Home » ‘They’re back’: ‘Hungry’ Lions dismantle ‘flat’ Dees… but touchy acts have AFL world in a spin

‘They’re back’: ‘Hungry’ Lions dismantle ‘flat’ Dees… but touchy acts have AFL world in a spin

This is the type of ruthless performance that has the potential to truly ignite Brisbane’s 2024 campaign.

The Lions — one of the biggest disappointments across the first month of the AFL season — on Thursday night sent an almighty statement to the competition, dismantling a lethargic and hapless Melbourne at the MCG — the venue the Lions have perennially struggled at under Chris Fagan.

The Demons were held to just three goals across the first three quarters as Brisbane applied relentless pressure, thumped their opponents at the coalface and denied them easy uncontested marks.

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Melbourne found offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter to boot five goals, but it was ultimately too little, too late as the Lions ran out 22-point winners, 12.10 (82) to 8.12 (60).

Cam Rayner played the game of his life, finishing with 25 disposals, 14 contested possessions, 10 inside 50s and nine clearances, while Hugh McCluggage booted two majors from 23 disposals.

Captain Max Gawn seemingly played a lonehand for the Demons, with Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver having little impact on the game and Melbourne’s forward line failing to fire.

It was the Lions’ first game back at the MCG since the 2023 Grand Final. They had lost 15 of their previous 16 games at the venue, but the lone win was over Melbourne in their 2022 semi-final.

It was also a night to remember for Lachie Neale, who celebrated his 250th AFL game in style.

Melbourne defender Christian Salem’s frustrating run of injuries and illness continued with a suspected serious hamstring injury early in the first term. Salem limped off only eight minutes into the match and went straight down the race with a right foot concern. He was replaced immediately by substitute Taj Woewodin, who was forced into an unfamiliar role at half-back.


There were no late changes for either side despite concerns of mounting niggles for Clayton Oliver, with Taj Woewodin (Melbourne) and James Tunstill (Brisbane) the subs.

After an early stoppage fiesta — there were eight stoppages in the first minute and a half of the game — the Dees struck first with a beautiful passage of play from a stoppage that led to a goal to Alex Neal-Bullen.

Brisbane then got the quick reply, with Eric Hipwood kicking truly from a set-shot directly in front.

There was a concerning sight five minutes into the game when star Melbourne defender Christian Salem limped off in the hands of trainers. He was then subbed out of the game with a hamstring injury, with Woewodin injected into the game.

And when Steven May gave away a 50m penalty to gift Joe Daniher a goal, the Lions held a seven-point lead.

“This is highly encouraging for Brisbane,” Channel 7’s Alister Nicholson said.

Hipwood responded to a Bayley Fritsch goal with his second major before Daniher added his second as the Lions’ tall forwards fired early to give their side a 14-point quarter-time lead.

Maligned Lion Cameron Rayner had an epic first term, racking up 12 disposals, seven contested possessions, seven inside 50s, six clearances and two goal assists.

There was a touchy moment late in the first quarter, with Charlie Cameron penalised for a dangerous tackle on Melbourne’s Jake Lever. The tackle is likely to draw scrutiny from the Match Review Officer.

A clever goal from Jasper Fletcher followed by a Hugh McCluggage major gave the Lions the ideal start to the second term. And when Cameron booted his first goal, the Lions had established a 32-point lead.

The Dees were held goalless for the entire second quarter, with Brisbane holding a 30-point lead at the major break.

Dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna said the Dees “looked flat” in the first half, while four-time premiership Hawk Jason Dunstall said “something has clicked” for Brisbane.

“This isn’t the Brisbane that we’ve seen over the first month of the season,” Dunstall told Fox Footy.

“The work they’re doing around stoppages has been absolutely outstanding, but it’s more than that. They’re well organised behind the ball, the forwards are leading and giving good contests and kicking the goals that should be kicked.”

Fox Footy’s David King added Brisbane’s Chris Fagan had “smashed them (the Dees) in the coaches’ box with a mid-week plan that has come up trumps”.

Kade Chandler broke Melbourne’s goal drought at the start of the third term, nailing a tight set-shot kick. But goals to Kai Lohmann and Hugh McCluggage not only steadied the Lions, but extended their lead to 38 points.

A poor inside 50 kick from Christian Petracca followed by a horror handball from Clayton Oliver — which led to Cameron’s second goal — summed up the Demons’ night, with the Lions heading into three quarter-time with a 43-point advantage.

“Their hunger is back, their all-round game is back and it looks like they’re back as a team,” Montagna said.

“We all expected this of Brisbane coming into this season. Maybe they can build of this and get some really strong momentum.”

Demons forward Ben Brown plucked a mark at the start of the fourth quarter then converted his set-shot to trim the Lions’ lead to 37 points. But Zac Bailey responded less than a minute later with a major for Brisbane.

And when Cameron burst away from Lever to run into an open goal and boot his third, a Lions win was secured.

The night was somewhat soured between late Max Gawn and Jacob van Rooyen goals when Noah Answerth was seen mocking Harry Petty after the latter missed a shot at goal. It comes just under two years after an emotional Petty was consoled by Melbourne coaches, officials and players during a three quarter-time break after a fracas involving Dayne Zorko in a clash between the same two teams.

THE 3-2-1 … (with Will Faulkner)


While many fans and observers would naturally give game day credit to the 23 players on the victorious side, it cannot be understated just how well Chris Fagan planned for this interstate venture to the MCG.

