BRISBANE appears recharged and ready to hit September playing a finals brand, dealing out a lesson in pressure football to beat a rattled Fremantle by 64 points at Optus Stadium on Sunday.
The Lions rediscovered their mojo after a poor month that has lacked energy and kept their slim top-four hopes alive, all but cementing at least a top six finish with the 18.10 (118) to 8.6 (54) win.
DOCKERS v LIONS Full match coverage and stats
The result was a crushing blow to Fremantle's finals hopes, with the Dockers' destiny now out of their hands, slipping from eighth to 12th and needing to win their remaining two games and hope other results go their way.
They appear set to miss finals for the sixth straight season, suffering another blow to their percentage after their second heaviest defeat under coach Justin Longmuir, behind the 69-point loss to Geelong in round 18.
Brisbane emerged from a week in quarantine a new team, bringing ferocious pressure to Optus Stadium and extending their lead at every break to reassert themselves as a contender.
They out-tackled the Dockers 71-35 and were a class above with their ball use, with their pressure allowing the game to open up for them while the Dockers were uncertain and wasteful with the ball.
LIONS USE QUARANTINE WELL Finals tilt back on track after time away
Senior midfielder Dayne Zorko was the star both offensively and setting the standard with his pressure, finishing with 34 disposals, 10 tackles and 11 inside 50s, kicking one goal.
Key forward Joe Daniher hit form with four goals, his equal best return as a Lion, while the backline was rock solid, led by Harris Andrews and Daniel Rich.
Seven Lions kicked multiple goals, including injury-prone former Geelong forward Nakia Cockatoo and ruck/forward Oscar McInerney, who won his battle with Sean Darcy.
The Dockers were their own worst enemy in the first quarter, lacking discipline in general play and giving away two 50m penalties in goalscoring range for encroaching on the protected area.
They made poor decisions under the ferocious pressure of the Lions and lacked awareness, most notably when Nathan Wilson played on deep in defence and was bumped off his kick by Zac Bailey, leading to another easy goal.
With the Lions gathering momentum with their pressure and feasting on turnovers, they raced to a 27-point lead at the first break, with Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir animated at the quarter-time huddle.
Rather than regroup and match Brisbane’s intent, the Dockers continued to be sitting ducks for the hungry Lions, who hunted in packs and only ratcheted up the pressure in the second quarter.
The best indication of their suffocating style was the rushed and misdirected disposal of the usually efficient Adam Cerra and David Mundy, with the Dockers unable to connect with their forwards with any fluency.
Daniher ended a run of four straight goals for his team with a brilliant set shot from 45m on the boundary after the siren to make the lead an unassailable 45 points at the main break.
The Dockers’ only period on top came briefly in the third quarter when Josh Treacy and Lloyd Meek took advantage of mismatches to kick back-to-back goals and cut the margin to 33 points.
Young midfielders Caleb Serong (30 disposals and five clearances), Andrew Brayshaw (25 and four) and Cerra (24 and 10 inside 50s) battled hard, while Hayden Young (17 and seven rebound 50s) was excellent for periods.
Dockers leave coach with head in his hands
Twice in the first quarter, Fremantle players drifted into the protected area when the Lions were 60m from goal, turning forays forward into certain majors for their opponents. Mitch Crowden was the first culprit before Alex Pearce did the same thing. It left Longmuir frustrated as the Dockers did self-inflicted damage when they were already on the back foot. The match was peppered with brain fades, bad decisions and skill errors that made it impossible for Freo to ever peg back the Lions' lead or halt their opponents' momentum.
How to replace a Brownlow medallist
The Dockers young onballers would have been setting themselves for a showdown with their former mentor, Lachie Neale, but he was missing due to illness. Instead they came up against a white-hot Dayne Zorko and a group of young hungry Lions. Zorko was unstoppable early, bursting out of stoppages and using the ball precisely, while Jarrod Berry and Jarryd Lyons were physical with their young opponents. McCluggage also lifted, making sure Brisbane didn't lose too much in Neale's absence. Fremantle was missing a dual Brownlow medallist itself in Nat Fyfe but wasn't as effective as last week in gaining the midfield ascendency needed, with the Lions winning the clearances 40-36.
McInerny gets ruck revenge
Perhaps the best measure of McInerney's influence in the ruck was Brisbane's 11 goals from stoppages. The big man had lowered his colours against Darcy when the pair met in round eight, and getting the edge on the Fremantle star was a focus for the Lions. Darcy had the edge in hit-outs (29-23), but McInerney won more clearances (7-5) and booted two goals to Darcy's one. The Lion's ability to hit to advantage and clear space for his midfielders, whose clearances were significantly more effective, was noteworthy, with coach Chris Fagan reading the match-up as being "equal on points".
FREMANTLE 2.1 3.3 6.3 8.6 (54)
BRISBANE 6.4 10.6 14.8 18.10 (118)
Fremantle: Colyer 3, Darcy, Taberner, Treacy, Meek, Henry
Brisbane: Daniher 4, McCarthy 3, Bailey 2, McStay 2, McInerney 2, Cameron 2, Cockatoo 2, Zorko
Fremantle: Serong, Young, Mundy, Cerra, Brayshaw, Colyer
Brisbane: Zorko, Daniher, Bailey, McInerney, Andrews, McStay, Rich
Fremantle: Wilson (hamstring)
Brisbane: Robinson (calf), Jackson Paine (knee soreness) replaced in the selected side by Keidean Coleman
Fremantle: Brett Bewley (replaced Nathan Wilson)
Brisbane: Tom Berry (replaced Mitch Robinson)
Crowd: 29,589 at Optus Stadium