Brisbane players react after their loss to Collingwood at The Gabba in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

AFTER falling one goal short of the ultimate prize in 2023, the widely held view was Brisbane would waltz back to the finals this year and again contend for a premiership.

However, seven rounds in, that prospect seems as far away as the Gabba from the MCG.

The Lions have won just twice from seven matches, and with a coveted top four spot looking a long way off, need to find some form fast.

Coach Chris Fagan has – at least publicly – been at a loss to explain why his team has been short of its usually lofty standards so far this year.

Although Fagan was previously scrutinised for Brisbane's finals record (winning one out of six between 2019 and 2021), this is arguably the biggest challenge he has faced in a home-and-away season since lifting the club from the doldrums to a contender early in his tenure.

So what's gone wrong and can the problems be fixed?


The defeats

It's possibly too long a bow to draw, but the Opening Round loss to Carlton might have had a bigger impact than simply missing out on four premiership points.

The Gabba had been a virtual fortress in the previous five seasons, with the Lions winning more than 80 per cent of their matches there.

Suddenly, despite leading the Blues by 46 points midway through the second quarter, the home team coughed up victory.

It was not only a virtual punch to the stomach, in a football sense, but opened the door for opponents to suddenly think they could walk away from the Gabba with premiership points.

Collingwood did the same two matches later, as Brisbane's spluttering forward line continually got two hands on marking opportunities only to watch the ball repeatedly hit the turf.

Next up it was Geelong's turn on a wet night and the Cats simply adapted to the conditions better. The Lions, who don't play regularly in the rain but are used to playing with a slippery football in their humid and dewy conditions, inexplicably over-used it to invite pressure and ultimately cough up the game.

Cam Rayner is tackled by Sam De Koning during the match between Brisbane and Geelong at The Gabba in round nine, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

On Anzac Day, the loss to Greater Western Sydney was perhaps the most alarming, with their defensive intensity non-existent in the second half. The five-day break after playing in heavy conditions could have been a factor, but that doesn't explain such a stark drop-off so soon after half-time.

Each loss has been characterised by a different problem – poor goalkicking, poor entries inside 50, overusing the ball or a lack of intensity.

"We'd love to be playing more consistently," co-captain Harris Andrews said this week.

"You play in these big games against teams like the Giants and if you're just off, they really make you pay."


Every team has them so it's not an excuse, but injuries have to be noted as a small part of why they are struggling.

Losing Keidean Coleman for the season after just one half of football felt like a big loss at the time, and it's playing out that way.


Behind Andrews and possibly Joe Daniher, you could argue the exquisite ball use of Coleman from defence makes him the third most difficult player in the team to replace. He's certainly in the top five.

Add in back-to-back hamstring injuries suffered by Conor McKenna, who is now back playing, and the creativity Brisbane relied on from defence has suffered badly.

Will Ashcroft is due back from his knee reconstruction sometime after the bye and he will make a difference to Brisbane's ball movement, so good is his decision-making and execution.

However, the Lions were without him for their run to the Grand Final last year, so his return should be seen as more a bonus than a reason for their struggles.

Tom Doedee was identified as a big off-season recruit from Adelaide to come in and play as an intercepting defender, but suffered a third ruptured ACL on the eve of his club debut.

Zac Bailey, although below his best to start the season, has missed the past two losses with an ankle injury and is still a month away.

Lachie Neale, Zac Bailey and Cam Rayner during Brisbane's training session at Brighton Homes Arena on April 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Brisbane has, with good management as much as good luck, largely avoided major injuries in recent years, but that has changed in the past 12 months. It's exposed their depth, which has largely been stuck behind a consistent and successful senior team for some time.

Players are down

Without grading every player that has taken the field this season, there's no question a handful of prominent Lions have been well below their best.

Charlie Cameron is a long way off the man that stormed to a second All-Australian jacket last season and put the Lions in front late on Grand Final day with a trademark piece of brilliance.

Fagan shed some light on his struggles recently, highlighted Cameron's disrupted pre-season due to repeated dental surgeries following a nasty head clash last year.

Beyond that though, the infectious joy the 29-year-old plays with has not been there.

Charlie Cameron reacts after missing a goal during Brisbane's loss to Collingwood in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

In each of his six previous seasons, Cameron has kicked (significantly) more goals than behinds, making the most of the few chances a player in his part of the ground gets.

From seven games this year, he has kicked 10.12 and looked hesitant with shots at goal he'd normally gobble up.

Beyond that, Cameron has been Brisbane's forward line leader in defensive pressure, laying more tackles inside 50 over the past two years than anyone else. He's slid to a ranking of 33rd this year, indicative of a forward group that is simply not helping its midfielders and defenders with collective pressure.

Cam Rayner is another not playing up to his best. Rayner has been unfairly critiqued for much of his career and finished fifth in last year's best and fairest in somewhat of a breakout campaign.

Aside from his best on ground performance against Melbourne in round five, the former No.1 draft pick's outings have been inconsistent at best.

He is another who brings joy and excitement to Brisbane's team, but has floated in and out of matches with an inconsistency he should be well past.

Then there's Eric Hipwood. The rangy forward is often an easy target for observers with his low possession count. It's not always about kicking goals, but when your defensive pressure is questionable and there's no alternate move to get you involved – like a move to the ruck or perhaps even a wing – there needs to be a bigger influence with ball in hand.

Eric Hipwood in action during the match between Melbourne and Brisbane at the MCG in round five, 2024. Pictures: Getty Images

Although some midfielders could also fit into this category (Brisbane's defenders, on the other hand, have by-and-large been excellent this year) the numbers below will show why the forward line is the part of the ground that needs the biggest improvement.

The numbers

Part of the reason Fagan has been scratching his head in the past few weeks when quizzed about Brisbane's plight is that a lot of the raw numbers are no cause for concern.

The Lions have the best inside 50 differential in the competition. The same goes for time spent in the forward half. They're also ranked in the top half dozen for clearance and contested possession differential, metrics that have served them well in the past.

However, with statistics provided by Champion Data, it's clear where most of the problems are occurring.

Not only can the Lions not capitalise when the ball goes inside 50, they can't keep it there. Their retention rate from kicks that go inside 50 has gone from second in the competition in 2023 to 14th this season. Marking kicks that go inside 50 has seen them drop from fourth to 11th.

This has led to horribly inefficient scoring.

Cam Rayner kicks towards goal during the match between Greater Western Sydney and Brisbane at Manuka Oval in round seven, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Brisbane is ranked last for goals per inside 50 this season having been fourth in 2023. That stat has a lot to do with goalkicking accuracy where, again, they're ranked 18th this year compared to eighth last season.

Put simply, they're creating plenty of opportunities, but are simply not converting them.

Where to from here?

Despite the sluggish start, Brisbane isn't far off finding its way back into form.

The coaching staff and players will be asking themselves if they're prepared to scrape and claw their way back to September like they have for the past five years. If the collective answer is yes, along with some tidying up of skills in the front half and a continued commitment to work defensively, it's not inconceivable to think they'll be back in the hunt two months from now.

Starting with Gold Coast on Sunday night, the Lions then face Adelaide, Richmond, Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda either side of the mid-season bye.

In recent seasons, you'd pencil the Lions in for five or even six wins from that run of games. But this season, so far at least, has been different to the last.