“One of the greatest teams of the modern era.”
It’s a phrase commentators repeated endlessly after the Hawthorn Football Club won its third consecutive premiership in 2015, the first ‘three-peat’ since the Brisbane Lions’ achievements from 2001 to 2003.
But teams as great as the Hawthorn of 2013-2015, and the Brisbane Lions of 2001-2003, are not interested in being one of the best.
Australian Rules Football is, in a word, tough. Regardless of how well a team plays over the course of the season, or how much blood, sweat and tears goes into it, there’s a high probability they’ll reach the end of the season without the coveted premiership trophy.
So, in a game that demands there be one team to rule them all, it’s about time the greatest team of the modern era is decided.
Note: All of the following statistics include results from each finals series
The Hawthorn Football Club had a record of 61 wins and 15 losses, while the Brisbane Lions had a total of 57 wins and 18 losses. It’s really not enough to make a definitive call, but at this stage Hawthorn are edging out the Lions.
Home and Away
This is where the lines become blurred. At first glance, the Hawks played 41 games at home, and the Lions 38.
But, given Hawthorn had not one, but two stadiums in their home city of Melbourne (The M.C.G. and Etihad Stadium), the travel factor becomes irrelevant for the eight away games they played at Etihad over their three-year period, as well as the 10 ‘away’ games they played at the M.C.G. (Melbourne Cricket Ground), a home ground Hawthorn share with Collingwood, Melbourne and Richmond.
The Lions didn’t have the benefit of a cross-town rival until 2011, when the Gold Coast Suns entered the competition. So, for all but three of their away games required them to travel interstate (these three games were, for reasons unbeknownst to this author, played against Melbourne at the Gabba, with Melbourne being the ‘home’ team).
So, the number of away games Brisbane had to travel for comes in at 35. Hawthorn, on the other hand, only had to travel for away games 17 times, less than half that of the Lions.
It should be noted Hawthorn played 12 games at Tasmania’s Aurora Stadium during their period, but they are considered home game for the Hawks, and their deal with the Tasmanian government sees them make well above $3 million per season.
There’s been constant debate over how much of a factor travel actually is in a team’s performance, but when there’s a discrepancy as large as this, it warrants mention.
As the home of Australian Rules Football, and the ground upon which the majority of Finals (including each year’s Grand Final) are fought, the number of games a team plays at the M.C.G. must come into consideration when comparing teams.
The Hawks played at the MCG 37 times over their ‘three-peat’ run, while the Lions played only eight times. Interestingly, the amount of times Brisbane played at the MCG in total is matched by the amount of finals Hawthorn played there.
The only three times the Lions played in a final at the MCG were for the Grand Finals of each year. Hawthorn played eight finals at the MCG over the course of their run.
If we consider the intangibles alongside the aforementioned stats, Hawthorn would prove the better team. Their ability to win three premierships in a row not long after losing their best player Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin is one thing. It’s another thing to win in spite of club instability, which they did in 2014 after losing their Senior Coach for a period, and 2015 after tragedy struck Assistant Coach Brett Ratten.
However, going purely on the data, which is what this article has aimed to do, the Brisbane Lions are the greatest team of the modern era. Their ability to prosper in spite of a far larger number of trips interstate than the Hawks, and their Grand Final success on a ground they had little to no familiarity with, edges them ahead of the Hawthorn Football Club.