‘Brisbane keep failing on the big finals stage’

Three years in a row, Brisbane have finished in the top four after the home-and-away rounds. Three years in a row, their position after finals has been lower than where they sat.

For the last three season, the Lions have finished second, second and fourth when finals have commenced. They have converted that into only one finals wins and two straight set exits.

Something’s missing.

Brisbane, and Port for that matter, are starting to look a bit like the Bulldogs and St Kilda of 2009-11 – those two teams that three years in a row also finished top-four for with no silverware. We know that period of contention doesn’t last forever.

The Lions players now have to deal with three off-seasons in a row where they haven’t cut the mustard. It has to take a mental toll.

No team has scored more heavily than Brisbane over the last three years. Offence is certainly not the problem. In terms of points against, they have ranked seventh, seventh and fifth in that time. Defence wins premierships, so the saying goes, but it’s a lesson Chris Fagan and his players either don’t know or haven’t learned.

What can they change to turn home and away success into a meaningful tilt at the flag?

Lions coach Chris Fagan

Chris Fagan (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

What’s new?
Darcy Fort has been brought north from Geelong to provide ruck depth. While he only played eight games in three seasons at the Cats, and none last year, he has shown a bit in his brief forays at senior level.

Like many ruckmen around the league, they can often thrive if given a chance at a second club.

Cameron Rayner returns from an ACL after missing all of 2021. There’s definitely a bit of buzz around town that he is going to be back in a big way, even becoming more of a midfielder than he’d previously shown. Lions fans have high hopes he can be the Dustin Martin or Christian Petracca equivalent for them.

Jarrod Berry only played 11 games last year, and only looked half-fit for all of them. He’ll almost be like a new recruits himself.

Star on the rise
Zac Bailey has something special about him. His game went to another level in 2021, his fourth on the Brisbane list, and the 22-year-old now has the chance to start putting himself into top 50 and higher conversations.

Bailey is one of these natural footballers that just knows how to play. He has keen goal sense, can turn on the jets when required, and sometimes moves or does things with the ball like he can see three plays ahead. He’s not afraid to take the courageous option, and has the confidence that he’ll pull it off.

We saw early last year that Bailey has a taste for the big moment too, with a goal after the siren against Collingwood to win Brisbane’s first game of the season. He wanted that ball when the game was on the line, and couldn’t have split the middle any better from 50m out.

If he can go up another level again, then he’ll be a must-watch proposition this year.

Zac Bailey.

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Who’s under the pump?
It was great to see Joe Daniher play a full season in 2021, after only 15 games in his last three years at Essendon, but he comes into this year with a monkey on his back.

He was the only player to play every game at the Lions last year and not finish in the top ten of the best and fairest. And while he played some good footy in the home-and-away rounds, his season ended with his worst performance of the year, by some margin.

In the last six rounds, Daniher kicked 18 goals, including 11 in the last three games. He hadn’t been goalless all year. He was in peak form, and seemingly relishing being the sole focus after Eric Hipwood had gone down with a knee.

But his finals series was poor. He couldn’t kick a goal against Melbourne in the qualifying final, and then had one of the worst games of his career against the Dogs in the semi. Despite being the only Lion to play 100 per cent game time, he had six touches and two marks against a defence that routinely struggles against tall forwards.

Let’s see if he can bounce back.

Best-case scenario
A premiership has to be on the cards for Brisbane. We know they are good enough. Their best 18 is probably the best in the league, when you struggle to find an on-field position for Cam Rayner and Jarrod Berry.

As stated earlier, they can score heavily when they get their free-wheeling style going. With such a strong midfield and multi-pronged, they are always going to be able to create chances. Eric Hipwood is tracking well in his return from an ACL, so shouldn’t be missing for too long.

Harris Andrews is coming off an off year, where he didn’t look the same as he had done in previous seasons. If he can return to his best and Darcy Gardiner slots into the backline again, the defence can be stiffened, but they’ll need more support from their midfield.

Worst-case scenario
Brisbane have played six finals in the last three years. Five of them have been at the Gabba, and they’ve lost four. They’ve had three cut-throat finals at home, and lost all of them. Two of these have been by less than a goal.

They keep failing on the big finals stage, and it’s reasonable to think this history will take a toll mentally at some stage. Could there be shades of a lesser level Richmond 2016 about the Lions? The Tigers lost three elimination finals in a row from 2013-15, and the wheels fell off the year after.

It’s not easy to finish top four, four years in a row, particularly without winning one. It’s not a fait accompli that the Lions will be up there again.

Best 22
B Brandon Starcevich Marcus Adams Darcy Gardiner
HB Keidean Coleman Harris Andrews Daniel Rich
C Hugh McCluggage Lachie Neale Mitch Robinson
HF Eric Hipwood Joe Daniher Zac Bailey
F Lincoln McCarthy Daniel McStay Charlie Cameron
Foll Oscar McInerney Dayne Zorko Jarryd Lyons
Int Cam Rayner Jarrod Berry Callum Ah Chee Deven Robertson

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‘Brisbane keep failing on the big finals stage’

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