The Lions should make finals, but despite a good draw (on paper), they’re no guarantee for two reasons. The loss to Carlton – with no disrespect intended to the Blues – was the classic mark of an immature team, coughing up a six-goal advantage to a team they had on toast. They also struggle on the road.
The big question over the Lions is their depth: too many injuries and they will really struggle. So far, they’ve enjoyed a good run, but a hamstring injury to the quick and skilful Zac Bailey has seen the Lions juggling their back six, which otherwise lacks zip. Neither Rich nor Alex Witherden are quick and these days, Luke Hodge is getting by – just – on guile alone. In the ruck, age is also catching up with Stefan Martin, with Oscar McInerney and Archie Smith providing raw back-up.
Chris Fagan has some tough decisions to make. Up forward, they need more consistent output from key forward Eric Hipwood and ex-Cat Lincoln McCarthy. Cam Rayner, 2017’s No. 1 pick, is overdue for a spell in the NEAFL.
WHO’S JUMPED UP?
Several players qualify for a mention here. Lachie Neale has been the recruit of the year and a Brownlow fancy in the midfield. Harris Andrews also looks set for his first All-Australian jumper as a key defender. Hugh McCluggage, drafted at No. 3 in 2016, is emerging as a critical playmaker.
A couple of veterans are excelling, notably Mitch Robinson and Daniel Rich – a player who’s long struggled to get the most out of his talent, now having his best year since winning the Rising Star in 2009 as a running defender. The barometer is Charlie Cameron. On the three occasions that he’s been held goalless this season, the Lions have lost, but otherwise the small forward has made a superb return from the foot injury that kept him out for the latter half of 2018.
Marcus Adams (knee) – 3 weeks
Zac Bailey (hamstring) – 2 weeks
Jarrod Berry (knee) – 7 weeks
Ely Smith (foot) – 4 weeks
THE RUN HOME
Round 13 v Bye
Round 14 v St Kilda (Marvel Stadium)
Round 15 v Melbourne (Gabba)
Round 16 v GWS (GIA Stadium)
Round 17 v Port Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Round 18 v North Melbourne (Gabba)
Round 19 v Hawthorn (University of Tasmania Stadium, Launceston)
Round 20 v Western Bulldogs (Gabba)
Round 21 v Gold Coast Suns (Gabba)
Round 22 v Geelong (Gabba)
Round 23 v Richmond (MCG)