Already without an experienced key forward, Brisbane’s plans to accelerate the development of Michael Close have taken a considerable hit, coach Justin Leppitsch says.
Close, 20, will miss the rest of the season after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Sunday’s loss to North Melbourne.
The Lions have struggled to find a focal point in attack since the retirement of Jonathan Brown.
Victorian product Close was being groomed as the club’s long-term solution to that problem.
Brisbane are seeking possible compensation from Etihad Stadium over Close’s injury, as investigations continue into whether the venue’s artificial turf near the boundary line was responsible.
But Leppitsch admits the real cost is the collapse of his plan to pump as much gametime as possible this year into the youngster.
“Our plan was to roll him out through the rest of the year, get another 20 games under his belt and he’s been robbed of that,” Leppitsch said.
“Whether he’s been robbed by bad luck or bad surface, that’s for other people to fight it out.
“But what he will get is a good understanding of his body, himself. He’ll learn good lessons mentally about what he’s about to go through and how much the game means to him.
“There’s a few of us who have been through this – he’s not the only one.”
Close’s misfortune has opened the door for the long-awaited return of Brent Staker, who has endured his own wretched run with injury in Brisbane.
Staker has not made an AFL appearance for the Lions since 2013, having missed all of last year with calf and foot issues on the back of two knee reconstructions in 2011.
But Leppitsch indicated he was likely to recall the luckless veteran for Saturday night’s clash with Richmond at the Gabba.
“He’s a big chance to play this week, which is good,” Leppitsch said.
“He’s had a few games back now (in the NEAFL) and he’s got his confidence up.”
Leppitsch also backed vice-captain Dayne Zorko, who earlier this week was scathing in his assessment of Brisbane’s first two performances this season.
Zorko said he was sick of losing and fingered the blame squarely at the players for their failure to follow instructions, apply pressure and win the contested ball.
Most fans would agree with Zorko’s assessment, Leppitsch said – but as far as he’s concerned, the time for talk is over.
“We’ll wait and see, I guess, if we want to respond to last week,” he said.
“You can say whatever you like midweek but it’s your actions on the weekend that are the only thing that matter.”