One of the most decorated men in Brisbane's history, Michael Voss, will return to the Gabba on Saturday night hoping to upset the home team's dreams of a drought-breaking premiership.
In his second season in charge of Carlton, Voss has led a remarkable turnaround that has seen the Blues win 11 of their past 12 matches, including a nail-biting semi-final win over Melbourne last Friday night. With Sam Walsh and Blake Acres enhancing their reputations this September, the Blues will head to the Gabba as underdogs, but give themselves every chance.
They face a Lions team that is a perfect 12-from-12 on their home deck this season and enter full of confidence after a crushing win over Port Adelaide in the qualifying final.
Chris Fagan's forward line, led by Joe Daniher and Charlie Cameron is humming, while the midfield battle of Lachie Neale, Josh Dunkley and Hugh McCluggage against Patrick Cripps, Adam Cerra and Walsh should be fascinating.
Brisbane v Carlton at the Gabba, 5.15pm AEST
NO LATE CHANGES
Brisbane: Jarryd Lyons
Carlton: Matthew Kennedy
Where and when: the Gabba, Saturday September 23, 5.15pm AEST
WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR?
Both teams were entrenched in the top eight when they met on this Friday night blockbuster, but following an even first half, Brisbane put the game to bed with five unanswered goals in the third quarter. Small forwards Charlie Cameron and Zac Bailey ran riot, kicking four goals apiece, while Josh Dunkley played his best game for his new club, gathering 33 disposals, laying 13 tackles and keeping Brownlow medallist Patrick Cripps quiet in the process. Young Lion Jack Payne kept Charlie Curnow to just one goal, and although the Blues dominated contested possessions and fought the game out well, they were never really a chance after the main break.
THE STATS THAT MATTER
The Lions have proven all season they're the best clearance team in the competition, winning an average of six more each game than their opposition. In the qualifying final win over Port Adelaide, they kicked 13 goals directly from clearance wins, and with Lachie Neale (the best in the AFL at eight a game), Oscar McInerney (5.4) and Josh Dunkley (4.9), there's plenty of sources to win the ball.
The Blues have built their game around winning the contested ball, and despite losing the statistic against Melbourne last week, are ranked second in the AFL this year with a differential of +9.6 a game. They slaughtered Brisbane (+25) in that area in round eight, but turned the ball over too much and are clearly a different team now. Patrick Cripps averages 22.9 disposals in his 10 games against Brisbane – his third lowest average against any opponent.
IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR…
If big matches are won in the middle, look no further than Josh Dunkley. Not only is the Lions midfielder responsible for winning his share of the footy, he'll likely line up alongside Carlton skipper Patrick Cripps at stoppages in an attempt to nullify his influence. Accomplishing both tasks will go a long way towards Brisbane winning the game.
You could pick any small defender here, but Nic Newman likely has the role on Charlie Cameron, who not only gets the home crowd going more than any Lion when he kicks a goal, but also bagged four when the teams met earlier this year. Newman has the physicality and discipline to match Cameron, although Michael Voss could go for the speed of Adam Saad, leaving Newman to cope with Zac Bailey or Lincoln McCarthy. The match-ups at that end of the ground will be fascinating.
Brisbane by 17 points. The Blues are riding an incredible wave of momentum and have the weapons to unsettle Brisbane, but the Lions have answered every question this year and it's hard to look past them at home. Providing it breaks even in the middle of the ground, Brisbane's forwards have shown time and again it's variety of options is too much to handle. But if Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay, Tom De Koning and company get quality supply, an upset is well and truly on.