BRISBANE coach Chris Fagan is preparing to unveil a new-look midfield in 2022 as he seeks to return the Lions to a Toyota AFL Grand Final.

Gun youngsters Cam Rayner and Zac Bailey will be given opportunities to become permanent onballers, a situation which would require positional shifts for established midfield stars Lachie Neale, the 2020 Brownlow medallist, and Jarryd Lyons.

Rayner will be returning from a knee injury which ruled him out of all of 2021, while Bailey's form in the past two years has already entrenched him among the AFL's prospective next-big-things.

In a wide-ranging interview with, Fagan also revealed that:

  • Despite a second straight sets exit from finals in three years, the 2021 season was a source of pride and would contribute to the building of a "premiership profile"
  • The prodigiously talented Keidean Coleman, who was among the Lions' best in their two finals of 2021 (losses to eventual Grand Finalists Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs), would be given a chance to settle in the backline
  • Journeyman ruck recruit Darcy Fort would be given every opportunity to establish his credentials as a permanent back-up to Oscar McInerney
  • A breathing coach had been employed by the club as a "one-percenter" project he hoped would equip his players to combat fatigue and stress in key matchday moments
  • He "craved and embraced" the pressure attached to coaching a club with premiership expectations

Entering his sixth season in charge of the Lions, Fagan said Rayner had learned plenty about the game in his year away from playing.

"He is very, very fit and his strength and power in there (the midfield) is a real asset to us and complements the other players we have got in there," Fagan said.

"He was ready to do that last year. It seems to me he has used the last 12 months to learn more about the game, get himself fitter, and the hunger is there. Cam and Eric Hipwood, who we lost in round 16, what I love about those two is that they are spirit players, they believe that anything is possible. They provide great energy on the field and to have those two coming back this year is really exciting."

Lions Zac Bailey (left) and Cam Rayner share a laugh during the 2022 team photo day. Picture: AFL Photos

On Bailey's ascension, including more time in the midfield, Fagan said: "It’s a good discussion we have been having with our midfield group – there is no doubt the likes of Jarrod Berry, (Hugh) McCluggage, Bailey, Rayner, those types of guys, (Nakia) Cockatoo as well, can play in there, and they bring different attributes.

"Lachie and JL, we have had chats about that, and they understand their roles will change a little bit. We are confident those guys can contribute in other parts of the ground as well, and the good part about that group of players is that they are all good forwards. They can all score. We just have to work out ways to use that tremendous asset we have against opposition teams. Lachie and JL understand. They are here to win premierships, not to win individual awards, and they know it is going to take all of us to do that, not just a few.

"Probably JL is probably more of a forward, and Lachie is a pretty handy player out on the wing, as well as a forward, so we have a few different options there."

Lions coach Chris Fagan and Lachie Neale during training on February 2, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

The Lions lost qualifying and semi-finals in 2021 respectively to the Demons and Bulldogs, the latter by one point, which was the second time in three years the club had exited finals, from a top-four starting position, with consecutive losses (GWS defeated it in a 2019 semi-final by three points).

But season-ending injuries to Rayner and Hipwood, as well as further injuries in the finals series, left Fagan comfortable that his team courageously combatted adversity.

"We have been less than a goal away from three prelims in a row, which in this competition is outstanding form and we've just taken a growth mindset with everything since the day I started here," Fagan said.

It was a three-month period where we were playing great football, premiership-style football. We didn't have a lot of luck with injuries but left the season bullish because we had more adversity than we had ever faced

- Chris Fagan

"That's what we are doing with the experiences over the past three years. If our list was old, I'd be worried too. But we have been able to achieve those three finals appearances with what last year was the fourth youngest list, as was the case the previous year, and before that the second youngest list. So in some ways we have been able to defy what is supposed to happen in footy and I feel like we are in a great window coming up and have already had some great learning experiences just getting here that should stand us in good stead.

"I think 2021 was the best that we had played and I suppose there was a period of time between round five and 16 where we had most of our team available. It was a three-month period where we were playing great football, premiership-style football. We didn't have a lot of luck with injuries but left the season bullish because we had more adversity than we had ever faced before. I walked away from the season really proud of our players. They worked incredibly hard, showed they could have their backs to the wall and find a way. That's all part of building a premiership profile, I think."

On the difference between walking into the Lions at the end of 2016 and the entry to 2022, Fagan said: "It is a different pressure, early days the pressure was to win a game, now it's to win finals and premierships. It is good that that is where we are at. If we weren't, somebody else might be coaching the Brisbane Lions right now. That pressure is something you crave and embrace and look forward to."