SUNDAY'S heartbreaking loss to Richmond put a big question mark over Brisbane's premiership credentials, but the Lions are far from done and should maintain a strong belief they can play on the last Saturday in September.
It might just require a few small tweaks over the coming weeks.
The blueprint was there in the first half against the Tigers, racing to a seven-goal lead on the back of winning contests, defending ferociously, and getting the ball to their dangerous forwards quickly.
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But as has happened so often in 2022, when Richmond swung momentum, Brisbane had few answers, conceding 10 goals to three after the main break (and 18 scoring shots to 10).
After an 8-1 start to the season, the Lions have won just five of their past 10 and now sit outside the top four.
Hanging over all of this is the dark cloud of one finals victory from six attempts, ramping up doubts from both pundits and the club's supporter base about how this team can get over the hump and make a deep run into September.
It presents coach Chris Fagan with possibly the toughest questions he's had to answer in his highly successful reign to date, but as he likes to say himself, it presents a great opportunity for his team.
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With matches against Carlton, St Kilda and Melbourne to round out its home and away season, what has to happen for Brisbane to re-assert itself in the premiership hunt?
Defend, defend, defend
And we're not talking just the back six here, which has seen 14 different faces the past month and should be back to full strength with Daniel Rich and Brandon Starcevich returning against Carlton. Brisbane's leaky defence starts with its forwards and midfielders. As stats provided by Champion Data show, the Lions are too easy to score against. Since their inconsistent streak started in round 10, they've conceded a score from 10 per cent of the opposition's rebound 50 chains, which is ranked 13th in the AFL. They're also ranked 13th in scores conceded from turnovers and 16th for conceding a score from opposition inside 50s. Brisbane has arguably the most talented forward line in the competition, but do they work hard enough without the ball? Who's sacrificing their chance at kicking a goal to be front-and-square and apply defensive pressure? Charlie Cameron leads the League for tackles inside 50, so who's coming with him? Watch when Brisbane turns the ball over as forwards and midfielders get beaten by their opponents, leaving defenders isolated. All 18 have a responsibility and all 18 need to improve.
Be brave at the selection table
One of Fagan's greatest strengths, possibly his greatest, is his loyalty to his players. Once you've earned his trust, you don't lose it. That has led to great continuity, with a core group of 25-30 players doing the bulk of the work in four terrific seasons. However, over the past 10 weeks, a few of his trusted soldiers (in the footy sense) should be testing his patience. Mitch Robinson has already been dropped twice this season and is starting to show the signs of his combative 244-game career. Jarryd Lyons – unbelievable with three top-four best and fairest finishes since joining late in 2018 – has dropped off, particularly in the past nine weeks. His role has slightly changed with Rhys Mathieson's inclusion recently. One of Brisbane's primary ball-winners simply isn't winning it as his usual rate. Reliable defender Darcy Gardiner has been below his best. Fellow experienced players need to lift as well, but Fagan and his match committee might need to be brave at selection and make some big calls. The credits in the bank last only so long.
Leadership in big moments
Not as easy to measure, but most people know it when they see it. When the game is on the line, who is standing up to win that one-on-two contested ball, taking that intercept mark, executing that rundown tackle or kicking that crucial goal under pressure? Who's getting their hands dirty during tight moments in big games? Like Trent Cotchin, Joel Selwood, Taylor Adams or Luke Parker. Captain Dayne Zorko, vice-captain Harris Andrews and six other players have official leadership roles at the club. Lachie Neale produced a scintillating patch following four quick Lance Franklin goals in round seven to steady the ship. Not enough of the leaders have seized those moments, particularly on the road in big matches against Fremantle, Melbourne and Richmond. There'll be plenty of chances before season's end.
Brisbane's gameplan works – emphatically. You don't win 58 of your past 80 home and away games without a great plan and great execution. But against the absolute elite, things aren't always on your own terms, as they weren't against the Tigers. Whether it's the coaching panel or the on-ground leadership, things are sometimes slow to change. Whether that's slowing the ball movement down to take the opposition crowd's energy away (which the Lions tried for a few minutes in the second half on Sunday), bringing an extra player up to stoppages to help create an advantage or at least a repeat ball-up, or even using a player to tag an opponent cutting loose. The Lions have done all of these things in spurts, and to good effect, but whether it's one or all of the above, it'll be crucial to nail in the big matches.
After top four finishes in each of the past three seasons, the Lions are judged to a higher standard now.
They're one of, if not the, most exciting teams to watch in the competition, and still the highest scoring.
But how 2022 is remembered will be judged on how things go in September, which the final three rounds can lay a platform for.
Defending ferociously, all over the ground, is the starting point. The coach has some big selection decisions ahead and the on-field leaders some big moments to grab, but the Lions aren't far off and can still give the premiership one hell of a shake.