BRISBANE has ruled Darcy Gardiner out of its round one team to play Sydney as the reliable defender continues to rehabilitate from knee surgery.

Gardiner was a late withdrawal from the preliminary final loss to Geelong in October and the knee injury has lingered longer than the Lions first thought.

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Coach Chris Fagan told the training mishap that initially caused bone bruising eventually led to exploratory surgery and a small clean-up last month.

"We thought he was going to be right for the Grand Final if we were able to get through the prelim," Fagan said.

"Right at the moment it doesn't look like he'll be right for round one."

Gardiner has developed into one of Brisbane's most crucial players, able to defend either taller or smaller players than his 193cm frame.

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The 25-year-old has finished in the top-10 of the past three best and fairests, is part of the club's leadership group and has formed a terrific partnership alongside dual All Australian Harris Andrews (pictured).

"He's a heart and soul player," Fagan said. 

"I expect him to be available by round two or round three, but we've just got to get the running loads into him.

"We could put Darcy out there and he'll play with all the heart he usually plays with, but we want to make sure he's had enough running into his legs before we do that."

Youngster Jack Payne, who performed admirably as a late replacement against the Cats, and fit-again Marcus Adams are both starving for opportunities.