The Lions are in the gun in 2022. Top four in each of the last three years, and just one finals win has huge question marks over this list when the pressure is on.

As we accelerate toward the new season, Brisbane are cherry ripe for a shot at the flag, but there are hurdles… there are always hurdles.

Over the last month, I have been slowly compiling questions relating to each team to include in our season previews. There were so many questions in need of answers. When I finally sat down and started the previews, it quickly became apparent these articles were going to be huge. There were simply too many things in need of addressing.

So, the way this is going to work is that the first five questions are available for free for each team, to whet your appetite and the next lot – between 10-15 – are for our members.

So, it’s a ploy to get people to join the site?

Ummmm, yeah, kind of, but it also about providing value for those who support what we do here and enjoy the content – those who are already onboard. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I am aiming to provide the most comprehensive team previews out there, so if you like sinking your teeth into articles with a bit of meat on the bone, that’s what you’re getting here. No flippantly thrown together article with a stupid prediction at the end – I’ll leave that to those with restrictions on word counts and pressure to make space for gambling ads. We’re diving deep.

So, without further ado, here are The Big Questions regarding the Lions in 2022.

 

HOW MUCH BETTER WILL JOE DANIHER BE FOR THE RUN?

Firstly, he wasn’t bad at all in year one with the Lions. He kicked goals, played every game, and was a consistent presence inside 50 for his new team.

However, Joe has a penchant for trying the incredible and forgetting about the run-of-the-mill stuff.

We saw him trying for some big marks in 2021, which resulted in giving away free kicks for unrealistic attempts, when simply contesting and bringing the ball to ground was the sensible option. But sensibility sometimes deserts Joe during games. He has white line fever of the best sort – the fun sort, where he thinks he can do anything, and sometimes, he does. The thing about that is that he tries to do the extraordinary – it pays off about one out of every ten times. The other nine times see the defence have a relatively easy time of it.

Daniher finished with 46 goals in 2021 – an excellent return from someone who played so sparingly in the previous seasons, but there are a number of areas where he can make a bigger impact going forward. Joe was ranked 20th for marks inside 50 in 2021 – you’d like to see him climb that ladder a little this year. Considering that guys like Max and Ben King, and Tom Membrey ranked above him, there is definite room for improvement there.

His kicking – long lamented as a real problem with his game – was nowhere near as bad as some predicted, with his thumping boot from anywhere near fifty metres out an absolute weapon. As the lead-up forward, Daniher should be able utilise blocks and the running patterns of his teammates better in year two to isolate and take marks in that area of the ground. From there, he has the ability to make the distance where others fail.

Looking ahead, Daniher still has the makings of a Coleman Medallist. Considering this was his first go-round with the Lions, his consistency was surprisingly excellent and with an increased familiarity with both his surroundings and his teammates, the sky is the limit for him in 2022.

When good racehorses come back from a spell, you often hear a trainer or owner mention they’ll be better for the run. Daniher was pretty bloody good in his first-up run for the Lions, but I am expecting him to remind everyone just why he was so highly regarded as the best young forward in the game just a few short years ago. Yes, he is now a 27-year-old, but he is a man with a wealth of experience, at the peak of his powers, and once again equipped with the knowledge and confidence that he can get it done at the highest level and that his body will hold up.

This season, the one-and-two-goal games could become three-goal games, and I am expecting a couple of 5+ goal games in the mix as well. If this is the year of Daniher, it could very well turn out to be the year of the Lions, too.

 

DOES LACHIE NEALE OWE THIS TEAM ONE?

He does.

The to-ing and fro-ing in the offseason about heading back to Fremantle was unsettling, and though it was worked out, having that type of uncertainty from your major ball-winner, and Brownlow Medallist is not what you want at all. It gave the impression of instability and was met with a backlash from Brisbane supporters initially.

And rightfully so.

When Brisbane made their meteoric rise up the ladder in 2019, it coincided with the arrival of Lachie Neale at the club. What he brought to the table when fit cannot be replicated. He makes the midfield hum, and if the Lions are to trouble teams out of the middle, it will be once again with a healthy Lachie Neale leading the way.

