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Get set for a Thursday night grand final preview as Dees face Lions at the 'G

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Roar Guru
20th June, 2022
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Possibly the biggest Thursday night match in living memory sees Melbourne and Brisbane duke it out in a potential grand final preview at the MCG to kick off Round 15.

The Demons and Lions occupy the top two places on the ladder, with the northerners currently in first place on slight percentage ahead of their first match at the G for the season.

After starting the season with ten straight wins, the Dees have hit a few roadblocks in the weeks leading up to their bye last week – not only losing their past three games, but also having fullback Steven May injured, then suspended – and losing top spot on the ladder.

May will be available for selection this week after serving a club-imposed, one-game suspension incurred from his infamous restaurant altercation with teammate Jake Melksham, who remains unavailable due to a hand injury suffered during the fracas.

Steven May leaves the ground with an injury during Melbourne's preliminary final win.

Steven May (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

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Including the match in which he was concussed, the Dees have been run down from big leads against Fremantle, the Sydney Swans and Collingwood.

His return couldn’t come quite quick enough for the premiers, who have also made headlines off the field for all the wrong reasons over the past week, relating to Glen Bartlett’s departure last year as well as the conduct of coach Simon Goodwin.

Before the events of recent weeks, Melbourne showed signs that they could build a dynasty like we saw with the Lions (2001-03), Geelong Cats (2007-11), Hawthorn (2013-15) and Richmond (2017-20) this century.

Off the back of winning last year’s Norm Smith Medal as the best on ground in the grand final, Christian Petracca has hit career-best form and his duel with 2020 Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale will be highly anticipated.

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Neale is the hot favourite to take out this year’s highest individual honour once again, having been best afield in many of the Lions’ victories this season, notably against Essendon in Round 2, as well as single-handedly hauling them out of trouble against the Giants in Round 11.

The Lions have also hit some bumps in their past month, losing to Hawthorn and Fremantle on the road on either side of coming from behind to beat Greater Western Sydney and in their most recent match did it the hard way to beat St Kilda by 21 points at home.

Chris Fagan’s men are the highest-scoring team in the competition, as they were last year and in 2019, meaning the Dees’ defence, which will be boosted by the return of May, will be tested.

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There is the incentive for the Lions to perform as this will be their first ever Thursday night match at the MCG, though they have twice previously played in this timeslot at Docklands Stadium – in 2006 and last year.

In 2006, they lost to St Kilda by 37 points, in which Saints small forward Stephen Milne booted three goals in his 100th game, while last year Zac Bailey booted the match-winning goal after the final siren as the Lions sunk Collingwood for their first win of the season.

While Brisbane have been impressive during the regular rounds, it’s their September form that needs to be addressed, with only one finals win under Fagan, sandwiched in between two straight-sets exits.

Further, they haven’t won at the MCG for nearly eight years, their most recent victory at the venue coming against Collingwood in Round 21, 2014.

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Only three current players – Darcy Gardiner, Daniel McStay and current captain Dayne Zorko – played in that match, which the Lions won by 67 points in what was one of their biggest wins under then-coach Justin Leppitsch.

Dayne Zorko poses during the Brisbane Lions AFL team photo day

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

This will be the first of only two matches at the G this season, with the other to be against Richmond in Round 20, so there is increased incentive for the side to perform where premierships are won.

Of course, the Lions did win a hat-trick of flags between 2001-03, defeating two big Victorian clubs (Essendon in the former year and Collingwood in the latter two) to do so, but this is a different crop who have finally arisen from a prolonged period of poor results.

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But if there is ever a time for the Lions to end an eight-year MCG curse, it’s against the reigning premiers.

Because as their former coach Leigh Matthews said, “if it bleeds, we can kill it”.

And if they can beat an out-of-form Melbourne, then who knows what confidence it might generate for the team as they build towards a fourth straight finals appearance, which they hope to end with a first flag in 19 years.

It will be their first meeting at the G since 2017, and the first time either side has had the true home ground advantage since the Lions hosted (and defeated) them at the Gabba in 2019.

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The past three matches have been played on neutral territory: first on the Gold Coast in 2020, followed by clashes in Sydney and Adelaide last year, the latter being the first qualifying final.

The Lions and Dees will meet again at the Gabba in the final round – with that match to potentially have more meaning as the two teams duke it out for top spot on the ladder.

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