Photo: Nathan McNeill (NWM Sports)

By: Daniel Kelly (@UKurrie)

The Northern Bullants kept an almost AFL quality Brisbane Lions VFL side honest for three quarters before the Lions ran out comfortable 62-point winners 13.15(93) to 4.7(31) at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex in Queensland.

The Preston side was boosted by the return of Mutaz El Nour, Ethan Penrith, Liam Podhajski and Harrison Kennedy.

Doug Lawrence (illness), Ryan Gardner, Liam Kolar and Peter Gentile made way.

The Lions included AFL listed talent such as Mitch Robinson, Rhys Mathieson, Ely Smith, Thomas Berry, Nakia Cockatoo, Blake Coleman and many more. In all, the VFL Lions fielded 17 names from their AFL squad and that quality shone through late to turn a contested match into a comfortable victory.

Lion Rhys Mathieson is a lock for best on ground with an astonishing 49 possessions, which included 19 clearances – in comparison, the Bullants won 27 clearances in total.

Mitch Robinson was also dominant with 32 possessions, Ely Smith, the number 21 selection at the 2018 National Draft from Yarrawonga, collected 29 possessions and 3 late goals, and the Ants former tormentor from Werribee, Wylie Buzza, also had a day out with 20 possessions and 3 goals.

Will Mitchell (30 disposals), Matthew King (25, and 12 marks), Tim Jones (22), Tom Wilson (21) and Mackenzie Doreian (19) were the major ball winners for the Preston side.

Jack Boyd kicked two goals; Sean Martin and Wilson kicked singles each for the Bullants.

The Lions dominated statistically, leading disposals 429 to 321.

Generally, when disposals are skewed one way, the side without the ball lays more tackles given they are chasing the opposition more. However, whilst the Ants closed the gap in the tackle count after half time, they still were on the wrong side of the ledger laying 47 tackles to the Lions 53.

To reflect their possession, the Lions also took the ball inside-50 just over twice as often as the Ants – 66 to 32, powered by 44 clearances to the Ants 27.

To their credit, the Bullants kept their powerful opponents within reach for most of the afternoon.

An inaccurate Brisbane led by 11 points at quarter time and 30 at half time. The Ants fought the Lions to a standstill in the third quarter with both sides improving only marginally – the Lions by three behinds and the Ants by two.

Quality and conditioning showed in the final quarter as the Lions moved the ball with increasing ease.

They would also go someway to correcting an inaccurate day in front of goal to three quarter time kicking six goals, two behinds in the final quarter after registering almost double the amount of behinds compared to goals to three quarter time.

“The challenge was always there for us,” Backs coach Paul Dunn said post match. “We knew if we did bring our game – especially our aggression in the contest – then we would make a good game of it.”

With sizeable and resolute defender Doug Lawrence not travelling with the team due to illness, the Bullants knew the Lions forward line could cause problems. The challenge was exacerbated when imposing first year defender, Jaden Collins, suffered a knee injury early in the match.

“We knew coming into the game that they were going to be tall upfront,” said Dunn. “So, a key message for the backs was to kill the ball in the air and let our smalls get to work and run the ball out.”

This worked well mostly until late in the game, and especially in the third term when the Bullants worked manfully to restrict Brisbane.

“It just shows that, when we are in the contest and are playing our brand of football,” Dunn said. “And when we do get challenged, we are able to fight and maintain (intensity) against good sides.”

Busy half back Matthew King felt the Preston side did well to stay with the Lions for three quarters but was disappointed at the game slipping away in the final term.

“A few things to work on in terms of our contested footy,” King said. “(and) working on a little polish when we go forward … they are a really good side.”

“We’re trying to work towards being a side like that, and we can take a lot of learnings about what they do and how they play.”

A five-day turnaround and a 6am wake up to fly to Brisbane for a game on the same day is not ideal preparation, not that King was offering any excuses.

“With challenges, you’ve got to embrace and adapt to them,” he said. “We’ve got to … just take them on.”

Dunn welcomes the opportunity for some physical and mental rest for the team, with a bye in Round 12, but knows they will be busy throughout.

“I think it is going to be a well-earned rest for a lot of the guys,” he said. “But … we’ve got a hell of a lot of work we need to get in within that break.”

King and his teammates are looking forward to the rest but are already looking forward.

“It gives time to reflect, regroup and take on the second half of the year,” he said.

The return to the field, at 12.05pm on Sunday 19th June at Preston City Oval, doesn’t offer a gentle re-introduction to action – the second placed Southport Sharks will await.

The Bullants will likely need to do this without tall defender Collins and smooth midfielder Kyle Dunkley, the latter suffering a hand injury.

Best: King, Mitchell, Jones, Doreian, Boyd, Martin

Goals: Boyd 2, Martin, Wilson