series of articles using the concept which serve as a good introduction, but the upshot is it’s a score derived from the average conversion rate of shot types and locations to measure the impact of goalkicking accuracy.

According to Stats Insider’s shot charting, which models the same concept, Brisbane and Richmond’s scoring opportunities had an expected score of about 91 to 86 rather than the actually scored 110 to 63. Richmond shot at 21% better than average from their chances and Brisbane went at 27% below.

Subjectively, Brisbane’s run of bad set shots in the first half sapped momentum and confidence, and set them up to fall away in the second half. The shot mapping makes for dismal reading:

Source: Stats Insider

Particularly bad is shooting at 13% (2 from 15) from general play, 2 from 5 attempts within 25 metres, and 25% from roughly in front of goals. While goal kicking is a skill that varies by player, and pressure can impact conversion, a lot of this conversion differential really does need to be written off as bad luck. The Lions should be reminding themselves that they generated the chances and gave themselves every opportunity to beat perhaps the form side in the competition, and now they get a second chance to regroup.

2. Spread the forward load

When Brisbane win, they get goal-scoring contributions from their talls, smalls and midfielders, and when they lose, this happens to a far lesser extent. Hugh McLuggage, more a midfielder than forward, is the only Lion who has average over one goal per game in losses to top eight sides, with Hipwood averaging one goal exactly.

When they win, it’s largely led by their dominant small forward in Charlie Cameron, who goes big with nearly three goals a game. Additionally, the collected output of the Lions offensively-minded midfielders and mid-fowards íncreases, with Lincoln McCarthy averaging 1.6 goals a game and Christensen, Neale and Robinson (who is injured) all scoring a goal a game (with Zorko and Rayner just under that).

If Brisbane can get a spread of contributions at ground level, it takes pressure off the talls in Hipwood, McStay and McInerney who are still only sometimes able to contribute, even in the wins.

3. Lachie Neale needs help around the ball

Lachie Neale is a very good midfielder, but one inside midfielder can’t carry a whole team. When Brisbane lose to top eight sides, Neale averages almost 10 clearances and 21 contested possessions a game, while in wins he averages about six clearances and 15 contested possessions. He has to do more in the losses.

The key difference is in the losses, other players have dropped off, especially Jarryd Lyons (-1 clearances -4 contested possessions) and to a lesser extent Hugh McLuggage (-2 clearances, -4 contested possessions) and the ruck Stef Martin (same clearances but -5 contested possessions). Most sides seem to do a bit better when the load is shared, and Brisbane are no different from the pack.

A danger sign for the Lions will be if the other inside onballers for the Lions struggle to win hard ball.

What HPN said last week

✔️ Watch the turnovers – Richmond feast on intercepts and killed the Lions with them in Round 23. Brisbane actually denied them fairly effectively in the return bout, with a total of 67 turnovers to Richmond’s 77. That’s a better than average outcome for the Lions, and about as bad as Richmond has produced all year. It was a 20 turnover swing from Round 23’s -10 differential.

✔️ Don’t over-commit to the contest – The Qualifying Final saw much more even “coalface” stats with clearance stats +5 to Brisbane vs +16 the week before. Tackles swung from +25 to -22. Contested possessions remained strongly favourable to Brisbane (+13 vs +14 last week). Overall, though, it seems that Brisbane did adjust their approach having experienced Richmond’s unusual style, and generated a lot more scoring chances as a result.

❌ Get Hipwood involved in dangerous positions – Hipwood was unable to get much in the way of opportunities inside 50. He had the one mark inside 50, one contested mark, two score involvements, didn’t trouble the scorer. Brisbane’s small forwards and midfielders weren’t able to contribute enough with the talls shut down.


1. Control turnovers, especially by the prime ball movers

Brisbane aren’t Richmond, but they usually win the turnover game when they do well, and over the year have been slightly better than the Giants in this area. Brisbane and GWS both average about three more intercepts than their opponents in wins over top eight sides, but when GWS lose they give up about six extra turnovers whereas Brisbane still only give up about one or two more. This suggests limiting the turnovers will be more important for GWS than Brisbane.

When GWS win, their biggest turnover merchants tend to be their most offensive outside ball users, players often tasked with forward thrusts. Kelly and Taranto lead the way in average turnovers in wins, often losing the ball while in attack. GWS are pretty good at attacking from inside their own 50, being in the top half of the competition for tackles inside 50 differential, and generally able to shut down tall options down the line.

In their losses, however, the Giants tend to give those guys fewer chances to use the ball in the first place, because it’s primary ball winners and flankers like Hopper, Whitfield and Shaw who cough the ball up most often. For GWS, the goal isn’t overall caution but choosing who takes the risks and where.

2. You know your targets, hit them

GWS are not a team who spread the goalkicking load very widely, even in wins. They have a defined group of forwards in Cameron, Finlayson, Himmelberg, Greene, Lloyd and Kelly. Those six all kicked multiples against the Bulldogs, and only Whitfield otherwise hit the scoreboard with a major. Against Brisbane in round 16, only Williams kicked a goal from outside that group.

The upshot is that nobody playing for the Giants this week other than those six core goal kickers averages a goal per game. Nobody gets over half a goal in losses and only Taranto (0.8) and Daniels (0.6) even average over half a goal in wins. For GWS the offensive question is almost entirely about how much they can get from that core group, and secondarily how much forward time Greene and Kelly get in particular. The one wildcard may be if Tomlinson is used to shake things up, but don’t except to see a wide spread of goal scorers for GWS.

3. Don’t worry too much about winning the stoppages

When diving into the data, a weird trend emerges – GWS do better when they don’t win the clearance battle, especially with respect to around the ground stoppages. Across the year, GWS win about two more clearances than their opponents. In top 8 wins, that stays around the same, but in top 8 losses it rises to a 4.5 clearance advantage per game, mostly as a result of around the ground stoppages wins.

This even holds somewhat when looking at all losses – the Giants occasionally look for the safety options along the boundary line, and play tentatively, rather than trying to open the play up and attack their opponents quickly. This is shown by an increase in total clearances in top 8 losses.

With an increased focus on winning the hard ball, their ability to surprise sides on the counter attack diminishes. This isn’t to say that GWS should give up on clearances – far from it – but they need to remember that most scores come as a result of turnovers, and that sometimes the hard ball is overemphasized.

What HPN said last week

✔️ Reintegrate the returning cavalry – The Giants won by 10 goals. Players who missed footy in the month prior (Cameron, finlayson, Lloyd, Greene and Kelly) kicked 13 goals. Hopper’s 7 clearances freed up Greene and Williams to play where they’re strongest.

✔️ Get ball, get forward – The Giants dominated stoppage clearances 35-25 and dominated inside 50s 76-37. Unlike the previous encounter they had the personnel and structure to win the ball, get it into dangerous linking hands, and get it forward.

Ruck questions – Mumford had 9 to 5 hitouts to advantage and 21 to 13 pressure acts. English had 17 disposals to 9 and kicked a goal. That pressure acts figure is probably the key point for GWS. It’s the best Mumford has done since early in the season, is better than the average for any ruckman in the league, and probably points to the blocking and body work that has always been his greatest strength.


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. Mild boast – HPN was the only model to pick all four results last week. It probably won’t happen again.

Brisbane by 5.

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