OPINION

Brisbane Lions in the box seat to take 2020 AFL title

Zac Bailey of the Lions celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Round 5 AFL match against Port Adelaide at The Gabba last Saturday. Photo: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Zac Bailey of the Lions celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Round 5 AFL match against Port Adelaide at The Gabba last Saturday. Photo: Albert Perez/Getty Images

You don't have to be too switched on to realise these are extraordinary times in the world, let alone our own little backyard in it.

Our favourite pleasures and pastimes have been at worst destroyed, at best disrupted by this dreadful pandemic.

Which makes the fact we have any sort of AFL season at all in 2020 something for which to be profoundly grateful.

Regardless of the level to which ordinary arrangements have been compromised. Which is quite a bit.

And if that wasn't already obvious via a shortened season, shortened game times and fixtures changing seemingly by the day, round six provides a particularly extraordinary example, not a single team in nine games playing at their own home.

More teams missing out on home ground advantage

Life in a hub has already proved a handful for the two West Australian teams and at least one of their South Australian counterparts.

Now the Victorian sector gets to find out just how difficult it can be attempting to perform to your best whilst out of a familiar environment and away from family and friends.

Already, it's obvious the team that can most normalise its circumstances is going to have a major advantage over the opposition.

But that's only one of two reasons 2020 may be the best shot Brisbane ever have of winning a premiership.

The home factor is the most obvious plus, not just the number of games the Lions look like playing on their beloved Gabba ground, but the extent to which they can avoid the perils of travel and those intimidating away venues.

There's another of those occasions on Thursday night, when Brisbane get to play Geelong, not at the Cattery, arguably the most pronounced home ground advantage in the competition, and where it hasn't won since 2004, but at the SCG.

That follows four games in a row at the Gabba, all four resulting in Brisbane victories.

Indeed, the Lions' clash with GWS next week at Giants Stadium might theoretically be the last time this season they play an away game against a side running out on its actual home turf, given the state of coronavirus numbers in Victoria and the likelihood of Queensland remaining the major hub in this scheduling nightmare.

The Gabba has again become a fortress for Brisbane since their re-emergence as a top team last year, the Lions winning 14 of 17 games there (and two of those three defeats coming in finals).

It will also (unless things in Victoria improve dramatically healthwise) be the only AFL venue this season to which just one club normally has exclusive hosting rights.

No team moves into attack quicker than Brisbane

Any home ground advantage in 2020, given the backdrop of this pandemic, is arguably the most significant edge a team has ever had over its rivals in football history.

But it's not the Lions' only major weapon.

The way Brisbane play in contrast to so many other teams is also proving a major plus.

In a time of static, low-scoring, slow-moving and congested football, Brisbane under Chris Fagan seem like something of a throwback.

The Lions were the only team to top 2000 points last season and are currently ranked third for scoring behind only Geelong and Port Adelaide.

And unlike so many rivals, they move the ball with speed.

That's a measure best represented in the lead-up to goal, by average disposals per score in the defensive 50 and midfield zones.

And Champion Data statistics show that no team moves into attack at a quicker clip than do the Lions.

In 2019, their average disposals in those two zones per score was 11.7, some margin ahead of the next quickest team.

But so far this season, they're moving it even quicker and the gap to the rest of the AFL in that regard has grown.

After five rounds, Brisbane's midfield and defensive 50 average disposals per score stands at just 9.9, way ahead of the second team on the list, Port Adelaide with 11.7.

Opponents are having far less success trying to slow down the Lions than any other team.

The likes of Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons, Hugh McCluggage, Mitch Robinson and Daniel Rich pump the ball inside 50 quickly and regularly.

And in forwards like Charlie Cameron, Lincoln McCarthy and key targets Eric Hipwood and Daniel McStay, there's plenty of goalkicking potential.

Potential perhaps the operative word.

Because right now, about the only chink in Brisbane's armour is their conversion of those opportunities, the Lions' accuracy of only 44 per cent the worst in the competition, the 10.23 against Adelaide in round four the worst example.

But that shouldn't require a massive fix, perhaps not much more than a little extra goalkicking practice out on the track.

After which, unlike most of their rivals now, the Lions will more often than not get to head home and sleep in their own beds.

The way Brisbane play works.

The way the cards of the 2020 AFL season are being dealt is certainly working for the Lions.

It's a huge opportunity for the club to land its first flag for nearly two decades.

That will still require plenty of hard work.

But in these extraordinary circumstances, it's a pretty decent base from which to be having a crack at it.

This story Brisbane Lions in the box seat to take 2020 AFL title first appeared on The Canberra Times.