Coach Chris Fagan has hailed an “astonishing” Lachie Neale after the Brisbane gun delivered a star turn to help Brisbane overrun Essendon by 22 points and maintain their unblemished start to the AFL season.
The 2020 Brownlow Medallist was clearly best on ground at Marvel Stadium on Saturday, racking up 41 disposals, two goals and 12 clearances as the Lions kicked away in the second half for a 15.7 (97) to 10.15 (75) victory.
Neale lifted after Essendon took a 22-point lead into quarter-time, helping to drive a run of six unanswered goals that set the Lions on their way.
“It was an astonishing performance, wasn’t it?” Fagan told reporters.
“He just lifted and drove us across the line … it was a special game by him. He’s had a very, very good pre-season and he’s very determined this year.
“He led from the front and was one of the major reasons why we were able to get a victory.”
Neale’s phenomenal start to the year comes months after he pondered, then decided against a return to Fremantle, but Fagan played down talks of Brownlow form.
“I think Lachie’s keener for us to have a great year than he is to win a Brownlow and if those things come his way or any of our other players’ way, that’s great,” he said.
“But it’s not what I’m looking for as a coach, to be honest.”
Fagan had expected a fast start from the Bombers and hailed Jarrod Berry’s tagging role on Zach Merrett after the first change.
In the process, Brisbane condemned a wasteful Essendon to a 0-2 start, while Nik Cox had to be helped from the field with an ankle injury and Merrett (ankle) limped off late.
It was a happy homecoming for Joe Daniher in his first game against Essendon in Melbourne since departing at the end of 2020, with the Lion booting two goals.
Dayne Zorko battled through a lower leg issue which Fagan said was scar tissue around his achilles that would improve as the skipper played through it.
Rutten was happy with the response to last week’s thumping loss to Geelong but lamented a failure to make the most of their opportunities – both with inefficient goal kicking and in marginal moments throughout the game.
The standout came just before three-quarter time when a slow-moving James Stewart appeared to caress Zac Bailey’s snap through for a point..
But on a score review, the key defender was ruled not to have touched the ball at all, which extended Brisbane’s lead to 18 at a crucial point.
“That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. If we can put that beyond doubt, that saves a goal,” Rutten said
“It’s just lots of little moments throughout the game where we think we can be better really quickly at it.
“We created enough opportunities to be able to be right in the game or maybe win the game but we just weren’t good enough to be able to take them.”