FOR BRISBANE to reach its ceiling, it needs the version of Eric Hipwood that played the Western Bulldogs last Saturday night.

Not necessarily the version that kicked five goals, but the one that took contested marks, worried his opponent into giving away free kicks and kept his man accountable to ensure space for his skilled teammates. 

01:09 Mins
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It's a version the Lions have struggled to get week after week but are slowly starting to see more of.

Essendon great Matthew Lloyd recently said the combination of Hipwood and Dan McStay was the "big question" remaining in Brisbane's premiership credentials.

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The midfield is as good as any in the competition, and the Harris Andrews-led defence is both reliable and creative. 

McStay is having an underrated season as the bash-and-crash, mark-down-the-line option. Despite kicking just six goals in eight games, he's taken 13 contested marks and is an important cog in the Lions' machine. 

Hipwood is the man that can take Brisbane to another level, though.

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Critics look at the Lions' fellow premiership fancies in Port Adelaide, West Coast, Geelong and Richmond and eye off their big forwards. 

Charlie Dixon at Port, Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling at West Coast, Tom Hawkins at Geelong, and Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt at Richmond. 

All have proven they can take over matches regularly and bail their teams out of trouble if there's not much else happening.

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Hipwood has the ability to do that, but he's a different beast – and he's comfortable with it. 

"If we're scoring goals and I'm contributing and we're winning, I'm happy with that," Hipwood said. 

"We've got so much scoring power, we're not reliant on one person." 

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That is true. All Australian Charlie Cameron was the club's leading goalkicker in 2019 and is again this season, while McStay, Hipwood, Cam Rayner, Lincoln McCarthy and Dayne Zorko are all capable of big days. 

The Bulldogs' flag of 2016 and the Tigers' of 2017 were built on multi-faceted forward lines without one main man. 

In last year's semi-final loss to Greater Western Sydney, the 203cm Hipwood had an excellent game, kicking 3.2, but what will be remembered is the final quarter where Phil Davis and Nick Haynes zoned off, taking intercept mark after intercept mark. 

I'm an optimistic person ... I want the next kick and the next shot to redeem myself.

- Eric Hipwood

Hipwood worked hard during the pre-season on his contested marking with Luke Hodge and Alastair Lynch, and there's been glimpses of it this season, most notably some important late grabs against Steven May in a tight win over Melbourne. 

What the Sunshine Coast product can do better than most his size is lead his opponent up the ground and double back quicker, much like he did against the Bulldogs for his first goal last week. 

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"I'm more predictable and reliable to my teammates than in previous years, beating my opponent … when the ball's kicked on my head my teammates know I'm going to make a contest or mark it," he said. 

"I really pride myself on not getting outmarked.

"When I review my game, I really look at how many intercept marks my opponent has taken. 

"I've been really optimistic about my season. 

"One thing that has hindered me is my goalkicking accuracy, sometimes it's been poor. 

"It has been a little inconsistent, I'm the first to recognise that. I'm an optimistic person and want the ball in my hands all the time. I want the next kick and the next shot to redeem myself."

Hipwood is just 22. Saturday's match against North Melbourne will be the 87th of his career, missing just three times since his 2016 debut.

Compared to other key forwards of his draft, Hipwood is miles ahead, kicking 129 goals from his 86 matches.

From his 2015 draft class, Josh Schache, Sam Weideman, Harry McKay, Charlie Curnow and Harry Himmelberg were also taken as key forwards. 

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Of that list Himmelberg (89 from 76 games) has kicked the most goals, and Curnow, who has been feted elsewhere before injury caught hold of him, kicked 77 from 58 games.

None has a better ratio than Hipwood, and none has been as durable. 

Even go back a year to the 2014 draft, which included Paddy McCartin, Peter Wright and Jeremy Finlayson, who have all gone at a lower rate for various reasons.

"The thinking is big key forwards have to be big in finals," Hipwood said.

"I don't believe that necessarily – it's a team performance, it doesn't come down to one individual, if you do, it's not a successful formula.

"If I'm beating my man and 17 other blokes are doing the same, we'll be in good shape." 

Eric Hipwood flies for a mark against Essendon in round nine. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

It's a mindset that comes from coach Chris Fagan. Brisbane is the highest scoring team in the competition doing things its own way. 

"It's obviously always good if forwards can kick a few goals, it doesn't hurt their confidence, but that's not the expectation every week," Fagan said. 

"My theory has always been you need to rely on more than your key forwards to do the scoring for you.

"I think the more diverse sources you have for scoring, the better, the harder you are to stop."