Lions challenged to match Suns’ fire in defining QClash

Murray Wenzel |

The Suns emerged victorious last time Queensland’s AFL sides did battle.
The Suns emerged victorious last time Queensland’s AFL sides did battle.

There might only be one previous QClash that’s felt as significant for Chris Fagan, and that was because it was the Brisbane Lions mentor’s first as an AFL head coach.

Fagan stopped and thought for a moment on Saturday before recalling that two-point defeat of Gold Coast that began the 2017 season.

Both teams were battling to avoid the wooden spoon back then, but in recent years it’s been a rivalry dominated by the Lions.

The Suns’ win in round 20 last year ended a nine-game losing streak, but had no bearing on either side’s finals fate.

On Sunday at the Gabba it will be Gold Coast (4-3) – still chasing a maiden finals campaign – in a position to twist the knife into a Lions side (2-5) with plenty to prove.

Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan.
Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan is expecting a fierce clash with the Suns on Sunday night. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“Gold Coast’s improvement … and with where we’re at, it’s a big game tomorrow night,” Fagan said on Saturday.

“Every game’s important but when you’re 2-5 it’s becoming a little bit more critical. 

“My first game as coach was a QClash and that felt incredibly important … luckily we won.

“The stakes are high now … it’s a big moment in time.”

The Lions were criticised for poor work rate and urgency in a worrying second-half performance against Greater Western Sydney last weekend, while they are 0-3 at the Gabba – where they were unbeaten last season.

Still one of the competition’s best clearance and contested possession teams, the Lions have no issues getting the ball inside their forward 50 – but are one of the worst teams at scoring when they do.

“The good thing is the numbers are quite healthy; if the numbers were terrible you’d be really worried,” Fagan said.

“It’s all about work rate and energy for the entire game. It all starts with energy and effort.”

He noted the structural changes former Richmond coach Damien Hardwick had brought to Gold Coast but said midfield prowess and running power remained their big strength.

“I expect it’ll be a very fierce, hostile contest,” he said. 

“We certainly didn’t make it that way last year when we played them.”

Berry brothers Tom (left) and Jarrod with the QClash trophy.
Suns’ Tom Berry (left) and brother Jarrod of the Lions will be hoping for family bragging rights. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Hardwick has played into the narrative, declaring the Suns’ ambition to become “kings of the north” while saying the Lions were the team he wanted his Suns to become.

“We want to be the kings of the north as well. It’s a contest,” Fagan said. 

“He’s just trying to soften me up … right at this present time it sort of means nothing.”

Strong runner Harry Sharp has been recalled by the Lions and looms as the likely substitute after James Tunstill’s return to the VFL side.

Ruckman Oscar McInerney (concussion) will return, while versatile Bruce Reville will debut in place of the injured Cal Ah Chee.

Hardwick has given livewire 19-year-old Bailey Humphrey a week off, with Ethan Read and Ben Long coming into the side and Sam Day left out of the team that beat West Coast last weekend. 

AAP