Former AFL player Justin Clarke has been named Queensland’s 2021 Rhodes Scholar.
Mr Clarke was forced to retire from AFL at just 22 because of a concussion incident
He will graduate from the University of Queensland in December with degrees in engineering and science
The scholarship will enable him to pursue a doctorate at Oxford, modelling hypersonic pulse tunnels
The Rhodes Scholarship gives young people from around the world a chance to study at Oxford University in England.
Mr Clarke will graduate from the University of Queensland in December from a duel program with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mathematics, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics).
The 26-year-old played 56 games for the Brisbane Lions, but was forced to retire from the AFL in 2016 after an incident at training left him seriously concussed and affected his memory and mobility.
He was nudged in the back as he went for the ball, stumbling forward, with his forehead colliding with the knee of a player coming the other way.
He was knocked out for 15 seconds, but lost all memory of the incident and the succeeding three weeks.
As a result, the then 22-year-old was told not to play any contact sport for the rest of his life.
Since then, he’s thrown himself into his studies.
“Hypersonics is an area of active aerospace research which can radically change the way we travel around the world and improve access to space.”
Mr Clarke plans to do a Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering Science at Oxford’s Thermofluids Institute, modelling hypersonic pulse tunnels.
He has been a consistent high achiever at UQ, and is an ambassador for the university’s Queensland Brain Institute, a role promoting concussion awareness.
Mr Clarke also assistant coaches for the Western Magpies, where he focusses on developing the game knowledge of young key position players, and proper body positioning in aerial contests.
The Brisbane Lions midfielder played junior football for the Kybybolite Tigers, winning a premiership in 2004, and about 100 locals watched last night’s count together at the clubrooms.
“I did say, at the end of the count, once Lachie was crowned the Brownlow Medallist, that everyone in the room would remember where they were on October 18 to celebrate that little bit of history,” club president Jamie Tidy said.
“Our club has had some rough times but that’s up there with some of the more special things that can happen at a little country footy club.
‘They’d all love to have him home’
Ms Taylor said her son was lucky to be in a job he loved, but had worked hard to get there.
“It’s his passion and he’s always wanted to play football in the AFL,” she said.
She said she was closely watching the Brownlow count, but became less stressed towards the end.
“I was doing the maths around [round] 10 onwards trying to work out, so about round 14–15 I was quietly confident, as long as he polled in one more game.”
Ms Taylor has received messages of support from Kybybolite locals wishing Neale well over the past couple of weeks.
Mr Tidy said the club had been lucky with its juniors, with five junior colt premierships in a row when Neale was in the team, alongside former AFL footballers Jack Trengove and Alex Forster.
“We’ve got a very long and proud history of good coaches and good juniors,” he said.
He said he hoped Neale’s win would inspire the club to make a little bit more history.
“Unfortunately, it’s been 46 years since our last A-grade [premiership], which I believe is the longest premiership drought in South Australian country football,” he said.
While Fagan would have welcomed the bizarre way things have fallen this year to deliver his team a premiership, he is acutely aware transforming a club from also-rans to premiers is a process that rarely happens swiftly.
“We’ve had a fantastic year and it hasn’t finished in the way that we wanted to but that’s what happens when you get down to the last four,” Fagan said.
“You face disappointment sometimes and it’s that disappointment that hardens you in the long run.
“I was fortunate to spend time at Hawthorn. They won a flag in 2008 and the next year they didn’t make the finals.
“The next year they got knocked out in the first week of the finals. The next year they got back in the prelim.
“The next year they got beaten in the grand final.
“And then they won three in a row.
In his four seasons at the Lions, Fagan has gone from finishing last in 2017, 15th in 2018, second in 2019 and then a preliminary final in 2020.
Essendon forward Joe Daniher is a key recruitment target, with Fagan insisting there will be no standing still in terms of seeking more improvement at the Lions.
“We’re obviously pretty keen to get Joe Daniher to our club. I think he can help,” Fagan said.
Can the Cats extend Gary Ablett’s AFL career by one more week with a preliminary final win over the Lions? Find out out by following our ScoreCentre for the live scores and key stats from the Gabba clash.
At the business end of the season, match-ups start to matter more. Where teams are closely matched in talent and quality, the way they play becomes crucial.
As Grantland Rice wrote about champion heavyweights Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, “styles make fights”. This year’s preliminary finals see four teams, diverse in approach and construction, all worthy of fighting it out for a flag.
