By Ant Wingard
The dust has now settled on the fact that Brisbane, third in Conference A this year, will be playing finals and now, the focus has begun to shift toward the game at hand.
The Lions will face Carlton on Sunday afternoon – a side who dominate through the midfield and who boast a gluttony of sharpshooters inside 50 all capable of kicking a score.
It’s a daunting task for the Lions who despite their success this season, have now lost their previous two games in the competition against Fremantle and Collingwood respectively where they failed to match the two sides through the middle of the ground.
While there were no statistical anomalies in either game, it’s an area the Lions will desperately need to rectify against the Blues if they hope to advance beyond the first week of postseason action.
Cathy Svarc’s introduction into the midfield three weeks ago in the Lions’ win over the GIANTS has injected some much needed physicality into the middle of the ground.
Since her move into the midfield, Svarc has laid the most tackles (22) of any Lions and double that of the next best teammate. Across that timeframe, Bree Koenen ranks equal second (11), while other Brisbane midfielders Emily Bates (five) and Ally Anderson (four) have been rather subdue.
Against Carlton, the first-year Lion will likely get the run-win job on Maddy Prespakis who ranks fourth in the competition for disposals and fifth for contested possessions.
But while Svarc’s midfield role has been a success thus far, that leaves a hole in Brisbane’s defensive structure but one that can be filled by one of the club’s best second year player.
While Jesse Wardlaw has stolen most of the headlines in terms of second year players at the Lions, Nat Grider has undoubtedly been the Lions’ unsung star in the defensive 50.
It has been a breakout year for the Jindalee junior who has played every game thus far and has almost doubled her disposal count from two games in her debut season.
While sometimes haphazard under pressure, Grider’s assimilation into the defensive set-up has been smooth and was something that had been in the works since last April.
Then, Brisbane lost two key defensive pillars, Leah Kaslar and Sam Virgo, to the SUNS, and left a sizeable hole in that part of the ground. But while Grider looked primed for a role as an outside midfielder – the same position she had starred in for University of Queensland in the QAFLW, Craig Starcevich had other ideas.
Some would call it distorted persistence but Starcevich has always groomed Grider for a key role in the backline despite her history and natural athleticism suggesting otherwise.
The decision stems back to an Under 18 National Championship game against Victoria Metro. Starcevich, still then the coach of the Queensland side, opted to move Grider from the midfield to defence, highlighting her intercept marking ability as a game winner.
That move, in no two ways about it, was a match winner.
Queensland beat Victoria Metro for the first time ever at any Under 18 National Championship and Grider, a rock in defence, played a huge part in it.
“I didn’t want to let the team down but I think I took it pretty well. Ever since that game, it’s stuck with me ever since,” Grider recalled from that game.
“Ever since then, Craig has moved me from a midfielder into a defensive player and I love that.
“It’s a new role that I’ve really accepted and grown to love especially this preseason where I’ve played specifically in the back line.
“I think now, I’ve found a position which I really enjoy and I’m sticking with it.”
Against the Blues, Grider will likely form a defensive partnership with fellow keys Kate Lutkins, Shannon Campbell and running defenders Emma Zielke and Sharni Webb.
Together, they’ll need all the dexterity they can muster against a forward set up featuring the marking talents of Tayla Harris and Nicola Stevens plus the speed and class of Darcy Vescio, Georgia gee and Brooke Walker. A role against Vescio is most probable for Grider.
It’s a set-up that has been among the league’s best this year as one of only two sides to average six goals or more per game.
Brisbane play Carlton at Ikon Park this Sunday, March 22, at 12:10pm AEST.