WHEN Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko speaks to players from other clubs, there's one Lion they're particularly interested in.

"They ask what Rhys Mathieson is like because they can't stand him on field," Zorko told AFL.com.au.

For a player who recently ticked past his 50th game in his sixth season, Mathieson is a fascination to opponents and supporters both near and far.

Put simply, 'The Beast' is loved by his teammates and hated by almost everyone else.

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Take Brisbane's round 10 victory over Richmond for example, the game where Mathieson got into some back-and-forth with Tiger Liam Baker after kicking a 50m goal.

The usually unflappable Dustin Martin wasn't impressed, coming in to say a few words, and nor was Mathieson bothered, happy to chirp back to the superstar.

You didn't have to look too hard on social media following the incident to get a grasp of what Richmond fans thought of the 24-year-old.

It's nothing new to Mathieson.

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From the moment he won six free kicks for high tackles in his 2016 debut against Melbourne, he's been a man in the opposition crosshairs.

"I don't go out there to try and get under the skin of opponents, that's for sure," Mathieson said.

"The emotions of the game I probably get caught up in, and I don't mind throwing a bit of lip here and there, but I don't go out there to do that at all.

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"I know our fans love it, I know the opposition fans probably don't love it.

"I don't mean any disrespect by it. I love the game of footy and that's just the way I play.

"I'm just real passionate about the club and where we're going and want to show our supporters that I care about playing for the Brisbane Lions."

Brisbane's Rhys Mathieson chats with Richmond's Dustin Martin during the round 10 match on May 21, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Like most things in life, it's not black and white when it comes to the Lions' No.36.

What you see for two hours over the weekend is vastly different to the man away from the cameras.

On the field you get a rough, rugged, competitive midfielder who loves nothing more than to engage in physical combat. Mathieson calls it playing with passion.

Off it, you get someone revered by teammates, someone who ran water for the reserves the day after playing AFL, someone who leaves his (or house-owning landlord Charlie Cameron's) front door open for team dinners, and someone who brings energy to the whole list whether he's playing seniors or not.

"You ask him to do something, he just does it. He doesn't ask questions, he just does it. He's a phenomenal human."

- Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko

Zorko said for his physicality on the field and his empathy off it, Mathieson is arguably the most crucial cultural cog on the list.

"He's a leader in his own way," Zorko said.

"He gets the vibe of the group really well. If he senses we're a bit flat, he'll bring that energy, but if he senses we're 'up', he'll take a back seat.

"He's here for the club, he's not here for his own individual brand or accolades, he's here simply for the club to do well and succeed.

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"You ask him to do something, he just does it. He doesn't ask questions, he just does it. He's a phenomenal human."

Mathieson has had every reason to get frustrated in the past two seasons.

He was an emergency more than 10 times in 2020 and cracked the top team just once, but Zorko said that's almost where his greatest strength lies – his ability to push aside personal disappointment and keep the collective as his priority.

After being the medical sub in round one this season, Mathieson travelled as an emergency to play Geelong in round two, when Brisbane was forced to stay in Melbourne for two additional weeks.

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It meant he got no VFL practice matches – while the Lions' reserves remained in Brisbane – and consequently slipped down the pecking order by the time injuries opened up spots in the seniors.

"I can't think of someone who's been an emergency so many times, yet doesn't complain, gets around the boys and does everything you possibly could to help prepare us and get us in the right frame of mind," Zorko said.

"I'm sure there's one of at every club and Rhys is the man for us."

Away from the field, Mathieson is a man of simple pleasures.

He owns a growing collection of old cars he loves to restore, including his pride and joy – a 1964 Mustang.

He loves to host pasta nights for teammates, trades off barbecuing tips with young forward Tom Fullarton and is a regular 'fan' at basketball, cricket and rugby league matches.

"I've been in and out of the team, so I've been really close with some of the VFL boys and the ones still developing and obviously really close with the 22 in the AFL," he said.

"I know what it's like on both sides. I've grown up around footy, I consider myself a bit of a footy head, so I like to get out there and help in any way.

"I just love being around the 47, 48 blokes in our locker room."

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Mathieson is a family man at heart.

He bought a house for his parents just north of Brisbane that they're due to move into any day.

He says it'll be great having them closer to him and allow him to get "a bit more work done on the cars and a few more tinnies with the old boy".


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Back on the field, Mathieson knows he lives on the fringe of Brisbane's best team, but it won't affect his mindset or the way he plays.

"I look at that club as my family," he said.

"I feel like I can play at the level.

"To get my chance and to show the boys and coaches what I can do for the team and bring a different edge is important to me."

Next time an opponent asks Zorko what Mathieson is really like, he'll answer the same way he always does: "We love him".