Toothless. What’s Happened To The Brisbane Forward Bite?

Coming into the 2023 AFL season, many were big on the Brisbane Lions finally making the final step and lifting the premiership cup.

The club has been right in the mix since 2019, when they skyrocketed up the ladder to become contenders, but have not progressed past the Preliminary Final since. They’ve cultivated a high-quality list, with stars or potential stars on every line, but with three games in the bank this year, one word jumps out to describe this team.


Actually, there are several more words, but we’re relatively family-friendly.

Playing a Western Bulldogs team that were falling down all over the park, themselves, the Lions had an opportunity for a live kill – a win that could correct their disappointing start to the year and give them a 2-1 record despite not playing their best footy. However, an inspired Dogs team were able to both capitalise on the scoreboard and pressure the Lions into a large number of errors as they knocked over the premiership fancies at Marvel Stadium.

The big question around the Lions this season has been the defence. After losing Marcus Adams with concussion-related effects, and with Darcy Gardiner on the shelf at the moment, the Lions looked painfully thin down back. To my surprise – pleasant surprise, I may add – Jackson Payne has stepped in to fill a rather decent void and Harris Andrews has been back to the type of form that saw him accept back-to-back All-Australian blazers. The big concern has actually been the forward line and if not rectified, it threatens to derail the Lions’ season before it really gets going.

The Brisbane forwards looked inept against the Western Bulldogs. Aside from Jack Gunston’s third-quarter heroics, the front six were a non-factor for the majority of the game. Classy players like Charlie Cameron, Eric Hipwood, and Joe Daniher were taken out of the game. Spark plugs like Lincoln McCarthy failed to fire, and even the pinch-hitting mid/forwards, such as Zac Bailey, were out of sorts.

What resulted was a team that simply could not score. Seven goals from a team with this firepower is a disastrous result.

What has been one of the Lions’ main aspects for their relative success over the last four years – scoreboard impact – has simply vanished, as a Bulldogs defence, led by Liam Jones, Alex Keath, and Josh Bruce controlled the highly-rated Lions forwards. Jason Johannisen, Bailey Dale, Ed Richards, and Caleb Daniel cleaned up the mess without being made to truly earn their kicks by the Brisbane pressure players, as well.

The Lions seemed to go into self-preservation mode, with Joe Daniher trying to win the game off his own boot on a long arcing shot at goal. It’s a pity that Charlie Cameron had made space to receive the ball 40 metres closer to goal. Either Joe didn’t see him, which is understandable, or didn’t bother to look, which is much more concerning.

You don’t see Charlie get visibly frustrated with a teammate often. He will usually look upfield at worst, biting his tongue, but he was pretty annoyed at Daniher’s efforts on that occasion – there was no masking it.

So, what the hell is going wrong with the Lions up forward?

Brisbane kicked 100+ points in a game on 11 occasions in 2022. They were ranked first in scoring in the home and away season, but with a change in personnel, it seems as though the high-octane Brisbane forward line is now starting to resemble less of a high performance vehicle, and more of my Jeep Compass that just has no guts to it. Yes, I know… I shouldn’t have bought it… don’t laugh at me.

Even with a game in hand, the 2023 Lions already have three teams that have more points to their name at this stage of the season. They’ll likely be leapfrogged by up to ten teams this weekend, as well.

When looking closely at the game against the Bulldogs, it appears as though a simple case of accuracy and confidence could rectify things pretty quickly. Joe Daniher missed two goals he should have gobbled up in the first quarter. He finished with 0.4 for the game. Charlie Cameron missed one around the corner as well- the type he’d usually dine out on. And before he got going in the third quarter, Gunston was wayward, as well. If the Lions kick them, they win, right?

Not exactly – the Dogs (and Aaron Naughton) wasted their share of chances, as well.

This type of things seeps into the psyche of a team and becomes infectious. However, to put it down to just those two factors would be over-simplifying things.

In truth, I don’t actually believe there is an underlying issue with Charlie Cameron – he was just beaten on the night. Even Joe Daniher… you know what you’re gonna get with him. He’ll create chances, give away free kicks, do some silly things, but he is a potent force when he is up and about.

Eric Hipwood… I’m not as sold on at the moment.

Over the first three games of the season, Hipwood is returning just 5.7 touches and 0.7 goals per game. Both are career low numbers. I expected him to fill the long-lasting void left by the departure of Daniel McStay, but to this point, the praying mantis has been unable to pick up the slack. He has gone backwards pretty significantly, and appears to be a player unsure of what is required of him.

Here’s a tip, Easy E… get involved. If you’re not taking marks, lay blocks. If you’re not laying blocks, draw your opponent away from people who are taking marks. Currently, Hipwood is taking up space that could be better used by a ground level player. His defensive efforts have been as poor as his offence -he has laid one tackle inside 50 in three games.


He hasn’t had the footy – what the hell is he spending his time doing?

Nor am I sold on Linc McCarthy.

His 8.7 disposals and 0.7 goals are both the lowest outputs he’s had in Brisbane colours, and in terms of effort, he seems like a very one-and-done type of player at the moment.

His tackling numbers have always been good for a small forward, but that’s about all he has going for him, currently.

In short, the Brisbane attack is not what it once was. They are yet to work out who does what and when they do it. You’d hope the club is able to piece together how they best operate with Gunston in the team as opposed to McStay, and we have to realise that these adjustments take time, but with the rampant Magpies on the horizon next week, time may soon be a luxury this Brisbane team does not have a lot of.

Chris Fagan has a bit of work to do. His well-oiled machine is getting clunky and he’ll need some pretty impressive running repairs to get it going against a side that is as relentless as they come in the modern game.

Many believe that it is impossible to stay “up” for long durations. It’s what makes back-to-back flags, or threepeats all the more special.

Brisbane have been “up” for four years on the back of a powerful offensive game. Where do they head if they cannot get this aspect of their game up and running smoothly again?

I’m sorry, but I think we’re all aware of the answer to that question.

Daniher, Hipwood, Cameron, McCarthy, Gunston, maybe even Rayner again… something has to change in the Brisbane forward line and change quickly.

If it doesn’t, we may start to see a window many thought was wide open for a while start to close a little more rapidly that first thought possible.

And they don’t open again quickly.


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