The last four sides left in the season were also the top four after the home and away season. They streaked ahead of the competition in terms of percentage, and to the naked eye were a cut above the rest of the league.
But it doesn’t matter how they match up to the rest of the league now — it’s all about how they line up against each other.
The mosquito fleet and the side who retains possession
For those who grew up in Brisbane, the buzz of mosquitos is inevitably burned in your mind. The sound rings in your ears as you go to sleep, and when you wake up as a never-ending alarm.
Brisbane is, after all, built on a subtropical swamp and a coastline without surf. For all the cane toads, exotic birds and jacarandas, it’s the mosquitos that stick with you.
After years in the wilderness, the Lions management staff must have been reminded of those stinging insects from hot summer nights. Brisbane recruited one of the most effective smaller attacks in the league — both in the middle of the ground and up forward. Mosquitos willing to attack whenever given the chance.
The mosquito might be hard to see but when they bite you, you certainly know about it for days to come.
In an era where most teams try to emphasise their size in the midfield, one side has gone the other way to considerable success.
Dayne Zorko, captain of the 2020 Lions, and Lachie Neale, this year’s presumptive Brownlow medallist, both stand on the shorter end of the spectrum for modern midfielders at 175cm and 178cm respectively. The third heat of their midfield, veteran Jarryd Lyons, is far from oversized at 184cm.
There’s little relationship between height and clearances, which is not a surprise considering that most clearances are won when the ball is on the deck and not above the head.
But bigger midfielders can do a few things effectively, including imposing their physicality on opponents. Where the Lions are undersized, the big Cats stand tall amidst the bustle.
While bigger bodies don’t always help in the clinches, they can wear sides down.
The Cats also have a deeper midfield, and are usually able to rotate a number of bodies through to wear out opponents. Usually this works out fine, with the potential exception of a late-game centre bounce combo of Luke Dahlhaus and Tom Atkins.
Geelong can add an extra flavour when bigger bodies like Mark Blicavs roam the outer edges of stoppages as a non-ruck, giving a real size and space advantage over opponents.
The midfield size also allows a key part of the Cats’ strategy to operate successfully. No side utilises the kick-mark game better than the Cats, routinely out-marking their opponents on a week-to-week basis.
The patience of Geelong in not only finding targets, but also open targets, makes opposition teams play on the back foot far more than they want.
The Lions are no slouches in this area either. These are the two best ball-retaining sides of 2020. Brisbane’s speed and spread combines with a number of precise ball users to allow retention through long chains of possession.
In their earlier loss to Geelong, the Lions were out-marked 75 to 45, altering the tempo of the game. The Lions have been out-marked only three times this year, two of them ending in losses — to Hawthorn and Geelong.
Brisbane’s mosquito fleet also includes a forward squadron. No club scores a higher percentage of their goals from smaller players than the Lions.
The Lions are fantastic at two key areas of a small-player-based attack. Firstly, they are adept at attacking from forward 50 stoppages, and running downhill towards goal from these contests.
In addition, Brisbane’s upfield ball users are willing to lower the eyes when entering the 50, and place the ball in spots only their teammates can reach. Charlie Cameron is a particular threat in these situations — quick enough to get away from almost any defender and able enough to leap over any in his way.
Brisbane have a habit of rewarding all good leads, not just those in a “high expected value” location inside 50.
This has contributed to poor scoring accuracy, with the Lions often taking a large volume of shots from difficult locations.
Geelong’s defensive unit, primed with tallish types who can effectively intercept or spoil floating balls and kicks to hotspots, do as well as any side in denying teams good shots on goal.
At the same time, Brisbane’s defence has improved under Chris Fagan, with Harris Andrews anchoring a solid line. Brisbane eat up aerial attacks, and deploy rebounding options like Daniel Rich to full effect. The Lions will likely allow Tom Hawkins to take leads to unfavourable spots, and defend the hot spot in front of goal hard.
If that’s the case, the game may come down to who can win the ball in the middle more, deny easy marks for the opposition and convert more frequently from harder spots.
Aggression, ball retention and a battle of the bigs (or lack thereof)
In the charter for the Laws of the Game, several guiding principles and fundamental elements are set out to shape the direction for the game. The document is a reference point to how football should be played at the top level, and what defining characteristics need to be preserved.
