(Clockwise from left): Charlie Cameron, Cam Rayner, Keidean Coleman and Chris Fagan. Pictures: AFL Photos

BRISBANE has to look back only 12 months for inspiration that its season still has plenty of life.

After 11 matches in 2023, Carlton was languishing in 13th place with four wins, one draw and six losses – identical to the Lions' current predicament. Same win total, same ladder position.

Greater Western Sydney was even worse off, sitting in 14th with four wins, seven losses and a percentage of 87.

Both teams also lost their next match (and Carlton the one after that) before roaring to life and storming all the way to respective preliminary finals.

Sydney was another team well off the pace at this stage of last season, winning just five of its first 13 matches before ultimately making it to September and being knocked out by Carlton in an elimination final.

Those turnarounds were quite extraordinary and have already been referenced by Brisbane coach Chris Fagan, but is the 2024 version of his team good enough to emulate them?

Chris Fagan looks on during Brisbane's clash against Hawthorn in round 11, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

What's gone wrong?

There's no one simple answer to this question.

Yes, Brisbane had a couple of weeks less to prepare than other teams after making the Grand Final and then playing in the earlier-than-usual Opening Round, which might partly account for its slow start to the season, but not the rest of it.

Injuries have been a huge headache, with Keidean Coleman's ruptured ACL just before half-time of the first game against Carlton not only unnerving for his teammates to see at the time, but devastating to the team's long-term prospects.

Fresh off a breakout finals campaign, Coleman was designated as the architect of Brisbane's ball movement from the defensive half, with his instinctive and incisive left-foot kicking.


Luckless Tom Doedee, Darcy Gardiner and Lincoln McCarthy all added their names to list of ruptured ACLs.

There's been other injuries too, notably Zac Bailey and Brandon Starcevich, but broadly speaking, with its first-choice midfield and 'spine' intact, injuries should only be attributed as part of the reason for Brisbane's struggles.

The Gabba hasn't had the aura of previous seasons, with losses against the Blues, Collingwood and Geelong starting off a campaign that followed a perfect (13/13) 2023 at their home venue.

Above all of these possible problems though stand two things that are likely connected. Does Brisbane's playing group have the hunger it has shown for the previous five years?

Hugh McCluggage looks dejected after Brisbane's loss to Hawthorn in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

And by extension, is this at least partly the reason quite a few individuals – which we'll get to later – have struggled to find their best form?

No team has consistently gone as deep into September as the Lions since 2019, so perhaps that absolute desire to run one more rep, lift one more weight, lay one more block for a teammate or sprint one more time down the wing without getting the ball to open space for a teammate just isn't there.

It only takes three of four players to be slightly off to bring the whole system down.

Only the players can quantify how desperate they are in EVERY time, but the loss to Hawthorn on Sunday was an indication that intensity and workrate weren't quite at the level needed.

Reasons for optimism?

There's still 12 matches remaining, and while time is becoming a factor, there's still plenty of opportunities to make a run to finals and beyond.

The Lions will likely have to win eight, or possibly nine, games to force their way into the top eight.

Lachie Schultz tackles Lachie Neale during Collingwood's clash with Brisbane in round three, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

As the ladder currently stands, they play six teams inside the top eight, and four of those are at the Gabba. In other words, if they can approximate the level of play reached during most of 2023 and parts of 2024, the chance is there to make a run.

Bailey returned from an ankle injury before the bye and Starcevich is due back either straight after it against the Western Bulldogs or the following week against St Kilda.

And even more encouraging is the pending return of Will Ashcroft from his knee reconstruction, which the club hopes will be somewhere in the vicinity of round 16 to 18.

The best version of these players, which is unfair to expect of Ashcroft after 12 months out of the game, significantly boosts Brisbane's chances.

However, out of the frustration of the season to date has come some gold nuggets. With such a settled and successful team over the previous five years, Fagan has had little reason to experiment with the talent below.

This year has been different.

Kai Lohman has proven he is ready to impact at AFL level and deserves to play every week. Bruce Reville has shown he is up to the level, with a right foot kick that gives him a chance to have a major impact.


Logan Morris, the 31st pick in last year's draft, is only slightly built as a leading forward, but his ability to take his chances and his clear 'football brain' have been a standout.

Harry Sharp and Shadeau Brain have also had nice moments in limited opportunities.

The bottom line is Brisbane has some depth that Fagan should now be less hesitant to use, knowing they can help in the immediate and not just be seen as project, or development, players.

What – and who – has to improve?

Nice contributions from fringe players are all well and good, but for Brisbane to have any chance in 2024, it needs its top-liners to fire, both individually and collectively.

Harris Andrews would be in All-Australian consideration at the moment, Lachie Neale is having another fine season and Dayne Zorko has been wonderful in taking over from Coleman at half-back.

Harris Andrews and Tom Berry challenge for the ball during round eight, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

Ryan Lester and Darcy Wilmot also get huge ticks, Josh Dunkley has been solid, while Jarrod Berry and Jack Payne have been terrific following slow starts.

It's the next tier of players that need to find form. And fast.

Charlie Cameron has been the best small forward in the competition since moving from Adelaide to the Lions, but his radar is way off this season.

He's kicked 50 or more goals in four of the past five seasons, and while his current tally of 18 is not terrible, it's his clear lack of finishing and polish that is so startling.

Cameron is converting at just 42 per cent this season, down from 58, 59 and 54 per cent respectively the past three years. His smile and joy are infectious for the Lions and need to return.

Charlie Cameron and Mac Andrew during the round eight match between Brisbane and Gold Coast at The Gabba, May 5, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Cam Rayner is another well below his best. The former No.1 draft pick is now in his seventh season, and after finishing fifth in the best and fairest last year, looked ready to take a big step.

It has been a big step – backwards. Rayner was best on ground in the Lions' most commanding win over the season against Melbourne, but aside from two or three other cameos, has struggled to impact.

Eight goals in 11 matches tells just part of the story. It's fair to ask whether the likeable 24-year-old will reach his undoubted potential. A rundown tackle, a crumb-and-snap-around-the-body, a big block to free up a teammate – they're all things that lift those around him that we've rarely seen in 2024.

Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood are often in the firing line and have done little so far to silence the questions.

Daniher was in the 44-man All-Australian squad last year, but is well below that level now. Not just his wayward goalkicking (41 per cent, down from 53 and 52 the past two years), but his contested marking.

Joe Daniher in action during Brisbane's clash against Hawthorn in round 11, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Last season he clunked 44 contested marks to be top 10 in the League, whereas this season he has just six to date.

Hipwood, who was absent from the Hawks loss through suspension, does a lot of grunt work with his up-and-back running and contesting long kicks along the boundary line, just hasn't been able to impact individually or bring his teammates into the game often enough.

Hugh McCluggage, who is out of contract and one of the competition's biggest-name free agents, has not consistently been at his best, while Bailey, Starcevich and Conor McKenna would all expect more of themselves.

Brisbane has the best inside-50 differential in the competition, but a combination of sloppy ball movement, individual struggles forward of the ball, and poor goalkicking, have resulted in lower-than-normal outputs.

So, will Brisbane emulate the deeds of Carlton, GWS and Sydney of 12 months ago, or peter out to miss the finals for the first time since 2018?