THE RAIN came and so did Brisbane's form on Saturday night, as the Lions returned to something approaching their best with a 57-point win over Essendon.
After a patchy first month, Brisbane got back to the hunting, surging, aggressive team that reached last year's preliminary final to win 15.12 (102) to 6.9 (45).
There were winners all over a Gabba surface that was deluged by 25mm of rain in the first half.
Former Bomber Joe Daniher was all the talk during the week and he did not disappoint, while Brownlow medalist Lachie Neale got back on track with his best game of the season.
LIONS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Daniher kicked two goals, one spectacular effort in the third quarter, from 25 disposals, mixing clever forward craft, a high work-rate and valuable back-up ruck minutes.
Neale was simply brilliant.
After battling back problems the past few weeks, Neale was clean in the slippery conditions, rarely fumbling in his 38 disposals. He also kicked two goals.
Daniel Rich had a night to remember, gaining an astonishing 906m from 30 disposals that included 27 kicks, while Hugh McCluggage (32) also vied for the best player afield, adding a goal to his night's work.
Brisbane set the tone in the opening quarter, kicking four unanswered goals as the rain poured.
The defensive pressure was as good as its been in 2021, and although the midfield was being outplayed by the Bombers around the stoppages, there was nothing easy for the visitors.
McCluggage nailed Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti with a vice-like tackle in the middle of the ground and found Eric Hipwood with a lovely pass to highlight Brisbane's intensity.
Third-gamer Jaxon Prior brought the 23,544 home fans to their feet, kicking his first career goal in the second quarter, and adding another in the third with a brilliant left-foot snap.
Lincoln McCarthy and Jarryd Lyons were also brilliant for the winners.
It was a tough night for Essendon, who worked hard, but rarely looked dangerous.
Cale Hooker kicked four goals, while Zac Merrett, Darcy Parish and Andy McGrath all won plenty of ball.
Mac is Back
After missing the first four rounds with a knee injury, Dan McStay looked right at home in Brisbane's forward line in his first game of the season. He kicked the game's first goal after a strong overhead mark and added a second before the first change with a kick off the ground from close range. McStay is an ideal complement to Daniher and Hipwood with his ability to roam further afield and link the midfield to the forward line.
Injury blows for both teams
Neither team escaped unscathed from the night. Essendon's best and fairest winner from last year, Jordan Ridley, did not see out the first half, taken off during the second quarter with concussion. The mandatory 12-day protocol will keep him out of the Anzac Day match against Collingwood. Brisbane played the final quarter-and-a-half without winger Jarrod Berry, who left the field with an adductor problem.
Rich night for Daniel
Coach Chris Fagan lamented his team's poor ball movement against the Western Bulldogs last week, but that was rectified to some extent tonight – largely by Daniel Rich. The veteran defender was a constant source of supply, gathering 30 disposals and using his lethal left boot 27 times. Essendon continually let Rich gather handball receives, putting Brisbane on the front foot all night. His 906m was a defender's work of art.
BRISBANE 4.2 7.5 12.6 15.12 (102)
ESSENDON 0.3 1.5 4.6 6.9 (45)
Brisbane: Hipwood 3, McStay 2, Daniher 2, Prior 2, McCarthy 2, Neale 2, Cameron, McCluggage
Essendon: Hooker 4, Stringer, McDonald-Tipungwuti
Brisbane: McCluggage, Rich, Neale, McCarthy, Andrews, Lyons
Essendon: McGrath, Parish, Merrett, Hooker
Brisbane: J.Berry (adductor)
Essendon: Ridley (concussion)
Brisbane: T.Berry (replaced J.Berry)
Essendon: Guelfi (replaced Ridley)
Crowd: 23,544 at the Gabba