Neale’s form dipped in 2021 as he struggled with injury in the preseason and couldn’t quite get the base-level fitness to drive his game to the same heights he reached in 2020. He still managed 27 touches per game, but it was clear he was nowhere near the level of the previous season (he averaged 26.89 in 20% less game time in 2020).

The question is – can he get back to those levels? The follow-up question is – what does that mean to the Lions’ midfield?

There is no reason, outside injury, that Neale will not return to the form that saw him tear the competition to pieces in 2020. His clearance work and, importantly, his ability to run forward and be part of scoring chains, was a real addition to his game in his Brownlow season, particularly early in the piece. His goals-per-game numbers were cut in half in 2021, as he struggled to cover the ground as quickly and that prevented him from having an impact around goal. He really didn’t outrun anyone last season.

Assuming he gets a clean run at the season, the answer to the second question is an easy one. Lachie Neale in full flight makes every other midfielder’s role a little easier. Jarryd Lyons did some very heavy lifting in 2021, taking on and beating some of the league’s best mids. His two-way style was relied on as Neale was unable to move around the park the way he’d become accustomed to. With Neale back in the swing, Lyons is able to move a little more freely and focus on one of his two talents at a time. He can either win the footy, or prevent his opponent from doing so.

Neale back in form also gives the Brisbane runners a chance to get out in the open a little more easily. Hugh McCluggage was used in the middle of the ground at times in 2021 – whilst this may be an ongoing tactic, his run with Neale feeding the footy out to him becomes more potent, and we cannot discount the way Jarrod Berry’s performance dipped without Neale at his best.

If Neale is up and about in 2022, mark it down – as will be the Lions. He is the heartbeat of this team and though there may have been a little bit of an irregular heartbeat around October, things are once again starting to look pretty healthy.

 

WHEN DOES ZAC BAILEY MAKE THE BIG LEAP?

He made a leap of sorts in 2021, so this may be a little unfair, but it was not THE leap.

You know THE leap I’m talking about, right? It’s the one where Bailey goes from handy pinch-hitter in the middle, or half-forward, or half-back, to being one of the stars of the competition. We all know he has the tools – we have seen them in short doses and in important moments, but we’ve only rarely seen extended efforts where Bailey takes over.

I thought 2021 may have been the season that this occurred, but if the Lions are looking for a player to jump to the next level and give them the lift they need, then Zac Bailey is the man, and 2022 is the year it happens.

Goalkicking mids are incredibly rare. To have the power to work from the middle into the attacking fifty, find the right position, receive the footy and convert takes the complete package – Zac Bailey finished with 31 goals in 2021. To put that in contest, people rave about the ability of Bont and Petracca to hit the scoreboard – they had 31 and 29 goals respectively. Zac is hanging with the big boys in that department.

If he is able to do that whilst touching the footy 18 times per game, what type of damage can he inflict when he starts getting it 22 times? What about 25 times?

At 22 years of age, Zac Bailey is well-positioned to become the next star of the Brisbane Lions. He has demonstrated his composure. He has delivered under pressure, and with four bags of three or more goals in 2021, he sits poised on the precipice of becoming one of the elite mid/forwards in the game.

As the Lions seek to improve their standing and make their first Grand Final since 2004, they are going to need a few surprise packets to stand up. Though it will come as no surprise to those who have watched what Bailey has been able to produce in his career to date, you can see how his ascension could come as a shock to the more casual footy fan.

By about Round Ten we are going to have a good picture of what the ceiling is for Bailey, both in 2022 and beyond. His potential is huge and he will be afforded the opportunity to play an important role for the Lions in 2022. Should he grasp that chance with both hands, Zac Bailey could be an overnight sensation that has been five years in the making.

 

WHAT ARE THE OTHER OPTIONS IF A TEAM MANS UP ON DANIEL RICH?

Daniel Rich was so damaging in 2021 that I was completely bemused as to why opposition coaches would not sit someone on him, even for periods where the Lions were rebounding the footy a little too easily.

