23/04/2024

Eric Hipwood's return from injury has been a major boost for the Brisban Lions as it searches for its first premiership in 19 years. (Graphic: Will Cuckson; Photo: Brisbane Lions)

There have been few surprises from the Brisbane Lions camp this season as Chris Fagan's side has continued to prove themselves as premiership contenders and sit top of the ladder.

As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.

Up next, the Brisbane Lions.

Snapshot:

There have been few surprises from the Brisbane Lions camp this season as Chris Fagan’s side has continued to prove themselves as premiership contenders and sit top of the ladder after 13 rounds.

What’s Worked:

The reintroduction of Cam Rayner after the 22-year-old missed the entirety of the 2021 season has been a success for Brisbane. Rayner has played a larger role in the midfield compared to earlier in his career, where he spent the majority of the time in the forward line.

In 13 games this season, he is averaging 15.5 disposals (up on his career average of 11.8), 2.9 clearances, and 2.9 inside 50s per game. He also had a career-high 25 disposals in the Lions’ win over the Giants in Round 11.

What Hasn’t:

The experiment of moving Dayne Zorko to halfback has failed to have the same impact as other midfielders, such as Daniel Rich that have moved to halfback and made the position their own. Zorko’s lack of experience in the backline has been exposed at times and the Lions captain has failed to have the same impact at halfback as he did when in the middle or on the forward flank.

By no means has it been a catastrophic failure, as it was a move that was only first introduced during Brisbane’s clash against the struggling West Coast Eagles in Round 8, but against stronger opposition, he has been beaten by his opponent.

Biggest Improver:

Darcy Fort has improved in leaps and bounds since joining the Lions this season. Fort has provided extra depth in the height department and eased the burden on Oscar McInerney in the ruck.

His presence has provided valuable cover for Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher who have both been out at various points this season due to injury. The 28-year-old has played 13 games this season after just managing eight across his entire career at Geelong.

At the end of the last season, the Lions struggled when the majority of their tall players were out injured. Fort has given Brisbane strength in that area this season and has proven to be a handy contributor so far this season.

Who needs to lift:

Mitch Robinson is out of contract at the end of this year and has lacked the consistency that has earnt him a spot in the side over the last few years. While Robinson may be known for his one-percenters and the impact he makes off the ball, the 33-year-old has failed to live up to the standards of his previous years at the club.

He has played just seven games (including one as the unused medical sub) this season and will need to improve in the second half of the campaign to earn a contract renewal.

More Aussie Rules News:

Mid-Season Review: Melbourne Demons – Has the Dee-Train hit some bumps?

AFL Mid-Season Review: Fremantle – Can the Dockers make some noise in September?

AFL Mid-Season Review: Collingwood – Fly’s Pies on the rise

Best and Fairest Contenders:

Lachie Neale is the red-hot favourite for this year’s Merrett-Murray Medal. A winner in 2019 and 2020, the star midfielder is back to his best. Neale is averaging 32.4 disposals per game and he is more threatening with the ball than before.

The 29-year-old is averaging 15 kicks per game and has continued to be a driving force in the midfield. The Lions’ midfield core of Hugh McCluggage, Dayne Zorko, and Jarryd Lyons will all finish high in the best and fairest but will need a stellar second half of the season for any of them to put up a fight against the 2020 Brownlow Medallist.

Expectations for the second half of the year:

The Lions’ expectations for the second half of the season remain the same as they were at the beginning of the year. Brisbane will continue to push for its first premiership in 19 years at the business end of the season.

The Brisbane Lions are in a prime position to earn a home qualifying final but will face the reigning premiers Melbourne twice in the final nine games of the season, which will give a better view of where the Lions are at. If Fagan’s side can claim positive results in those fixtures, then they will be heading into the finals as premiership favourites.

Prediction:

2nd

The Lions will be disappointed if they don’t finish inside the top 2, however, if they fail to get results against the Demons, then the Dockers could jump the Lions to claim a home qualifying final. Brisbane should have enough strength to not fall any lower than third and have the potential to claim its first McClelland Trophy in history.

The Lions’ true test will be in September and whether or not Chris Fagan can turn his side’s poor finals form around. With just one win in their last six finals games, the Lions will be hungrier than ever to make the most of their premiership window.

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