Neale making ground on rivals
IN AN age where fantasy football has given armchair fans the power to be the judge, jury and executioner, every player has his price.
The obvious categories on which judgment can be made are easily accessible. Kicks, disposals, marks, tackles and goals are there in black and white after every match.
Harder to decipher is a player’s capacity to apply pressure, provide space for a teammate with a block, place a kick to a teammate’s advantage, or to enable or prevent a goal.
Yesterday, Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale gave an insight into what is driving his excellence and the statistical measure he values the most.
The 27-year-old had much to consider after an outstanding performance against the Bulldogs on Saturday night as the Lions returned to second on the ladder.
Neale gathered 36 disposals, with half of them claimed in a contest. He was able to drive the football inside Brisbane’s attack one-fifth of the time, cleared the ball from congestion every third time he won the Sherrin, and also managed to snare a goal.
But the statistic he places the most value on is how much ground he makes driving the ball forward, which was measured at 538m.
Neale, whose effort to kick at least one goal and gather 25 or more possessions in seven games in 2020 is far in advance of his peers, has worked hard to improve in that area.
“I think, as an inside midfielder, I spend probably 95 per cent of my time on ball and clearances, and probably contested football are important to me,” he said. “But I have worked really hard on having a good balance, on not just being a good inside player, but trying to be more damaging on the outside.
“I don’t take too much note of the numbers but my metres gained this year have gone up.
“I used to probably handball a little bit too much sideways and backwards, but I am moving the ball forward a lot more.”
The key, Neale told RSN 927, was the added core and leg strength gained as he matured.
“I am working extremely hard … on keeping my feet and driving forward out of stoppages, and I have certainly improved in that area, but I have a long way to go to get to where I want to go with that,” he said.
In good news for those backing Neale into $1.60 favouritism with Ladbrokes to win the Brownlow Medal, the Lion feels in fine physical shape and his form is strong with six games remaining in the regular season.
After four matches in 13 days, the Lions have a rare luxury heading into Saturday’s North Melbourne clash. For the first time since spending time in a Sydney hub, they will be able to train properly.
“We have a seven-day break now, which is good, but I pulled up quite well and most of the guys are the same, so credit to our fitness staff for getting us through,” Neale said.