The Brisbane Lions’ leap from perennial cellar dweller to flag contender has caught everyone off guard.
Thursday night football makes its way to The Gabba for a highly anticipated clash between the Lions and Magpies.
Not since Nathan Buckley and Michael Voss were running around on the MCG has a match between these two clubs been so anticipated, with what was once a great rivalry dissipating massively over the last decade and a half.
But 2019 is easily the biggest chance for this once-bitter feud to be reignited. With a reportedly sold-out Gabba ready to rock, we could be witnessing the rebirth of something special.
In what’s been a season of unprecedented unpredictability, it’s easy to forget just how stunning Brisbane were in Round 1 with their clinical dismantling of the reigning premiers.
That 44-point demolition of the Eagles wasn’t a mere flash in the pan, with Chris Fagan’s side going on to admirably come from behind against North Melbourne before grinding out another hard-fought win against Port Adelaide a week later.
Last week saw the club fall back to earth a little, however. How they’ll respond to that 47-point crushing by Essendon will be a huge indication as to what 2019 truly holds.
Collingwood started off their quest to go one better with a heartbreaking seven-point loss to the Cats, but have shown glimpses of competition-best both in that loss and in the weeks since.
A Round 2 shellacking of Richmond showed last year’s preliminary final upset was no fluke, although the last fortnight hasn’t been as kind. The Eagles comfortably accounted for them at the MCG once more in Round 3, before they were made to fight very hard to shake off the Bulldogs last week.
With their first interstate trip of the season looming, it seems we’re about to get a real glimpse at just what the Pies are made of.
B: Luke Hodge, Harris Andrews, Daniel Rich
HB: Alex Witherden, Darcy Gardiner, Mitch Robinson
C: Jarrod Berry, Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage
HF: Cam Rayner, Eric Hipwood, Lincoln McCarthy
F: Charles Cameron, Daniel McStay, Oscar McInerney
FOL: Stefan Martin, Dayne Zorko, Jarryd Lyons
I/C: Allen Christensen, Josh Walker, Nick Robertson, Rhys Mathieson
EMG: Ben Keays, Connor Ballenden, Noah Answerth, Archie Smith
Chris Fagan has to be applauded here for keeping the 22 intact despite last weekend’s poor showing. The last thing a young team finding themselves in newfound good form needs is the axe to start swinging after one bad week.
The coach would’ve no doubt addressed the group as to what he expects tonight, but the knowledge that it’s a leash around their necks – not a noose – is key to ensuring his players play with confidence and keep taking the game on.
B: Jeremy Howe, Jordan Roughead, Brayden Maynard
HB: James Aish, Darcy Moore, Jack Crisp
C: Tom Phillips, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom
HF: Jamie Elliott, Mason Cox, Josh Thomas
F: Jordan de Goey, Brody Mihocek, Travis Varcoe
FOL: Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams, Dayne Beams
I/C: Jaidyn Stephenson, Adam Treloar, Tom Langdon, Callum Brown
EMG: Levi Greenwood, Flynn Appleby, Rupert Wills, Ben Crocker
Just the one change for Collingwood and it’s a forced one, with Chris Mayne set for a moderate sideline stint after suffering a back injury.
Ex-Lion Dayne Beams is the big inclusion, however, with his class through the middle key to combating a Brisbane engine room that’s been clicking.
Despite being healthy, Nathan Buckley has elected not to recall tagger Levi Greenwood, trusting his mids to win enough of their own ball for Lachie Neale and Dayne Zorko not be a problem.
Will last week’s crushing loss derail the young Lions?
The nature of young sides is that momentum can be both built and squandered very easily.
When they’re up and about, their irresistible confidence often sees the team become far more than the sum of their parts. But all it can take is for one big disappointment to put enough of the team back in their shells.
Last week’s massive loss has the potential to do just that.
Of Brisbane’s three triumphs this season, I was most impressed with the comeback over North Melbourne. Seeing a team like this change the quality of their play so fundamentally within a match itself is a huge sign of maturity.
They’ll need to call on that maturity and discover that confidence again tonight – especially if the Pies kick the first couple.
What reception will Dayne Beams receive?
Dayne Beams joins a very short list of modern players to leave a club via trade, only to return a few years later. The premiership midfielder gave football fans a new insight into the mind of a wantaway footballer when he bravely requested a trade to Brisbane to be with his terminally ill father.
You can stream all of today’s AFL action between Brisbane and Collingwood on Kayo with a 14-day free trial.
After some strong, albeit injury-riddled, years at the Lions, ever-growing speculation that Beams would seek a return to Victoria were seemingly quashed when the ex-captain made a passionate announcement that he’d see out his contract.
But, as almost always happens, that statement rang hollow and the 29-year-old found himself back in black and white. Will Lions fans give their ex-skipper a warm welcome ‘home’? Or will the boo birds descend on The Gabba in force?
Can the Magpies stay in top gear?
Collingwood’s best performance this year has easily been their Round 2 demolition of the Tigers. If they play at that level, they’re virtually impossible to beat.
The problem has been reaching that level on a consistent basis.
Their second-best effort so far has arguably been the Round 1 loss to Geelong, with last week’s win over the Bulldogs somewhat unconvincing after they were swept aside by the Eagles the previous week.
It’s still early days – and you’d suspect Nathan Buckley’s charges won’t have it all their own way tonight – but hitting that top level over the course of successive weeks has to be the goal over the next two months.
Despite last week’s rough loss to Essendon, I think Brisbane are the real deal in 2019. They’re scoring well, have a good mix of veterans and young talent blooming into the prime of their careers.
But Collingwood are a different beast. As stunning as their surge to contention was a year ago, they’re clearly a genuine premiership contender again this season.
The young Lions will give their opponents an almighty fight, but the bigger, more experienced bodies of the Pies should see them escape from The Gabba with the four points.
Magpies by 8 points
That’s my Thursday night forecast, what’s yours?