IT'S ONE of the quirkiest stats of this season, one that defies logic and at the same time is testament to Brisbane's coaching staff and players.

Reigning Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale has missed seven games through injury and illness this year – and the Lions are a perfect 7-0 in his absence.

Neale is just one of 22 players on game day, so perhaps it should not come as such a shock, but the odds of a clean slate without the competition's best player from 2020 would still be long.

LADDER PREDICTOR Where will your club finish?

As captain Dayne Zorko said when Neale underwent ankle surgery in April: "We're not really a Lachie Neale midfield-based team."

How has Brisbane done it?

The first place to look is how the midfield operates when Neale is not there.

Brisbane's Lachie Neale celebrates a goal against North Melbourne in R14 on June 19, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Brisbane regularly replaces 'like for like' in any team changes it makes. It keeps things simple for the other 21 players.

When Jarrod Berry was sidelined with groin problems, Deven Robertson came in to play as a defensive-minded midfielder who could also spend time on the wing and at half-forward.

When Eric Hipwood suffered a ruptured ACL, it was Tom Fullarton who came in to keep three tall forwards on the field.

And when Neale has been absent, it's Rhys Mathieson who has come in every time to play that inside midfield role.

00:44 Mins
Published on

Fiery Mathieson lets Baker know all about it

Fireworks spark after Rhys Mathieson celebrates his goal right in the face of Liam Baker

Published on

It's just one moving part, rather than many.

Along with Therabody AFL All-Australian contender Jarryd Lyons, Zorko and reliable ruckman Oscar McInerney, Neale is the hub of the Lions' centre bounce set-up.

In the seven games Neale has missed, Mathieson has plugged in seamlessly, attending in excess of 50 per cent of centre bounces, more than any Lion apart from the trio listed above.

Lachie Neale hurts his shoulder against Geelong in R14, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Robertson has been the next cab off the rank in the middle, before Berry's recent return, with Hugh McCluggage and Zac Bailey spending similar minutes onball regardless of Neale's attendance.

Brisbane has lost the centre clearance count just once in the seven games and is an average plus-three each game in that statistic.

The overall clearances have been a huge success, winning six of seven times by an average of eight a game - that's a huge head start for any team.

It's not as if one player takes on extra responsibility either.

BROWNLOW PREDICTOR Who's leading the race for Charlie?

Lyons averages 29 disposals a game with Neale by his side, and 29 without.

Zorko averages 23 with Neale and 26 without, while McCluggage is 25 with and 25 without.

The strength of opposition also has to be considered.

Neale missed five matches from round seven to 11 after undergoing surgery for a syndesmosis injury, missed again in round 16 with a calf niggle, and again at the weekend with illness.

00:55 Mins
Published on

Lions pair go down in first quarter

Darcy Gardiner has been subbed out early with concussion while Lachie Neale suffered a potential ankle injury, both in the opening term

Published on

During that time Brisbane has beaten Port Adelaide, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Richmond, Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and his former club the Dockers for a second time.

Port is the only top-four team in that list, but the Tigers, Giants and Dockers were all inside the eight when the Lions faced them.

That's a solid list of teams.

Brisbane is unquestionably a better team with its champion midfielder, more dynamic and harder to defend, but it has proven that whichever combination is on the field it will be hard to defeat.