Legend Akermanis urges Rayner to lift Lions out of rut

Oliver Caffrey |

Brisbane legend Jason Akermanis has challenged 2017 No.1 draft pick Cam Rayner to finally deliver on his potential as the Lions claw to salvage their season.

After a promising three weeks, the Lions came crashing back to earth on Sunday with a 25-point defeat to bogey team Hawthorn – their fifth-straight loss against the Hawks.

It has left the Lions reeling in 12th with a 4-6-1 record heading into the bye after making last year’s grand final.

Rayner had just seven possessions against Hawthorn – only touching the ball more than sub Harry Sharp and tall Brandon Ryan, who was making his Lions debut.

That quiet performance came just six weeks after Rayner produced arguably the best game of his career in a match-winning midfield turn in an upset of Melbourne at the MCG.

Since being heralded for what shaped as a breakout game, the 24-year-old has again slipped back into inconsistency. 

Jason Akermanis.
Akermanis says Rayner could benefit from time as a tagger. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

“Cam Rayner, he’s an incredible player, but he hasn’t really produced now he’s in his seventh season,” Akermanis told AAP.

“He’s really due to play way better footy.

“More in the midfield, 20 plus possessions and a couple of shots on goal (a game) and he’s just not even doing any of that – win, lose or draw. 

“You watch a guy like (West Coast’s No.1 draft pick) Harley Reid in his first year play incredibly well at home. 

“For Cam there’s not really a reason, unless he’s injured and we don’t know about it.”

Akermanis played tagging roles in defence and in the midfield before he became a Brownlow medallist and a genuine superstar of the AFL in 2001 when the Lions won the first of three-straight premierships.

The Australian Football Hall of Famer suggested the Lions try something similar with Rayner to boost his output.

“Unless you’re a natural ball-winner, which he he doesn’t really seem to be a guy that accumulates and gets in the right spots, like other players who play midfield all the time,” Akermanis said.

“He’s not getting anywhere near the ball so let’s put him in a spot, whether he tags straight out in the midfield and learns where to run and how to run on good players who can take him near the ball.”

Despite the Lions staring at missing the finals for the first time since 2018, Akermanis insists the future is bright for Brisbane and they could use the second half of the season as a springboard into 2025.

The Lions have been hit hard by injury with five players – Will Ashcroft, Keidean Coleman, Tom Doedee, Lincoln McCarthy and Darcy Gardiner – sidelined with long-term knee issues.

“The younger guys are getting a taste, where they’ve just been denied for the last number of years,” said Akermanis, adding there was “so much to like” amongst the Lions’ group of less experienced players. 

“If I was Chris (Fagan) I would keep working on the six, seven role players you need, to keep them hungry.

“Get them playing a brand that is slightly different to what it is now – even though when they play it well, it works – but the tweaks that they need.”