Cam Rayner during Brisbane's match simulation against Gold Coast on February 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

CAM Rayner has given Brisbane coach Chris Fagan a good selection headache ahead of Opening Round after a standout showing as a pure midfielder against Gold Coast on Thursday night.

Playing exclusively on-ball, Rayner caught the eye in the 15.12 (102) to 8.7 (55) match simulation win at Springfield's Brighton Homes Arena.


Charlie Cameron kicked five goals inside the first half, while Eric Hipwood bagged three and Lincoln McCarthy two in a polished first-up performance from the Lions.

But the big question for Fagan now is where will he play Rayner against Carlton on March 8, after the former No.1 draft pick impressed with his clean hands at ground level, burst from congestion and good use of the ball by foot.


Rayner was integral in Brisbane's Grand Final push last year, finishing fifth in the club's best and fairest, playing as a third tall forward that pushed into the middle for small bursts.

However, with Lachie Neale absent against the Suns – he's expected to play in the AAMI Community Series against Sydney next week – and Darcy Gardiner trialled as a key forward alongside Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood, Rayner had all the minutes he could handle in the middle of the ground.

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He was not the only Lion to excel, with co-captain Harris Andrews impassable in the defensive 50, taking a host of intercept marks as Gold Coast's forward line struggled to function effectively.

Cameron made light work of young Sun Bodhi Uwland, racking up five goals in a little more than a quarter, while Hipwood could have had an even bigger bag if he had kicked straight.


The contest was quite even around the ball and both teams were eager to overlap run and move it swiftly from their half-back lines.

Brisbane led by 20 points at quarter-time and 30 at half-time before the stifling conditions took their toll and the skills dropped away.

Both teams played close to their best line-ups for four quarters before VFL outfits ran out two more quarters of action.

In Damien Hardwick's first match at the helm for Gold Coast, Matt Rowell was terrific, Touk Miller was busy, while Sam Flanders and Bailey Humphrey showed they were ready to make a leap.

Young guns

Brisbane could have a spot or two up for grabs ahead of Opening Round and third-year wingman James Tunstill did all he could to put his name at the front of the queue. Tunstill was clean in the hot conditions and highly involved as he stormed up and down the wing. Bailey Humphrey showed enough to indicate he would take another big step in his second season, while Sam Clohesy did some nice things on a wing in his first game for the Suns. Top-10 draft pick Ethan Read came on late in the contest and had some nice moments as a key defender.

James Tunstill celebrates a goal during Brisbane's match simulation against Gold Coast on February 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Switching positions

The big switch for the Suns came with Alex Sexton's move from the forward line to half-back. While he made some mistakes, it was notable how often Gold Coast looked for the long-kicking Sexton to exit defence and how much drive he gave them in return. Darcy Macpherson played as a half-forward and should have inked his name into the Opening Round team. After a decade in defence for the Lions, Darcy Gardiner played inside forward 50 alongside Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood and did a fine job. Although his numbers weren't huge, Gardiner showed he could be a viable option for coach Chris Fagan with his ability to connect the midfield and deep forward.

Alex Sexton and Zac Bailey during Brisbane's match simulation against Gold Coast on February 22, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Injury watch

No fresh injuries for either team, but there are a few players to come back for next week’s final hit-outs. Lachie Neale continues to ramp up his volume following off-season groin surgery and is expected to line up against Sydney, as is Jarrod Berry (shoulder). Deven Robertson (wrist) and Conor McKenna (hamstring) are likely another week behind them. For Gold Coast, Wil Powell was absent with his partner expected to give birth at any time, while Brandon Ellis (shin) is also expected to be right to face Greater Western Sydney.

Fantasy tempter

Look no further than Alex Sexton ($382,000 FWD). Listed as a forward but playing in defence, Sexton got plenty of the ball as his Suns teammates looked for him at every opportunity exiting 50. He made a few mistakes, but the upside was there for all to see.

BRISBANE     5.3  10.3   11.8   15.12 (102)
GOLD COAST     2.1   5.3   6.6   8.7 (55)
Brisbane: Cameron 5, Hipwood 3, McCarthy 2, Tunstill, Dunkley, Bailey, Madden, Ryan
Gold Coast: Ainsworth, Miller, Day, Holman, Humphrey, Lukosius, Clohesy, Casboult


1. Kai Lohmann, 3. Joe Daniher, 4. Callum Ah Chee, 5. Josh Dunkley, 6. Hugh McCluggage, 11. Lincoln McCarthy, 14. James Madden, 15. Dayne Zorko, 16. Cam Rayner, 17. Jarryd Lyons, 18. Keidean Coleman, 20. Jaxon Prior, 22. Harry Sharp, 23. Charlie Cameron, 27. Darcy Gardiner, 28. Jaspa Fletcher, 29. James Tunstill, 30. Eric Hipwood, 31. Harris Andrews, 32. Darcy Fort, 33. Zac Bailey, 35. Ryan Lester, 37. Brandon Starcevich, 40. Jack Payne, 44. Darcy Wilmot, 46. Oscar McInerney

Notable absentees: Lachie Neale, Jarrod Berry, Conor McKenna, Tom Doedee, Deven Robertson, Will Ashcroft


2. Rory Atkins, 3. Sam Flanders, 6. Alex Sexton, 7. Nick Holman, 8. Brayden Fiorini, 9. Ben Ainsworth, 10. Charlie Ballard, 11. Touk Miller, 12. Sam Day, 13. Jack Lukosius, 15. Noah Anderson, 16. Tom Berry, 18. Matt Rowell, 19. Bailey Humphrey, 20. Ethan Read, 21. James Tsitas, 22. Ben Long, 23. Sean Lemmens, 24. David Swallow, 25. Sam Collins, 26. Will Graham, 28. Jarrod Witts, 30. Levi Casboult, 31. Mac Andrew, 32. Bodhi Uwland, 33. Sam Clohesy, 34. Ben King, 35. Connor Budarick, 36. Will Rowlands, 37. Oskar Faulkhead, 38. Lloyd Johnston, 40. Joel Jeffrey, 41. Malcolm Rosas jnr, 42. Jack Mahony, 44. Darcy Macpherson, 45. Sandy Brock, 46. Caleb Graham, 47. Hewago Oea, 49. Ned Moyle, 50. Jy Farrar

Notable absentees: Brandon Ellis, Lachie Weller, Wil Powell, Alex Davies, Jed Walter, Jake Rogers