There were a few obvious differences between the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns in the QClash on Sunday. Collective differences, like class, poise and finishing skills. But the biggest difference was one player whose influence stood head and shoulders above everyone else afield. His name was Zac Bailey.
Bailey was expected to play many more minutes in the midfield for the Lions this season, but his four goals in the first half against the Suns demonstrated his ability to tear a game apart in minutes up forward. He finished with a personal best of six, to finish with the Marcus Ashcroft medal for best afield, the Lions easing to a deadly accurate 52-point win.
At least four of Bailey’s goals were half-chances at best. His third, in the second quarter, was Dustin Martin-like: one hand out of a stoppage, straight onto the boot. Seconds later he had his fourth, and a two-goal lead to the Lions was out to four. Bailey’s ability to make something out of nothing was the biggest point of difference of all.
The Suns fought hard, had the better of the inside-50 entries and broke even in the contested ball count. They had two of the best players on the ground in Matt Rowell and underrated defender Sam Collins, who beat the red-hot Joe Daniher, two late goals to the big forward notwithstanding. Lachie Neale also had a relatively quiet night.
But while the Suns kept pressing, the Lions had the answers. Harris Andrews was back in dual All-Australian form and too good for Mabior Chol. Brandon Starcevich, as usual, wasn’t letting Izak Rankine anywhere near it in attack. When Rankine tried to toe the ball through on the goal line, Marcus Adams dived in to make the smother.
Rankine (who went into the midfield, and did better) wasn’t alone in missing opportunities. Ben Ainsworth had a fine game, but put a set shot out on the full on the stroke of half-time. Rowell stabbed at another shot just 30 metres out, and Noah Anderson needs to do more with his prodigious gifts. They had more than enough chances to keep them in the game.
Suns coach Stuart Dew defended the much-scrutinised Rankine after the game. “He’s played 34 games, he averages 11 touches and a goal a game. There’s a guy at the other end, No. 23 for Brisbane [Charlie Cameron] who averages 11 touches and a goal and a half, and he’s played 156 games.
“At the same point in his career, he’s very similar to a lot of these guys. In Charlie’s early career, he was in a team playing finals, played in a grand final, and he had Eddie Betts next to him. So I want to protect Izak, stick up for him. He’s not the player that people say, he’s not selfish, he’s the ultimate team man [and] when we get better, he’ll get better.”