The Lions absolutely dominated the Demons in almost every facet in a performance that has well and truly put Fagan’s men back on the finals map.

Their authority was everywhere, with more disposals (along with significantly better efficiency), inside 50s, clearances, contested possessions and, crucially, uncontested marks.

The most damning of those stats perhaps, was the tackle differential – 83-52 in favour of the Lions, which is incredible given they had the ball 63 more times than the Demons.

Speaking at half-time on Fox Footy’s coverage of the match, North Melbourne dual premiership player David King sent ample praise the Brisbane coach’s way.

“Let’s give him some credit, because Chris Fagan I think cops a lot of whacks for the tactical side of the game – maybe not being as adventurous and advanced as some other clubs,” an honest King commented.

“Tonight, he has smashed (Melbourne) in the coaches box – this midweek plan they’ve come up with has come up trumps.”

The trip to the MCG was no doubt a daunting one for Brisbane, given the combination of their 1-3 record and terrible history at the sporting colosseum.

The Lions had won just one of their last 16 matches at the MCG before tonight, with the record spanning just shy of 10 years.

Even more crucially though, many pundits held massive question marks over their form, given their only win to date was a drubbing of North Melbourne in Gather Round.

Nonetheless, the Lions looked every bit of their 2023 selves, with King highlighting post-match that the end margin of 22 points was nowhere near indicative of their performance.

“Don’t worry about the scoreline at the end, it felt like an eight-goal margin… to me it all comes down to coaching tonight, he set them on the path very early, and they all came and played their role,” King exclaimed.

“They brained them everywhere – this is as close to a complete performance that you will see.”


Occasionally labelled as a player who underperforms compared to his highly touted talent, Cam Rayner absolutely blitzed Melbourne to put them in a state of shock.

In a first quarter that saw a game-high 12 disposals at 91 per cemt efficiency, Rayner looked unstoppable in his pursuit for an away Brisbane win.

His six clearances and seven inside 50s at the first break were so high many would have had to look twice.

So large was the 24-year-old’s impact that his seven entries inside Brisbane’s attacking arc and half a dozen clearances in the first quarter equalled his career-high for a full game.

Speaking at half-time of Fox Footy’s coverage, Leigh Montagna was full of praise for the No. 1 pick from the 2017 National Draft.

“His first half’s been awesome – and he’s needed to step up, because we’ve spoken about how much of the heavy lifting Lachie Neale does,” Montagna stated.

“Cam Rayner’s first half has been as good a half as he’s played… I’ve just loved the way he’s gone about it.

“It’s been what we’ve been hoping to see from Cam Rayner for a long time; he’s got talent… (he’s) never really shown it for me as a full-on midfielder – but if he can continue this sort of form, watch out!”

The Lion finished the game with 25 disposals, 10 inside 50s, nine clearances and seven score involvements.

While Rayner naturally didn’t keep up the incline of stats from his first quarter, his first half burst was enough to play a significant part in putting the Demons beyond the back foot for the rest of the match.

Speaking post-game to Fox Footy, Rayner briefly spoke through how he found so much of the ball at the start of the game.

“I started the game, got a little bit of the ball and said: ‘I’m just going to stay in here for the first quarter!” Rayner jokingly said.

The mid-forward also felt satisfied with the whole team performance his side put in all night.

“To come out and actually perform and put it (their plans) into action was really, really pleasing – it’s a great step froward from the last month or so,” Rayner said.


Needless to say, while the Lions played so well, the Demons played so horribly.

The writing was perhaps on the wall just minutes into the match when defender Christian Salem hobbled off the ground with a suspected medium-to-high grade hamstring tear.

While his unfortunate injury was in the hands of only the footy Gods, the performances from some of their senior players were not.

Key utility Harrison Petty didn’t register his first disposal until halfway through the last quarter; a grim return for a player who has recently been attributed with notable trade value.

Joining him in the quiet corner was fellow forward Bayley Fritsch, who went touchless in the second quarter, had one disposal in the first and third terms before a junk-time goal in the last quarter.

It wasn’t such the attacking half that struggled to get their hands on the ball, with Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca finding far less of the Sherrin than usual.

Oliver, who came into the match with an injury cloud over his hand, didn’t touch the ball for 30 minutes as the Brisbane midfield ran rampant in the opening quarter. He then had two catastrophic moments in the third quarter – he was chased down by Jarrod Berry in the middle of the ground before he had a handball sharked by Charlie Cameron deep in defence for a Lions goal.

Oliver finished the match with 17 disposals; a figure that doesn’t reflect his two touches at the first break.

A limited pre-season and an unfortunate hand injury at training a fortnight ago have sapped Oliver’s strength heading into Melbourne’s Round 6 bye, and the Demons will hope the one-week break is enough.

Petracca looked to be getting subtle attention from the Lions, which clearly paid off given his lesser-than-normal output.

Experts David King and Leigh Montagna highlighted his game at the halfway point of the match, again applauding Chris Fagan.

“Joey (Montagna) and I have been tracking this closely, because no team has been putting time into Christian Petracca; they’ve pretty much let him run his own race,” King said.

“They’ve (Brisbane) just been ready to watch him; you can’t stop him getting the ball, he’s going to get disposals – but make him earn them.

“Well done with the planning, and clearly it’s worked to half time.”

Montagna added to King’s comments, pushing the visitors to keep pushing their game style for a full four quarters – which they did.

“Great planning, great execution from the (Lions),” Montagna said.

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