The Weekend Preview is a blog that aims to provide a different angle on the narrative of an upcoming sporting event.

AFL Round 18: Brisbane vs. Carlton

AFL Round 18: Brisbane vs. Carlton

Sunday Twilight, 23rd July 2017 at the Gabba

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Fev wasn’t a great thing for our club. I always felt he wanted to still be at Carlton. When he came to Brisbane he was absolutely brilliant. He trained hard; we got to see some brilliant stuff from him. Then, he had a few injury setbacks and a few other things took over. He’s a bit misunderstood. He’s not a bad person.

Simon Black [1]

The 2009 Second Elimination Final: Brisbane versus Carlton at the Gabba. Carlton under Brett Ratten were playing their first finals series since the 2001 season, whilst Brisbane were playing finals in Michael Voss’ first season in charge after not playing finals since losing to Port Adelaide in the 2004 Grand Final.

Carlton were coming out of an almost decade long form slump, with their much vaunted midfield group led by Chris Judd bringing them out of the doldrums. Brisbane on the other hand, had exceeded expectation in their first season under Michael Voss, with the risk of employing Voss without a coaching apprenticeship appearing to have paid off. And the Elimination Final in front 32,702 people (including then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) did not disappoint. The impressive Blues had setup what seemed an unassailable 5-goal lead early in the final quarter, only for the Lions to kick six unanswered goals and secure a thrilling 7-point win.

Regardless of the result (the Lions lost to the Bulldogs comfortably the following week), the future was looking bright for both teams. But a twist of fate changed the destiny for both clubs irrevocably – the downfall of Brendon Fevola.

Only weeks after Fevola's underwhelming game in the final against the Lions (he kicked 3 goals), the charismatic full forward was again on the back page of the papers in Grand Final week for his off-field exploits. Fevola’s drunken behaviour at the Brownlow Medal ceremony proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for his career as a Carlton player (see video below). In the trade period that followed at the end of the season, Fevola was offloaded to the Lions. In the deal, Carlton received young key position player Lachlan Henderson and Brisbane’s first round draft pick (number 12 used to pick Kane Lucas), in exchange for Fevola and Carlton’s second round draft pick (number 27 used to pick Callum Bartlett).

The trade brought up mixed reactions in the Carlton membership. Some recognised he needed to go, others found it difficult to let go of a player they had grown to love. Given this background, the build-up to his first home and away encounter against his old club was always going to be a big deal (see Channel 7’s pre-game promo to the game in the video below). In the match itself, Fevola was overshadowed by then Brisbane captain Jonathan Brown. However, the lethal partnership that Brown and Fevola were expected to develop was the reason that the Lions were so keen to attract Fevola to Brisbane.

Indeed, Brisbane did start the 2010 season well, winning their first 4 games of the season. But then reality hit, and the Lions went into freefall winning only 3 more games for the season. Fevola did kick 48 goals in 17 games, but was hampered by a groin injury. But that was it for Fevola, more off-field indiscretions in the off-season and his career as an AFL footballer was over. The effect of the whole episode on Brisbane dug deep. Not only were they using much of their salary cap space on Fevola, but the chase for his signature pushed the likes of Daniel Bradshaw and Michael Rischitelli out of the club. And perhaps his failure was even the beginning of the end for Michael Voss. Even though he did last until 2013, his star never shone quite as bright as it did when the Lions won that final against Carlton in 2009.

As for Carlton, although they had got rid of the headache that was Brendon Fevola, they have never been able to successfully replace his presence at Full Forward. And it was Carlton’s forward line that potentially held Carlton back from achieving more in the seasons following Fevola’s departure. In Fevola’s last season for the club he kicked 89 goals. Since then, the best return by a Carlton player has been Andrew Walker’s 56 goals in 2011 as a small forward when Carlton finished the season 5th.

Interestingly, Fevola himself recently revealed that he rejected a last-minute bid from then president Stephen Kernahan to remain at the club [2]:

Sticks [Kernahan] rang me on the Thursday and said ‘Mate, we are not trading you’. Come back and when you kick the first [goal] against Richmond on a Thursday night in Round 1 everything will be forgotten.

But I thought ‘you [Carlton] put me up for trade, I can’t go back’, let’s just break it here.

But I wish I had have gone back. It still flattens me now.

But at the end of the day things happen for reason. I made that decision and I’ve got to live with it.

If I didn’t leave in 2009 we would have been pretty close [to winning a premiership].

How history could have been very different if Fevola had not got drunk on that Brownlow night in 2009.

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The 2009 season was the last time that the Brisbane Lions have had a percentage greater than 100%. In particular, their defence has gone from bad to worse in the following 8 seasons: Between 2009-17, the Lions have on average conceded scores per game of 88, 98, 102, 95, 97, 101, 105, 131 and 119 respectively. In 2017, the Lions have conceded 17.4 goals per game. And at home their record is even worse, conceding on average 19 goals per game. Table-1 presents the number of goals conceded per game per team in 2017, with the Lions sitting comfortably at the bottom of the pile. The Blues under Brendan Bolton have been defensively solid, conceding only 12.9 goals per game, with a respectable 12.6 goals conceded away from home. The problem for the Blues is their scoring.

