‘Joined at the hip’ Lions will stay in den: Fagan

Murray Wenzel |

Free agents Hugh McCluggage (l) and Jarrod Berry (r) are expected to sign with Brisbane again.
Free agents Hugh McCluggage (l) and Jarrod Berry (r) are expected to sign with Brisbane again.

Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan believes only formalities are holding up the retention of key free-agent pair Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry. 

The good mates were the first draftees picked when Fagan took over in late 2016 and, in their eighth season, are two of just nine AFL-wide restricted free agents on the market.

That status gives their holding clubs the right to match a rival’s bid and, if they choose, force a trade.

A new five-year collective bargaining agreement finalised last year has increased the earning potential of players. 

Brisbane Chris Fagan is confident Hugh McCluggage and Jarrod Berry will remain at the club. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

But the coach is sure his men will resist the understandable appeal elsewhere to instead remain at the Gabba.

“Really confident … those boys are completely invested into our footy club,” Fagan said on Thursday.

Brisbane have a bye following Sunday’s clash with Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium, giving the players four days off to thrash out the finer details of contracts.

“All that’s happening at the moment is a negotiation,” Fagan said.

“There’s no warning signs for me that those boys won’t stay with us.

“It’s a good time with the increase in players’ salaries … that’s probably the hold up here, and the hold up at every club.”

Their retention would be significant for last year’s grand finalists, who arrived together as boarding school chums to form the bedrock of the Lions’ rebuild.

Fellow picks Cedric Cox and Alex Witherden had also played club or representative football together, a deliberate strategy from the Lions in response to player retention struggles.

“They turned up at the same time; I do feel like that and am very proud of the people they’ve turned into and players they’ve become,” Fagan said of his connection with the pair.

“They’re connected at the hip, been great for us and … in their mid-20s, you’d say they’re just coming into their peak.”

The coach said Zac Bailey (ankle) would play if he gets through training this week, the small forward or midfielder slotting back in after a five-game absence.

He could take the spot of the suspended Eric Hipwood, with Cam Rayner an option to slide into the forward line as a third tall.

The Lions have lost their last four games against Hawthorn, where Fagan was part of their during four premierships.

That’s despite the Lions and Hawks occupying different ends of the ladder during that time.

Bizarrely, it was the battling Lions who convincingly won their first four games against the Hawks after Fagan’s arrival in 2018.

“It’s sort of crazy how that’s worked out, but that’s footy for you,” he said.

“Weird things happen. Pretty clearly it just comes down to work rate and mindset.

“They played very well against us (in the last four years), but we were nowhere near our best. 

“If we are, then we give ourselves a chance, if not the same thing will happen.”