I have to say, I was in disbelief late in the season when I saw Rich waltzing down through the middle and half-forward to either pump the ball long out the back inside 50, or hit someone on the chest. Hell, against the Eagles, he had eight inside 50 disposals – eight of them! Playing off half back! Who the hell allowed to happen?

I know – it was Adam Simpson, and West Coast fans were rightfully pissed!

Daniel Rich made his first ll-Australian team in 2021 and was correctly given the respect he deserved. His work off half-back since the retirement of Luke Hodge went to another level, yet it seemed as though he was not given the same respect by coaches in the midst of games – were they under the impression his disposals weren’t hurting? If so, they need to reappraise the situation – Daniel Rich killed teams in 2021.

In 2019, Sam Docherty returned from a second knee reconstruction to play off half-back for the Blues. He was having a party back there on a weekly basis until St Kilda had enough and played Jarryn Geary on him as a defensive forward. It completely disrupted the Carlton defensive 50 exits and had them haphazardly booting the ball out of trouble, only to see it come back with interest. If a team employed this tactic against the Lions, what is Brisbane’s recourse? How would they cover it?

Brandon Starcevich looks a likely alternative, but he does not possess the same booming boot that Rich does – few do. Deploying Zac Bailey to a half-back flank as a release valve is another option, as his run into space and ability to cover the ground would make him a dangerous proposition. Callum Ah Chee lacks the composure Rich has, and kids like Dev Robertson and James Madden both lack the experience to pull the role off.

It doesn’t leave much, does it?

Rich is one of the best at his position. His kicking slices through the defence of the opposition like a hot knife through butter, but with the retirement of Grant Birchall, the second option as the preferred R50 player is a fair drop off and could cause the Lions to stutter a little. Brisbane would be well-served in putting some time into one of the younger brigade to take on the role of understudy to Rich, learning the ways of the force… and the half-back-flank, in order to be able to step in where required.

And if you’re coaching against the Lions and looking for a vulnerability, making Rich earn every possession and placing him under pressure for each and every touch could be a good place to start.

 

AFTER THREE APPEARANCES IN THE SQUAD OF 40, IS 2022 CLUG’S ALL-AUSTRALIAN SEASON?

If only they named wingmen on the wing, huh?

Is it fair to say that inaccuracy cost Clug his place in the side last season? Kicking 15.22 for the year, he managed to let the opposition off the hook a little too often, but his ability to get forward and attack the goals is something that is probably underrated at the moment. Sure, the results have not been there due to missing a little too often, but he creates the chances, and it is likely that he could have a 30-goal season in him at some point.

McCluggage’s outside run is wonderful, and his delivery of the footy is first class. Though he falls down in front of goal, just about everything else he does is of the highest order. Making the squad of 40 for the last three consecutive seasons, McCluggage has been knocking on the door of the All-Australian selectors.

It’s time to stop being so damn polite – he needs to kick it down and barge on in.

Clug was +6.3 disposals per game on his reduced 2020 stats, but any improvement on his numbers in 2022 will make him difficult to ignore.

Unlike many in his role, McCluggage has no issue finding the footy most weeks. Many wingmen are a barometer for their teams – when they get plenty of it, the team is up and about, and the eyes of the forwards light up with him running toward the fifty-metre arc. But when they are down, they can go missing completely. Clug is in the same bracket as Andrew Gaff in that regard – he just continues to find the ball and rarely has a down week.

So, what does McCluggage have to do to convince All-Australian selectors he is worthy of a place in this team and restore the faith in the wing position?

At 26 touches in 2021, if Clug can add just another two to those totals, it would hold him in good stead. In addition, a reversal of those goals/behinds figures would almost guarantee it. Of the 2021 All-Australian mids, only Christian Petracca and Marcus Bontempelli registered more goals than McCluggage, and they were dumped onto the half-forward flank. That is the spot Clug should occupy following this season. If he can hit the scoreboard with a little more accuracy, 20+ goals from the wing make his claim close to irrefutable.

 

And that’s it for non-members. The next 14 questions are for those members who support us. I want these to be the biggest season previews you’ll read and am determined to give value for money. Some sites will give you lip service about your team – I will be diving deep. The Mongrel does the work… always. Want to join us?

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