 Table-1: Best Defence in the AFL – Average Goals Conceded per Game

Table-1: Best Defence in the AFL – Average Goals Conceded per Game

Since losing Brendan Fevola after the 2009 season, the Blues have struggled for a consistent scoring threat. And their struggles to kick a winning score have been laid bare in 2017, with the Blues only averaging 10.6 goals per game across the season, and 9.1 goals per game away from home. Table-1 presents the number of goals scored per game per team in 2017, with Carlton on bottom and the Lions only slightly higher in 15th place. So when a team that concedes on average 19 goals per game at home plays a team that averages only 9.1 goals when playing away, what should we expect? Let’s try making a prediction.

 Table-2: Best Attack in the AFL – Average Goals Scored per Game

Table-2: Best Attack in the AFL – Average Goals Scored per Game

To make this prediction, we shall investigate how the Lions at home and the Blues away from home have been performing in 2017 based on the opposition they have faced. From this assessment we can then predict the number of goals expected to be kicked by each side. This assessment is based on the following assumptions:

·      No adjustment for weather has been made, e.g. wet conditions that may have lead to low scoring has not been considered.

·      No differentiating between away games in the home state and interstate games has been made, e.g. Carlton’s away win at the MCG against Collingwood was still an away game despite the familiar territory.

·      The opposition assessment considers season long averages and does not account for any variation in their form at the time of the game.

·      The assessment does not account for the quality of the players that played in any of the games, e.g. does not account for any star players missing.

Albeit for a few injuries to key players, both the form and playing lists of both teams have been relatively stable so far in 2017. So the following predictions can be done with some confidence for Brisbane and Carlton without needing to make too many adjustments for the above assumptions. We shall start with the Brisbane Lions.

Brisbane has played 7 games at home so far in the 2017 season, for 1 win against Fremantle in Round 12 where they kicked 18 goals. With Fremantle severely undermanned that day and in the middle of a poor patch of form, the performance is potentially an outlier. In five of the losses they kicked between 10-12 goals, with their 7-goal performance in the 80-point loss to Adelaide their worst performance of the year. Although the Lions would have likely scored more goals in that game if not for their inaccuracy (7 goals, 18 behinds). However, if we plot the results of these 7 home games against the average number of goals conceded away from home for each of their opponents (see Figure-1), the Lions can be shown to on average score 10% less goals (factor of 0.9) than what the opposition usually concede. In fact, the win against Fremantle was the only game in which Brisbane has scored more goals than what the opposition usually concedes. As Carlton on average concede 12.6 goals per game away from home, the Lions are predicted to score only 11 goals this weekend.

 Figure-1: Goals scored by Brisbane at Home in 2017 versus average goals conceded by opponent playing Away in 2017

Figure-1: Goals scored by Brisbane at Home in 2017 versus average goals conceded by opponent playing Away in 2017

Carlton has played 7 games away from home so far in the 2017 season, for 2 wins – one against the Magpies at the MCG in Round 7 and one interstate win against Gold Coast in Round 13. Carlton’s performances in these 7 games have been relatively consistent as indicated in Figure-2. On average the Blues score 28% less goals (factor of 0.72) than what the opposition usually concede. However, as the Lions concede on average 19 goals per game at home, this still translates to a predicted goal tally of 14 goals for the Blues this weekend.

 Figure-2: Goals scored by Carlton playing Away in 2017 versus average goals conceded by opponent playing Home in 2017

Figure-2: Goals scored by Carlton playing Away in 2017 versus average goals conceded by opponent playing Home in 2017

Using the average goal kicking efficiency of both sides in 2017, we can then predict the following score line:

·      Brisbane: 11. 9. 75

·      Carlton: 14. 12. 96

Carlton to win by 21 points

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Post Match Comments:

Final Score: Brisbane 17.10.112, Carlton 11.16.82

The prediction was well off. Although Carlton's number of scoring shots was near the mark, they were well below their typical accuracy. However, of more interest was that rather than Carlton's defensive game style dominating the nature of the game, it was Brisbane's attacking game that dictated the way the game was played. Brisbane's blistering 12-goal first half enabled them to take a 53-point lead into half time. Normality returned for Brisbane in the second half, with their 5 goals and 5 behinds representing the scoring rate they were expected to have for the full game.

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[1] Zurbo, M. (2016). “Champions All: A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words”, Echo Publishing, Victoria, Australia

[2] “Brendan Fevola says he rejected a last-minute offer to stay at Carlton”, The Herald Sun, 5th September 2016.
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/teams/carlton/brendan-fevola-says-he-rejected-a-lastminute-offer-to-stay-at-carlton/news-story/ce35585b1606243099a50ab22dad16fb

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