Key elements, like attacking play, the oval ball, freedom of movement and an even battle between forwards and defence are emphasised throughout.
One guiding principle emphasises that “players of various sizes, football and athletic ability have an opportunity for success in the game played at the highest level”.
Both the Richmond and Port Adelaide defences have ignored this guideline, omitting the bigger backs and implementing attacking structures with undersized defenders playing big roles.
Football’s rapid shift has seen intercepting become the most important act in the game. Both clubs have turned their attention to not only the defensive nature of stopping the other team from scoring, but also attacking in return. Many words have been spilled on the Tigers’ dominant defensive set-up, and their penchant for turning defence into attack.
What is notable is how little the departure of Alex Rance has affected this defensive set-up. While heavily reliant on him before 2017, shrewd planning saw Richmond start sharing the star’s duties in his latter years in the league, with names like Nick Vlaustuin, David Astbury and Dylan Grimes subtly stepping into the void as the Tigers defence grew towards another premiership.
While teams found some success through the year with overloading the defensive side of the ball, and making scoring nearly impossible for the yellow and black, the defence largely held up throughout.
At the same time in South Australia, Port Adelaide made the choice to use smaller, versatile defenders than one-job specialists where possible. Port’s weakness this year has come against taller forward lines and quick usage through the middle to isolate their shorter defenders.
The canary in the coalmine for the Power is their ability to achieve and prevent marks inside 50 and contested marks. When they can stop or slow opposition sides up the ground, the Power can create repeat entries for their focal point in Charlie Dixon, who can thrive even in heavy traffic.
When the ball sneaks out the back, and allows quick one-out opportunities, Port find themselves in trouble. The Power have lost three of the five times they have lost the mark-inside-50 battle with the opposition, and have won every game where they controlled the air inside each arc.
In theory, the tall forward set-up of Tom Lynch, Jack Riewoldt, Mabior Chol / Toby Nankervis and Dustin Martin should be the type of attack to stretch them.
Pressure will be on the extremely versatile Power midfield to deny Richmond first use of the ball from stoppages, and to spread to slow quick counter-attacks.
Where Richmond gives up ground at stoppages, the Power excel at them. This may force Richmond to play Martin at the stoppages more often than he would ordinarily, or to even throw an extra number at stoppages. This would provide a pressure valve for their defence.
With both sides extremely aggressive when flying, we could see a frantically paced opening — at which point the losing side may be forced to go ultra-defensive to survive.
Making the grand final
Ultimately, in a compressed season unlike any other, getting to the end is an achievement enough. Adapting and changing has been the order of the day. The four finals sides have shifted and moved as circumstances dictated, from stars missing parts of the year to relocated sides for most of the year.
Brisbane and Port Adelaide pushed through growing pains for their rising crop of stars, while Richmond and Geelong kept the motivation burning for another run.
As the march to the ‘G — the Gabba that is — enters its final days, styles and matchups will dictate who will play the final game of the season.
The Brisbane Lions are just one win away from securing a place in their first AFL grand final since 2004.
But players are talking about more than just game day tactics ahead of their qualifying final, with parenthood bonding many new fathers in the squad.
Ryan Lester and his wife Emi welcomed their first child, son Romeo, 4 weeks ago.
He said the advice of his teammates had helped them grow closer on and off the field.
“You know, learning things from them and I guess it puts more value on the relationships that we have.”
Teammate Daniel Rich had more reason to celebrate after the Lions historic win over the Richmond Tigers on Friday night.
Not only did the 15-point victory break their 11-year and 15-game losing streak to the Richmond Tigers, the Rich family also welcomed their second child, a daughter Indiana Grace over the weekend.
Lester said the luxury of being so close to family during the AFL’s COVID-safe season had been an advantage for players, who could remain with their families in Queensland.
“We’re lucky that my wife’s parents are from the Gold Coast, so they’ve been able to give us some help,” Lester said
Unfortunately, Lester’s parents have been unable to meet their new grandson being from Victoria and with borders into Queensland still closed.
Lester admitted during the regular season, the code’s COVID-bubbles placed added pressure on his expectant family.
“There was a period there when we were in Sydney and it was sort of one or two months off birth, probably had to start thinking about you know, if we go into a hub, what would that look like for me,” Lester added.
That tough decision was faced by St Kilda Saints defender Jake Carlisle this week.
He left the club’s hub in Noosa to return to his wife in New South Wales who’s expecting their third child.
Carlisle said being away from his family during the season had been incredibly tough, but they had also been a big motivator.
“It’s been an emotional time, I think we’ve spent 91 days, some guys have had their families up here,” he said.
The club’s Chief Operating Officer Simon Lethlean was fully supportive of his decision.
“We thank Jake for staying as long as he possibly could before heading to NSW to be with Mel for the birth,” Mr Lethlean said.
“He has been away from his young family for a number of months now and we thank him for making that sacrifice.”
Last month, West Coast Eagles forward Jamie Cripps also departed the team’s hub in Queensland to make his son’s birth.
The habit when it comes to reflecting on finals is to focus on the moments.
Any final worth its salt will have at least a handful of capital-m Moments. Brisbane coach Chris Fagan said so himself after Friday night’s game, pointedly remarking that “in finals the game is full of moments — you’ve just got to win as many of them as you can”.
It was a captivating game, which buzzed with energy from the Lions’ opening goal in the first minute, right to Hugh McLuggage’s euphoric sealer. It was played with an admirable commitment to attack between two teams who know no alternative but full throttle.
Cam Rayner had his moment, bursting clear and delivering from near enough the centre square to stop what had seemed at the time like irrepressible Richmond momentum.
Charlie Cameron had several, one coming not long after Rayner’s, from the pocket, and the other to prove early in the third quarter that this Brisbane team had no interest in wilting.
There was Lachie Neale, his talents evidently stolen by the Monstars in the first quarter. Fortunately he needed only to touch the ball to get them back, as his timely and unexpected bomb just before the long break proved.
Some of Neale’s greatest moments could have been missed too, specifically a triple or possibly quadruple effort on centre wing late in the third, which saw him intercept a dangerous Tigers counter, somehow slow Dustin Martin’s momentum, bring the ball to ground then lunge ahead of two opponents to tap it to advantage.
Finals turn on moments like that one, or the feather touch of Sherrin on goalpost padding from some Shai Bolton brilliance that would have gone undetected if not for the AFL’s goal review system.
The entire crowd sensed the importance of that snicko intervention and, having avoided its Tom Hawkins moments, for the first time it felt unequivocally like Brisbane’s night.
But to reduce this game to the mere sum of its parts would not do it justice. This was a night a generation in the making for Brisbane, the culmination of Chris Fagan’s four years of development which has reached warp speed in the last two.
It was 11 years and 15 failed cracks at the Tigers, a straight sets exit in 2019, the weight of expectation tipping the scales to an unhealthy level.
The Lions of 2019 were underdogs, a fairytale story. They rose rapidly but disappeared just as quickly. It made the Lions of 2020 easy to dismiss and impossible to trust until otherwise convinced.
All of this, every last stinging memory of the years in the wilderness and the opportunities wasted, all of it manifested in Friday night’s onslaught.
Brisbane tackled with a startling ferocity from the first minute to the last, they took their opportunities to surge forward with full commitment and were just as hearty in their efforts the other way. They even kicked straight, especially at crucial times when the value of a goal was greater than six points.
Never was the payoff for Brisbane’s collective experience greater than late in the second quarter, as Richmond threatened to once again suffocate them.
At that moment, though the lead sat at just six or seven points, there felt like there was an inevitably to proceedings. So many teams, including and especially the Lions, had felt that unique Richmond pressure and succumbed.
This time, Brisbane resisted. And when Rayner kicked his goal, every player on the field made the same realisation at once — these Lions are different, and they aren’t rolling over this time.
For Brisbane, that meant unrestrained confidence. For Richmond, it meant panic and rebellion and costly ill-discipline.
None of that, or any of the subsequent moments that Lions fans will replay countless times during their well-deserved week off, happens without everything that has come before.
It didn’t change Brisbane’s motivation — Fagan specifically downplayed the idea of them taking to the field “with a monkey on our back” — it just changed how it approached the moments.
What comes next for the Lions will be fascinating, because this time it’s all uncharted territory. Once again they will be starry-eyed on an unfamiliar stage, hoping everything it has been through will leave it ready for what it’s about to face.
Fortunately, in beating Richmond in such scintillating and palate-cleansing fashion, it has yet another experience and yet more belief from which to draw from when a big game is there to be won.
It certainly feels as if the biggest moment of Brisbane’s 2020 season is yet to come.